Archive for the 'Strategy' Category

Tips on organizing e-newsletters using Gmail

May 28, 2012

I’m in the middle of signing up for a ton of e-newsletters for project research, and feeling that overwhelming sense of email dread that comes from a too-full inbox and not enough time. But it’s not that big a deal, because a couple of years ago I built in some tools to make managing e-newsletters easy.

First off, I recommend against using your work email for newsletters. First, it means they all disappear if you leave your job, and you might regret that. Second, if your workplace is anything like mine have been, your email storage limit is laughable and you’re always having to clean it out. Third, if you’re one of the poor souls stuck using Lotus Notes, they all look terrible anyways. Save yourself the trouble by using an online email service for your e-newsletters. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even create an account just for them, though that runs the risk of forgetting to check.

I recommend using Gmail for this purpose. There are things I don’t like about it, but overall it’s the best tool for the job, mainly because it has good filtering tools and huge storage space.

What I do is filter all newsletters into a couple of mailboxes – one for web and digital-related topics, one for lifestyle and magazine newsletters. They bypass the inbox and go straight into their special folders, meaning they don’t interrupt me during my day (I’m not the only one who has attention problems when there’s new mail, right?) and I can bulk-read them efficiently. You can create the system that works for you (and I might update mine too) – for instance, all food-related newsletters in one mailbox, all health-related newsletters in another. Another benefit of using Gmail is that filtering is done by tags, which means you can “store” messages in more than one folder. For instance, you might mark your favourite newsletters – whether it’s for design or story ideas – with a tag that keeps them in a special folder and makes them easier to find. Here are the filtering instructions from Google.

Do you have any tips on organizing e-newsletters?


Why you need web-only staff

May 22, 2012

I’ve been observing a trend lately in the industry of more positions being labelled as cross-platform – i.e., that editor works on print, web and everything else – which is awesome. I mean, all editors should be thinking of the brand and readership in all ways they reach them and have the opportunity to create content in multiple ways.

However. Print timelines being what they are, and production schedules, we all know too well that it’s easy to forget about the website when you’re focused on finishing up a print issue. The trouble is, websites don’t work that way. You can’t just ignore them for seven to 10 days of the month and expect that they’ll be successful when you make up for it the rest of the time.

Which is the main reason that I strongly believe that all editorial staff should be encouraged to contribute to all platforms – but that at least one person (obviously small mags with tiny staffs can be forgiven for not reaching this goal) should have the website as their primary focus. A good website needs ownership, someone who is knowledgeable about and can advocate for the best web experience for web readers – which includes social media. It doesn’t mean this person should have to do all the work, but it does mean they should have the experience and power to make decisions and recommendations on what happens with digital properties.

For instance, I really like this quote from Anjali Mullany, social media editor at Fast Company:

The most valuable thing that social media editors [and] community managers bring to their newsrooms is not all the great tricks that they have up their sleeve when it comes to using new technology, although that’s really important.

I think what they bring is they solve problems. They solve problems of the digital age.

They figure out how am I going to bridge the gap between what you want and all the demands you have on your time. I think social media can totally help with that but you have to be really thoughtful about it.

Wherever I’ve been able to make any change or bridge that gap, a lot of it has come from trying really hard to understand what people’s workflows are, what demands are already on their time and what they’re trying to achieve and then trying to make what I do fit that.

Beyond that, making sure that you are using all these interesting platforms and trying to think creatively about them and using them in your own reporting and being an example of how to use those tools is really important too.

The number one rule for gaining and keeping subscribers

January 31, 2012

Magazines might have a place in our connected future, but they risk losing a generation if they don’t modernize their subscription systems instead of trying to compete with Angry Birds.

Gregory Galant on Paid Content offers an entirely rational look at magazines’ antiquated distribution system – and how making things hard for people will hurt your business.

How to make a paywall work

January 31, 2012

1. Have content that people want and can’t get anywhere else, to the extent that they’re willing to pay for it.

2. Ideally, have an audience that can expense or at least write off their payments.

That’s about it – and it’s not easy. For a good example out of Nova Scotia, check out this Nieman Journalism Lab story on

Nice one, Runner’s World

January 23, 2012

Download your free nutrition guide – right after you give us your email address. I’ve seen this used elsewhere and it’s very effective, particularly with a niche market like this. After all, if they want the free training guide, they’ll likely be interested in the running books too.

How magazines can improve their iPad apps

December 9, 2011

There’s a great post on the blog carpeaqua on writer Justin Williams’s frustrations to do with magazine iPad editions – and suggested improvements. His recommendations include valuing efficiency for the user, allowing backgrounded and multiple downloads, and making it easy to archive older issues to free up drive space.

I’d like to add a couple more, too. First, to Apple and Zinio: Provide better options for users to browse through and discover issues. The advantage of a virtual newsstand over a physical one is to allow multiple methods of organization. For instance, I’d like to be able to browse by language or country. Second, to magazine publishers: there’s no reason subscription prices should be higher in foreign markets. You’re not mailing the apps and there’s no justification for price variations – you’re just driving away potential revenue sources. Third, and this one’s for Bloomberg Businessweek in particular, though I’m sure everyone’s guilty of something: test, test, test. Then test every possible scenario again. I paid for a month-long digital subscription but only downloaded one issue during that time – and now it won’t let me download the other three. That’s the kind of thing that makes readers unhappy with your brand, which is presumably not what you’re going for.

Are you reading magazines on the iPad? What do you think publishers could improve on?

Mobile vs. iPad

October 18, 2011

Not new, but essential information from Flipboard’s Josh Quittner:

One thing we know is that people use their iPads, in general, and Flipboard, in particular, before breakfast and from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Prime time. People use their iPads at home and they use their laptops and their smartphones the rest of the day. What we hope is the iPhone app we’re creating is a product to be used during the rest of the day–it’s a very, very different product and with very different constraints and considerations than the iPad.

Runner’s World gets creative with ebooks

October 11, 2011

While reading the new (November) issue of Runner’s World this weekend, I came across an interesting experiment they’re trying. Distance running great Grete Waitz recently died, and of course the magazine has done a profile of her life, what they’re calling an “oral history”, for the print issue.

But it’s the next step that’s creative and cool – they’ve packaged the “full” version of this profile with eight stories about Waitz from the Runner’s World archives to create an ebook, available for $1.99 for Kindle, Nook or iBooks and with a portion of proceeds going to Norwegian cancer charity Aktiv Mot Kreft (Active Against Cancer), which Waitz helped found.

It’s a smart way to repackage existing content around a single theme, and to demonstrate to readers old and new your expertise on a topic. I’d love to see how well this performs for the magazine.

Do you know when your readers are?

September 16, 2011

When designing content and applications, it’s important to consider where and when your readers will be when they access it.

For instance, Mike McCue of iPad reading app Flipboard notes in a Montreal Gazette story that “people use Flipboard at late evenings, mornings when one might be having breakfast, and on weekends” – pretty much the opposite of most websites, whose peak periods are generally when people are at work. Mobile fills in the third slot – commuting and waiting time.

What does this mean? Content and applications designed for mobile and web should be quickly and easily accessible and read – or saved for later reading. Tablet-oriented content, on the other hand, will more likely be accessed when readers can spend more time on it.

Not a hard and fast rule, but it always bears keeping in mind that you have to put yourself in the user’s shoes. It’s not enough that they’re interested in a certain topic area – they have to be interested then and there.

What I love and hate about magazines on the iPad

May 16, 2011

The day the iPad 2 came out in Canada, I ordered one online. Turns out it was a good choice – it’s still hard to find them in-store. Since I received it about a month ago, I’ve been having fun testing out different apps from various publishers and developers. There’s good and bad out there, of course. And it’s sure a lot easier to spend money on magazines from the couch, when you don’t have to carry them home. Here are some of my likes and dislikes about the experience so far.

Like: Convenience
No longer do I have to choose which magazine to carry with me, and fold it up in my purse so it gets crumpled and ripped, then accidentally leave it at work and have nothing to read on the way home – or, of course, run out of things to read. The iPad is an all-in-one entertainment station, and perfect for frequent travellers and commuters. I also like clearing the clutter from my coffee table, albeit slowly.

Dislike: Gimmicks
Sometimes you just want to read, you know? You don’t want to have to tap things and slide things. Condé Nast has a bit of a problem with this – for instance, the latest version of Self (all links but the last go to the iTunes store) made you tap for product info in a fashion spread, but for no good reason, because there was already too much text on the page to give the creators any aesthetic reasons to hide the where-to-buy. And some apps are finicky in how the extras work.

Like: Zinio
I have always hated digital editions – on the computer screen. The flip technology is gratuitous and having to zoom in and out is unwieldy. But I have to give it to Zinio – they were in the right place at the right time when it comes to the iPad. It’s extremely convenient to have most of my magazines in one app, and I love the availability of magazines from around the world (my university-aged self is jealous of today’s access to multilingual media).

Dislike: Zinio
That said, Zinio is going to lose its prime position if it doesn’t up its game. I’m sure publishers are to blame for some of the challenges, but the Zinio app is basic at best. Why can’t I browse magazines by country or language? Why are titles not tagged so you can view similar ones you might be interested in? Why is the text quality so low?

Like: Creativity
National Geographic is doing a great job of realizing that magazine apps don’t have to be replicas of magazines. I’ve already blogged about their photo app, and they recently released a new one called 50 Places of a Lifetime – not as good, I think, but a great example of repackaging nonetheless. Epicurious tried and, unfortunately, kind of failed with their Word Games app. New York’s The Cut is excellent. And don’t forget web-based Aggregation, from the local industry’s own Gary Campbell and to which I’ve contributed.

Dislike: File size
My 16 gig iPad (yes, I should have sprung for the 32 gig version) is going to fill up fast with these file sizes. Come on, people, we’re smart. Let’s figure something out here.

Like: Smart use of interactivity
Self has long had workout cards you can pull out of the magazine, and related videos you can access online. On the iPad, the workout videos are right there for you to watch. Simple, easy, but brilliant.

Dislike: Poor communication with readers
Dear Fast Company: Why did magazine issues disappear from your app? I’d like to read them, please.

Like: Flipboard + Instagram. And Flipboard + Longreads.
Try these to see what the non-legacy developers are doing. While you’re at it, check out the Atavist, and wish you’d done it first.

Dislike: Pretending the internet is always there
Kobo is terrible for this, but so are some magazine apps. Don’t forget many users won’t always have internet, whether they’re underground or out of wifi range. Don’t annoy them with stupid alerts or a frozen screen.

Like: Web integration
The Wired app isn’t perfect. But when I was reading the May issue on Via Rail and wanted to share an article on Facebook (a very good one about Chernobyl that you should read), it worked. It was easy. And when people clicked on the link, it took them to that article on the website.

Are you reading magazines on the iPad? What are your likes and dislikes?