#MagNet11: Dismantling the print-digital divide

June 9, 2011

Yesterday afternoon at MagNet I participated in a panel alongside Philippe Gohier of Macleans and Doug Wallace of The Kit, moderated by Arjun Basu. It was a lot of fun and went by far too quickly. Luckily, Shannon Ward of OnTrack Media was kind enough to take extensive notes and share them with me for the blog. Thanks, Shannon!

First, the Introductions

Doug Wallace –¬†Editor and Associate Publisher of Content, The Kit
– print isn’t enough
– print & digital need to play off and reinforce each other
– budget needs to be allocated for this

Philippe Gohier –¬†Web Editor, Maclean’s
– it’s really about harmonizing print & digital (not dismantling)
– content needs to be different for each medium and publishers need to understand what people are doing with it

Kat Tancock
– storytelling is the key regardless of medium
– great story about BCMag inspiring and keeping a connection to BC while she lived in NZ, and some 8 year old kid having the same experience with digital today!
– good editing is key today
– these are exciting times because we have so many more options for storytelling

Moderator: Arjun Basu –¬†Editorial Director, Spafax

A: Are there commonalities in what people  expect from media?
P: Commenting is same core functionality that it has always been. It is simply reacting to content in a public or semi-public fashion. It is an enduring feature of how people read news
D: Good tweets will lure digitally savvy readers
P: Long form narrative on the web is ok thanks to ipad, etc., but what works better on web is primary source journalism (ie live blogging gov’t committee meetings)
K: It’s an issue of time & place rather than platform & reader. Recognizing that readership changes at different times of day – not that people necessarily want short content on web. As tech changes, so will people’s usage
(eg She read girl w/ Dragon Tattoo on iPhone on the subway)

A: Print is glorified, web seems to be denigrated. Why the bias??
D: Yes, but it will change with time. Advertisers still want print regardless of higher ROI on web, but cost is factor.
K: All print is not created equal (ie paper quality, design), but with new tech digital can be just as beautiful and also fun to play with. Remember we all learned to read on paper so we have built-in nostalgia.
P: We’re only starting to create good reading experiences on web. For instance, SEO is getting in the way, the obsession with page views over other metrics. Web needs to get better in terms of reading experience
K: google is working to fix this, starting to value publishers in terms of them having authority over random websites

A: We’re in a phase of the web that can be compared to when TV was treated like radio. These are early days and there is a lot to figure out. How has the editor’s job changed with a multi-platform environment? How do they need to adapt?
D: Storytellers will never go away but editors need to get more technical
K: Editors need to be be part of web culture (collaborative, sharing , linking, tweeting). Web editors are always working in tandem with the world, not just once a week/month. Editors need to have some tech skills to deal with the coders effectively

A: How have you had to change going from print to digital (to Phil & Doug)?
P: Everyone needs to remember that they’re working toward the same thing whether they are technical or not. Developers need to have their head in the publishing game as well, they need to always have eye to producing better news.

A: Silos are a problem – how should an office be structured so people talk to each other?
K: I had an idea that magazine offices should move around once in awhile so everyone gets exposed to all parts of the team and gets the benefit of different perspectives (web editors get to do this more than print)

A: What does work in digital and not in print or vice-versa?
P: Primary source works well with digital only. “Professorial editorial” doesn’t work very well online (i.e traditional Maclean’s editorial does not work online). It is too haughty (Arjun). There is an expectation of confrontation on the web (pugilistic style).
K: Silos work well in print, but not being able to share online is not ok. (i.e ipad article with no share links) РWired does this well on ipad app. Makes things easy on digital from platform to platform.
D: Video is great online and it is really fun

A: Do digital page turners on website work anymore?
K: they are archaic (amen!!). We need to make things easy for people on the web. If I have to zoom, it will not work

A: Paywalls – how long will it take for people to realize we will pay for content and not everything is free? (gave itunes store example, people pay for music now)
P: First, we need to figure out a coherent way to sell it to them. Current models are confusing. There is no good way for people to buy. There is an effort to minimize print cannibalization, but not all readers can go out and get a print copy! Suggests a freemium model (regular and first class – people are all going to the same place but with a better experience)
D: We’re all experimenting right now (and it’s a very expensive experiment – Kat). gives NY Times example.

A: Another question re: digital biz model that I didn’t quite catch
K: Problem of scarcity & quality, learning on the web that mags are in many times similar and lots are trying to present the same info. The economics change quickly and innovation is key.
K: Food bloggers sell cookbooks even though they give away many recipes for free
A: Brings up the google print magazine in UK, suggests there is talk of a print twitter magazine

Audience Question: Doesn’t it take more, not less time to read on the web? That’s why mags @ airports work well.
D: Digital can take longer to find the entry point
A: Brings up the buzzword “context”. Web has expanded the definition of context.

A: Let’s talk design & format. Do we expect good design on the web?
K: I do.
D: I insist!
K: Design is getting much better. Sites are starting to look like they’ve taken that next step that they didn’t 3 years ago
P: I actually don’t like our design online, but don’t mind the print version. Websites need to conform to the way users are using them. Referenced someone that said, “design is how it works”. Look at metrics and get an idea of how to present it in a way that users want.
A: …and that can change constantly
P: Gives pagination example ¬†– people don’t read past page 2, but if page views (rather than actual reader engagement) is your metric then that will affect your design
P: We need art directors in our industry (web) badly!

A: Are we leaving to much to the web guys?
K: Or leaving design to web designers who don’t understand how to ‘distract people enough to read your content’

Audience Question: what’s the best way to put your print mag online?
K: Put it on your website, not in flip edition (like wired)
A: First ask, why am I going on the web? If you don’t have a good answer, you’re damaging your brand. If the answer is to enhance reader experience, then you will want to do more than a page turner.

Audience Question: Is maclean’s making more $ online than offline?
P: Hell no!
K: But you’re spending less
P: There just isn’t enough revenue to have massive resources on web.¬†I was amazed at how little it would take to buy all ads on our website (5k)
K: digital is 40% of rev @ wired but they have 40 stories a day. “If you play small you’re going to stay small”

A: Where are we going?
D: Publishers are looking for a way to add a web component to their print with a reasonable cost model.  that is what a good art director can do.

A: Does a good art director need to think both print & digital?
D: Writers have to as well
P: Mobile is not the saviour people think it is. iPad actually make things harder, doesn’t mean people will automatically shell out $$ for what we did 5 years ago.
K: We need to evolve metrics beyond page views to targeted products (ex.national geographic is doing good iPad stuff). The beauty of iTunes store is impluse buying, but you need to price so it can be an impulse buy

A: Brings up Apple’s new magazine rack
K: Zinio dropped the ball and I’m hoping Apple will pick it up

A: Example of kid who tried to zoom a print pub. Aren’t we just pushing info, does platform matter in the end?
K: No
P: Yes, though there is a lot of crossover. What you do best in print is rarely what you do best on web. It’s a different experience readers are looking for. The two things are separate (ex web on tv)
D: What we do on the web would not make sense on the web. web and print need to live together and play off of each other rather than being separate camps
K: Print isn’t dying, but it is going to become a nostalgia item. Readers are changing, ie. she can’t read printed paper anymore. Deliver what the reader wants for where the reader is.

A: “Printyness” of magazines is rising. ¬†Magazine’s are embracing their difference from the web.
Audience Comment: Community is key to online success, but hasn’t been exploited yet
K: the beauty of the web is it isn’t limited by geography

Audience Comment: It isn’t just a revenue issue, it’s also about cost. The model needs to work both ways.
K: Content that is great in print isn’t always the content you find in magazines

Audience Question: What is your opinion on physical newsstands?
K: Canadian newsstand is weak to begin with
A: Newsstand for many mags is just a branding vehicle. that audience can’t be proven well to advertisers. The web does data so much better, there is much more to sell, but it is honest. quoted someone” the difference b/wn old media and new media is truth.” the old metric system (PMB) is ludicrous.
K: The videos people want to watch are not where advertisers want to be
A: Had a one month app sponsorship recently! “What does that even mean?”
P: Revenue depends on pageviews but it depends on the sections people don’t actually go to, to the point where it is crippling

Audience Question: Are print subscribers the same or different from the digital subscribers?
P: Right now, we can’t know. unifying metrics needed
K: Rogers example  Рher ipad sub was running out so they sent her a physical copy
K: Online ads are bad.
D: Design is the largest advantage that print has – people consider ads content
K: Is that because the ads are so much better done?
D: On web its easy to ignore advertising?

Audience Question: What is the “real cost” to produce an online pub if the content comes from writers already on staff for the print pub?
P: We effectively have two separate operations (web & print) and content is licensed from print ops. A certain % of revenue goes to the print pub to cover writing costs.

A: Is there pressure to make web financially sustainable?
P: We don’t make enough money to pay for one month of a top writer
A: Newyorker.com doesn’t create any original content except blogs (writers on retainer). these writers post when they want (have access to CMS)
K: Web writing is about interacting with a community of readers (i.e. good writers who have good twitter following is worth more than another writer)
D: My editors get paid to create a certain amount of pages and they agreed to let me repurpose in order to expand our sub base (but he was a start-up essentially)

Audience Question: What are ad rates for apps?
K: Admob and iAd take a %
A: Sponsorship is a model. It’s like the wild west – that’s why a brand is so important, right type of eyeballs regardless of format
D: Advertisers are buying across platforms, so it may be thrown in or at least not costed out on its own

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