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

Don’t think too big when creating apps

January 26, 2012

I love this advice from Peter Meyers presented as a pre-SXSW Q&A on e-books. He’s talking about giant book set Modernist Cuisine and how one would successfully create an electronic version.

The short version of my advice to them would be: don’t publish a digital edition of the whole multi-volume set. Instead, distill out an app that’s highly focused on handling some of the in-the-kitchen reference chores and computational wonkery that any modernist chef has to perform.

And the same goes for magazines. Yes, there’s step 1: a digital version of your magazine so that people (like me) who are trying to switch to e-versions can do so. But when it goes beyond that, don’t try to do everything in one app. Think about how your brand can translate into an e-version that is using the technology to its fullest rather than just duplicating paper.

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.

Some tips on using Pinterest

January 16, 2012

Pinterest is the latest darling of the social media world, with its pleasing focus on saving, organizing and sharing images. And a number of Canadian magazines have joined in, including House & Home, Canadian Living, Style at Home and Weddingbells.

Min Online has a new story on Pinterest, quoting Mashable as saying that the top (American) media brands on Pinterest include Martha Stewart, Better Homes & Gardens and Real Simple. Why?

Pinterest tells Mashable that good behavior on the site means posting items from many sources, not just one’s own. “Repinning” someone else’s image in your feed is a sort of visual retweet that is regarded well. And creating multiple themed boards on one’s page to categorize and segment different topics is considered good Pinterest form.

Do you use Pinterest? What do you like or dislike about the platform?

If you do social media, make sure to do it right

January 10, 2012

I’ve long been a believer, when it comes to social media, in only committing to what you know you can achieve. Yes, your brand should probably be in the space, but if you’re only going to get around to checking your Twitter account once a month, then you might as well not be there at all.

I’ve had personal experience of this as a consumer. Twitter has become an easy and efficient way to communicate with companies for customer service reasons. (And the companies should be happy – wouldn’t you want all communication to be forced down to 140 characters?) When it’s a good experience – they write back promptly, listen to what I have to say – it boosts my opinion of the brand. When the opposite happens – they have a Twitter account, but my request goes unheard – it makes me think, well, not-so-nice things about them. (I’m not going to name any specific brands here, but I have a few on my list. Ask me after a drink.)

And according to this article on Brafton News, I’m not the only one. They report that a study by Conversocial showed that pretty much half of respondents have an extremely negative view of a brand with unanswered questions on its Facebook page.

Now, this doesn’t mean your entire interaction with a customer has to occur in public. But always, always, answer people, even if it’s to say “We’d like to take this conversation offline – please call or email us at ___.” And if you don’t have the bandwidth to manage all your social media accounts, then kill one. Cut back. Just make it clear to followers that that’s what you’re doing, and why, and give them alternative ways to contact you.

Oh, and if you are staying on Twitter? Make sure to set up a search for your brand name as well. People aren’t necessarily going to tag you properly, and you might catch some feedback that way, 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?

When starting a community site makes sense

December 2, 2011

It used to be all the rage to want to start a “community” on every website. But as Google is learning, no one will use your social media site if the need isn’t there. Facebook and Twitter filled needs that were previously unfulfilled. But a social site aimed at a community that doesn’t exist, or one that already has a place to interact, is unlikely to succeed unless there’s a compelling reason for users to switch from what they’re already using.

Niche sites, however, might have reason to start a social site of their own. For instance, Farhad Manjoo recently wrote on Slate about Ravelry, an online community for knitters. Non-knitters might find this bemusing, but knitters have a huge community online. It makes sense, after all: it’s an activity that’s very popular, often solitary, visual (requiring lots of photos) and beneficial of community support, whether it’s recommending patterns and yarns or offering assistance on a tough project. And while knitters want to talk a lot about knitting, their non-knitter Facebook friends probably don’t want to hear as much about it – so there’s good reason to go elsewhere for knitting talk.

BBC News just posted a story with a couple of other interesting examples, like a tool company with over 35,000 member in its community. Not only does it let tool lovers talk about how they love and use their tools, but it offers the company good customer insight – and offers customers community support.

Thinking of building your own network? Ask yourself: Are people already out there talking about this subject? And do they have an online home?

Winter term Magazine and Web Publishing courses at Ryerson

November 23, 2011

Hard to believe November’s already over – which means it’s time to start planning for the Winter term at Ryerson. Want a New Year’s resolution you can keep? Resolve to take a class and upgrade your skills. Click on the image below for a readable version, or you can click this link to download a high-res, printable poster to put up in your workplace. (And while I’d love for you to register for my class, which runs in January and February next term, all of them are worth your time.)

Simple tweaks to make your Facebook page better

November 22, 2011

Want to get more likes on your Facebook page? Start by implementing these basic strategies from Natalie Sisson on, like creating a custom landing page (just ask people to like you) and offering fans a benefit for joining.