Archive for January, 2010

You can’t sell content

January 28, 2010

Many of us in the magazine world think we’re in the business of selling content. But I’m becoming more and more of the opinion that content can’t be monetized in and of itself, no matter what the media platform. What we’re selling instead is:

• Pure information – which is a function being taken over by the internet. No one can compete with the web in terms of fast delivery of facts. (And say what you will about accuracy, mass media gets things wrong a lot of the time too.)

• The experience – this is something novels provide as well as most magazines. An escape from everyday life and a way to immerse yourself in a subject/theme/place.

• A physical product – again, books and magazines. They fill shelves and coffee tables and can be carried on planes and subway trains. They can be passed on to others. They are tangible and make nice gifts.

• Shared experience – this is watercooler talk. People don’t just watch movies and TV shows for the sake of entertainment, but because their friends are too. Speaking as someone who doesn’t watch a lot of TV, it can be quite alienating to be completely oblivious of shared references.

• Viewpoints – when it comes to major issues, whether it’s national politics or the problems affecting their industry, people rely on media (and, increasingly, social media and blogs) to help them reach an opinion.

• Identity – consumers coalesce around ideas that give them a sense of belonging. They choose TV shows, movies, books and magazines not just because they’re interested in them, but also because they help them form a sense of identity.

Everyone in the media world is agonizing about how to sell online content. But is that really the question? Do we really sell content in print at all? Or do we need to figure out a way to sell consumers these other things instead?

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How many journalists does society need?

January 27, 2010

There’s a good post on techdirt.com criticizing the media’s (yes, let’s say it) obsession with Apple’s highly anticipated tablet and with how it will “save” mass media from the scourge of “free” content. One of the key points I think it makes is that the model really has to change with technology, just as other industries have changed in the past:

…yes, there are many fewer jobs in traditional journalism, but that’s not due to “free,” but due to a changing marketplace. That happens. Lots of people used to be employed making horse carriages. Not any more. Lots of people used to be telephone operators, connecting callers from one to another, but then the technology made it so that wasn’t necessary any more. But telephony was better off because of it. Maybe we don’t need all those journalists in traditional roles, but who says journalism will be worse off for it? We’re seeing lots of interesting new business models developing, and many new sources of journalism.

Layoffs are sad. It’s tough to see colleagues (and ourselves) losing jobs. But let’s face it: because of its regional focus, and because of an advertising market that supported multiple similar properties, there’s been a lot of duplication of jobs and analysis in the past. (I’m merging newspapers and magazines a bit here for the sake of brevity, but obviously there are differences in the models.) Journalism is important to society. The media model that’s dominated until recently? Perhaps not.

Comments on the NYT pay wall

January 26, 2010

I haven’t done a ton of thinking yet on the New York Times’ plan to raise a pay wall in 2011. Now that I’m addicted to reading their Sunday Magazine and Health section, I’m even going to consider paying – but I’m debating what price is more than I’m willing to give them. Over at MediaShift, former Salon.com staffer Scott Rosenberg has some good things to say about pay walls, including this cautionary note on confusing readers:

…a confused reader online is an ex-reader. Once visitors encounter a barrier — or even if they get it in their heads that maybe there’s a barrier — they tend to go away and not come back. At Salon, our full pay wall was only in place for a handful of months, nearly a decade ago, and yet I still bump into people who tell me they don’t read the site because they don’t want to buy a subscription.

Interview: Adam Ledlow of Transportation Media Group on video

January 25, 2010

One of my discoveries thanks to the Canadian Online Publishing Awards was the website of Truck News, a publication I very likely wouldn’t have come across any other way and which won the best video award in the trade category. To get a closer look at how they do video, I got in touch with managing editor Adam Ledlow. Here’s what he had to say.

What is your position and how are you involved in the creation of these videos?

I am managing editor of the Transportation Media Group which encompasses Truck News, Truck West, Motortruck Fleet Executive, and Canadian Transportation & Logistics magazines. I am one of three “hosts” for the show – the other two being editorial director Lou Smyrlis and executive editor James Menzies – however, since I have a marginal background in video, I often shoot my own pieces as well. While I don’t do the actual editing, I certainly assist on selecting cuts to be used and the general tone and content of each episode.

What is the purpose of the video series? What magazine(s) are they tied to?

The purpose of our videos, at least according to our media kit, is to ”combine humour, information and insightfulness to provide a thought-provoking and entertaining addition to our print product.” And though that pretty well sums it up, I would add that video gives us the ability to cover stories in a different way.

There are limitations to what still pictures and words can convey. Sometimes video is the best way to tell a story. I’ll give you an example of a past story which appeared in print where I wish we had been using video at the time. I once profiled a guy who moonlighted as a pro wrestler in addition to working in the trucking industry. And I don’t mean pro wrestler as in he went to the Olympics or something. I’m talking Macho Man Randy Savage sort of wrestling. I took a bunch of pictures of the guy, and though they were visually appealing (and amusing), they didn’t quite get the point across. Had we been using video at the time, how awesome would it have been for us to get in the ring and have a match or something? So we’re certainly mindful of that when we’re choosing where we bring our video equipment.

The show itself is actually two shows, technically. They’re both called the same thing but are tailored to different audiences. One version of Transportation Matters appears on trucknews.com and is for the Truck News, Truck West, and Motortruck readers; a second version appears on ctl.ca for the Canadian Transportation and Logistics crowd. Since we’re all part of the same group, we have the luxury of having some crossover episodes which are applicable to both groups.

When, why and how did the series begin?

Transportation Media is owned by Business Information Group, a large Canadian publisher of numerous trade magazines, and usually when there’s a new project that needs a guinea pig, we volunteer. That was essentially the case when it came to video. We started toying around with video in early 2007 without a clear vision of what it was we wanted. We just knew that video sharing sites like YouTube were getting a heckuva lot of attention and we wanted a piece of that pie. We taped a couple of interviews that were just God-awful by our current standards. No tripod, no mics, no lighting, low-quality cameras. I shudder when I think about them. But once we hired on a full-time video staffer, things started falling into place. We shot a roundtable and an artsy promotional video for a “green” conference with his help, but didn’t start the actual show until September 2007. At that point it was a monthly show. We made the move to a weekly show May 1, 2008 for the Truck News version and Sept. 19, 2008 for the CT&L version.

How often do new videos come out? Why?

As I said in the previous question, Transportation Matters is currently a weekly show for both versions and has been for more than a year. We decided to make the change to weekly for a couple reasons. For one, when we were a monthly show, each show’s line-up included a cold opening, opening titles, and three segments before the closing credits. This made the average episode nearly 10 minutes, far too long for web video. We conducted a survey in early 2009 and found that more than half of our viewers watch video at work. Most people don’t have 10 minutes to just sit there and watch a video when they’re at work. So when we went weekly, we chopped it up so that we aired one segment per week instead of three in one clump. Now our average video length sits around three minutes, which is much more palatable, we think.

Second, airing our show weekly gives us the luxury of broadcasting newsy items in a more timely fashion. If you have a great breaking story and you happen to have your video camera with you, but you’ve just run that month’s episode, you’ve got to wait another four weeks to go live with it. By that point, the story has likely lost its urgency. So while we aren’t able to go live with the 6 o’clock news every night, we still try to get those newsworthy stories up as quickly as possible and are usually able to do so in a weekly format.

Where does your video budget come from? Who does the planning, execution, editing, etc?

Since we operate under the B.I.G. umbrella, the majority of video expenditures are covered by our parent company, including purchase of all video equipment and related accessories. The video department essentially has its own independent budget, separate from the individual magazines that use its services.

The planning and execution portions of video production vary from project to project. Some projects require extensive planning from a variety of parties. For example, our annual roundtable pieces include securing the venue, organizing the schedules of eight to 10 participants, organizing a crew of three to four for video/sound/lighting, etc. In that case, it’s not only editors but also publishers and other support staff that get involved. However, I’ve had instances where I hear about a story, run out and shoot it myself and am back at my desk all within the span of two hours. A good example of that would be the DriveTest strike I shot in Toronto in September. In that case, it’s just a matter of taking the initiative myself to get out there and get the story done. Editing is always completed by our video production manager, Brad Ling.

Who from the magazine staff participates in the videos? Did you/they get any training, or did you just learn as you went along?

As mentioned above, James, Lou and I are the only actual magazine staff that participate in the videos. We’ve basically just learned as we’ve gone along, though, as I also mentioned before, I did have some past experience behind the camera, but that was more of just a hobby in high school than actual training. The key to our success in front of the camera, however, was to recognize the strengths of each member.

Lou is big on research and gives speeches almost on a weekly basis, and has also been in the industry for nearly 20 years, so he has a lot of big name contacts. So his strengths are obviously dishing on numbers and statistics and conducting interviews with the big wigs. James is more of a gearhead and really knows his stuff when it comes to equipment and the technical aspect of the industry, so he’s done a lot of episodes focusing on new products and technology. As for myself, I’m kind of a goofball who likes to have fun, so I end up doing one-on-one interviews or features where I just say whatever pops into my head, joke around and improvise on the spot. So that’s how we’ve divided things up usually in terms of who tackles what assignment. There has been some crossover where we’ve strayed from our comfort zone a bit, but for the most part, we like to play our strengths. Makes the end product more genuine, rather than having me pretend like I know how an engine works or having Lou crack jokes and act ridiculous. Though we did put him in a chicken suit last year, so he’s making progress.

What has reader/viewer response been?

The response to the videos has been overwhelmingly positive. Before we came along, a video outlet for this industry really didn’t exist, so when we came in and showed that we could put together something with decent production values that could also be informative and entertaining, the response was almost immediate. We now regularly get requests not to simply cover events for the print magazine, but to come equipped to shoot because they have something video-specific they want to show us. It’s nice that we have enough respect from the industry that we’re a desirable presence at events. I hate using the term value-add, but it having video certainly places Transportation Media a cut above the competition, since we’re able to continue to create a great print product in addition to a weekly WebTV show.

How do people find your videos?

We let people know about our videos in a variety of ways. We have print ads for TMTV running in all four publications. We send a newsletter twice weekly which includes our latest videos and a separate e-blast once weekly that highlights all the web-based extras, i.e., video, blogs, a link to our message board, etc. If you do a video search via Google, you’ll find video content both from our two websites and our YouTube channel. We’ll mention related videos in both print stories and our Headline News section online. We also mention our latest videos via Twitter, so we’re fairly well-versed in the social media scene. But word of mouth in this industry is a big thing. People see us at events and ask about us. We’ve let our industry friends know what we’re up to. So that’s certainly been a factor in our popularity as well.

What value have you found in your YouTube channel?

Our YouTube channel is a way to reach viewers that might not otherwise happen across our website, but still have an interest in our industry. Does that mean everyone who stumbles across our YouTube videos is destined to become a loyal viewer? Likely not, but it’s important to cast your net out there as far as possible. I’ve conducted at least one interview from a lead I received via YouTube, so there’s certainly value to be had if you look for it. The gentleman I interviewed is a trucker and bit of a YouTube star in his own right, with millions of views to his credit, so we’ve certainly earned a few fans for TMTV through his support and influence.

What, in your opinion, are your most and least successful videos? Why?

I guess it depends on how you want to measure success. If we’re talking about sheer numbers, for the Truck News crowd, they seem to like stories about unique trucks or interviews with truckers themselves rather than a focus on the business aspect of things. The CTL crowd, at least in recent weeks, seems to have a thing for statistics, numbers and news, which isn’t surprising given the current state of the economy and the fact that many CTL readers are executives. So you need to be mindful of these things when you’re producing new episodes.

However, there are always surprises. We’ve had videos that I’ve been certain would get a tonne of views, or conversely, would bomb, and the numbers end up being the exact opposite. So it can be a bit of a guessing game. For example, last year we produced our first year-end bloopers episode and we all thought it was hilarious and would garner huge numbers, but we were disappointed when we tallied the numbers after a month and they weren’t even half what we’d expected. We expected a repeat performance when we aired our second annual bloopers episode in December, but the numbers more than tripled. So how do you explain that? Word of mouth from last year’s episode or a coincidence? Hard to say.

For me, I guess the most successful episodes are those that combine aspects of information, humour, and great visuals into one package. Those would be videos like the Challenger simulator video, the Alfy Meyer workout video, the golf tournament wrap-up, the Fergus Truck Show wrap-up, etc. If every episode could be like these, I’d be happy. But obviously they can’t, so some of our videos are definitely straight-up information. The “talking head” videos (ie. presentations or one-on-one interviews) may not be visually compelling or funny, but they’ve got great info which is important for our viewers. Some people don’t want to be entertained, I’m sure, they just want the goods on what’s happening in the industry. We try to do both if we can.

Where will you take your videos in the future?

I guess it depends on how vague the Emmys decide to make their nomination criteria. First the COPAs, now the world. 🙂

Now that the show is becoming more well-known in our industry, hopefully we’ll continue to be sought out by more and more interesting subjects. It’s going to be steady as she goes for 2010, I would imagine, in terms of the show’s look and format, but we’re always open to new ideas and new technologies as they present themselves. Right now the key is simply increasing our viewership as much as we can, rather than making any drastic changes to the show format. The way I look at it is, if the current format allows me to stuff my boss into a chicken suit every now and again, I must be doing something right. Why mess with a good thing?

Choosing sponsorship over advertising

January 21, 2010

You may have noticed the recent launch of online magazine Yonge Street, part of a network of similar sites across North America led by Detroit-based Issue Media Group. They have an interesting revenue model based on sponsorship rather than advertising, the focus being on long-term commitments by major brands. You can read more about how it works at Torontoist.com. One interesting quote:

If advertisers pay for advertisements because they want to make money or become well-known, then sponsors pay for sponsorships because they already have money and are well-known, but would also like to be thought of nicely, or to support a cause they endorse.

How to make readers pay

January 20, 2010

From a Guardian article on what Apple can do for journalism:

Online, readers don’t want to mess around too much with their credit card … Payment has to be simple and elegant. Click and run, and don’t think about it. Apple can offer that: there are more than 100 million iTunes accounts with credit cards already.

Can magazines and the web coexist?

January 18, 2010

A couple of quotes to start off the week. First, from Bookninja (thanks to Susan Peters), from an interview with Granta editor John Freeman:

I think we’ve entered a new age where as readers most of us will straddle the web and print — some publications we’ll read only on the web, others just in print. My feeling is that the publications that are going to last will be the ones we visit in both places, because that’s going to be the nature of modern reading.

And from Rachel Singh’s Shifting Landscape of Magazines project, a comment by Stephen Hunt (click through to join the conversation):

But why? Why should both continue to exist? Just the physical cost of printing them, and mailing them out, is a tremendous expense that slows down the information to the point where whatever they’re writing about is rarely timely (although to be fair to a publication like The Walrus, they’re not trying to be timely. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we need less timely information with more depth and context and less immediate info-gratification.)

Review: GQ’s iPhone app

January 14, 2010

Apple has made a ton of money off its iTunes app store (with applications for the iPhone and iPod touch), as have many of the developers creating apps for the store (Apple takes 30%, the developers get the rest). With most of them priced between free and $4.99, they’re easy impulse buys for owners of these devices.

A number of magazine and newspaper brands have created apps, to varying degrees of success. One of my favourites is the New York Times app – it was unusable until version 2, but is now an easy go-to source for news, and simple to use. It’s a free app that brings in revenue through ad units.

Rodale is one publisher that claims to have found success in the app store. Their model has been to create brand spin-offs rather than re-creations of their magazines: Women’s Health and Men’s Health both offer workout apps, Runner’s World has a shoe guide, and there’s even an app for Eat This, Not That, possibly the most profitable four words in magazine publishing history.

Over at Condé Nast, they’ve developed a reader app for their magazines – essentially, the standard print content slightly repurposed for the iPhone platform. GQ is their first test case and they’re selling it for $2.99. I downloaded the January issue and I’m sad to say that I was underwhelmed.

To step back for a moment, I’m in favour of creating repurposed issues for the platform – we should at least see how it works. And you don’t (shouldn’t) have to create a new app for every issue – the platform has the capability to upsell within an app, i.e. you could have an app for your magazine that’s free and sell individual issues within the app – you can even have it set up to notify users that a new issue is ready.

But – and this is very important – it has to be easy to read and use. I know one of Condé Nast’s goals was to be able to count app downloads as part of their circ, which is why they opted to show the full magazine, page by page – you can scroll/swipe through it when your phone is in landscape mode. Of course, the screen size being somewhat larger than an open magazine, it’s unreadable in this format, which is where the problems come in. When you rotate your phone to portrait mode, a text-based version of the article appears. Not a bad idea. But there are a few problems that, in my opinion, make the app unusable.

First, you can’t flick from article to article easily like you would flip through the pages of the magazine. You can do this in landscape mode, but switching back and forth becomes extremely awkward and disturbs the reading experience – not to mention the fact that my phone has a hard time processing the changes.

Second, while they insisted on including all the artwork, they made it painful to access and view. Here’s how you do it: find your article, either by swiping in landscape mode or by accessing it through the table of contents. Select it and make sure your phone is in portrait mode. Touch the screen to display the menu. Click “display media.” Then select the photo you want to view. If there are more, you can swipe back and forth. Then you have to click “back” to go back…

And that’s when I gave up. It was too uncomfortable a reading experience.

It’s not a bad first try, though. Here’s how I would make it better.

First, art directors, I love you, but your print designs just don’t translate onto an iPhone screen. And the graphics are mostly unnecessary. Let’s have someone with experience in iPhone UI design a better template for on-phone reading.

Second, make use of the swipe. I want to be able to swipe through every page of the magazine in a readable format, not have to mess around with going back and forth between pretty print reproductions and actual readable content. You want readers to be sucked in by your content, not irritated by it. Again, take a look at the New York Times – their content is admittedly more text-oriented, but their app encourages me to keep reading.

And third, kill the sub offers on *every* page. Please. I’d hazard a guess that they’re not working, anyways.

Now this I might pay for

January 11, 2010

Last month I wrote about a video of a Time/Sports Illustrated tablet-oriented magazine prototype. While I commend them for the effort, my impression (shared with others) was that it was all flash and no substance – some cool features, but not exactly something people would subscribe to and read.

This prototype from Bonnier, however, is well thought out. It’s something I can see myself sitting down and reading – and even paying for. It is, of course, device dependent (which is a major hurdle), but the video is worth watching.

Would you pay for it?

Why the iPhone matters

January 8, 2010

From Min Online’s top 5 iPhone revenue ideas magazines should steal (it’s from August – I’m cleaning out my reading backlog – so the numbers are even higher by now):

Publishers that haven’t sipped the Apple Kool-Aid often complain that the platform gets inordinate attention considering that barely 10 million people in the U.S. own an iPhone. But as Seventeen editor Ann Shoket told us this week, you can’t count just the iPhones when almost as many iPod Touch models are in users hands and are also capable of running iPhone downloadable applications. More than 37 million Apple devices worldwide now run these apps.