Archive for November, 2010

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The Doctor Is In(teractive)… Bonnier’s Tom James on the Future, Magazines, Tablets and the Good Old Desktop Computer. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

November 21, 2010

With the growing popularity of electronic tablets like the iPad, it seems that every publisher is doubling down on the future of publishing based on the “apps on a tablet” hand of cards. Publishers are rushing to get their own mag-apps on the market (if they don’t already have one) so as not to get left behind in this latest “as in today’s” digital revolution (no time for even calling it a trend, since tomorrow may bring another revolution). Of course, it’s all too easy to forget that consumers have been using digital content for years from their own desktop or laptop computers, not to mention those who haven’t yet jumped on the e-reader bandwagon.

Bonnier’s Skiing
debuted Skiing Interactive this month, a fully interactive, Flash-based web publication which provides viewers with a unique and personalized reading experience. Using colorful infographics, geo-targeted mapping, videos and engaging articles readers can personalize to their wants and needs, skiing enthusiasts now have a brand-new way of hitting the slopes from the comfort of their own computer.

Creating the right content for the right medium is the philosophy of Tom James, who has been with Bonnier Corporation (formerly World Publications) since 1986 and is now editorial director for Bonnier’s Enthusiast Group. Last week I had the chance to converse with Mr. James, via the old reliable land line phone, regarding how magazines can move away from making digital replicas of their print titles and move toward creating compelling digital experiences.

To say Tom James is optimistic about the future of content delivery will be an understatement. He sees the publishing cup 90% full. Mr. James offers the industry a simple, yet very effective prescription to its problems. “Break out of the issue concept and the print paradigm and then everything becomes in place,” he says. As I have said time and time again, as long as we are thinking replicas (no matter how many plus plus plus you are willing to add) we are not innovating. We have to break the mold and think innovation rather than renovation.

The idea of engaging Mr. James in a conversation about the future of our industry germinated last summer when I met him in Denver, Colorado at the Association for Journalism and Mass Communications’ summer convention. He showed the magazine division of the association a preview of what Bonnier introduced this month: Skiing Interactive, an interactive publication that is not a replica for anything they have in print. After the launch of Skiing Interactive I felt it was necessary to check back with the interactivity doctor at Bonnier to try to understand, first hand, what are his innovation plans and where the future of publishing is taking us.

What follows, is the full, lightly edited, Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Tom James:

Samir Husni: What is Skiing Interactive?

Tom James: It’s our first launch into what I think is a new style of delivering content, really. The fact that we did it with skiing, it’s one of our titles and one of many that we’re considering to do it with, the style of delivering content which is more appropriate for the digital desktop format than what has previously been done for digital desktop magazines.

It’s really about all the digital magazines in the last two years, certainly the last year have been focused on the iPad and the apps and the way their app works. I’m more focused about the way the content is consumed by the consumer, the way the ads relate to the reader and the frequency. It’s a totally different strategy than, “Oh, can we make a cool app?” We’ve shown we can make a cool iPad app. I think our Mag Plus app is one of the most innovative iPad apps out there, but I still don’t think that’s the only thing that can be done with digital magazines.

SH: If we consider ourselves the most creative people in this industry, why can’t we think outside the focus of developing replicas of printed magazines? We have a new medium out there. Why can’t we just create a message for that specific medium, rather than creating a replica?

TJ: That’s my philosophy exactly. But you can’t deny everyone (who is) swept up in the romanticism of having something for the iPad. It was kind of heralded as a savior for the magazine industry and I just don’t think the magazine industry is that broke. We still know how to make great content that connects with the user. We just have to make the right content for the right medium. That’s not that tricky.

SH: You’re now the black sheep who’s doing that. You’re not following the masses. Steve Jobs has not lit a candle for you.

TJ: I consume a lot of magazines on the iPad, probably just like you do. It’s easy to carry them around that way. But, you can’t deny there’s a billion desktops and laptops in circulation being used right now as compared to under 10 million tablets, and we as publishers can get our content onto that medium in a better way. We can’t abandon that. We can’t just let our website be the way that we reach people through the desktop and laptop. I want to give them slices of content in a finite, digestible form that is pushed to them rather than a website (where) the user actively searches for what he’s looking for.

SH: How are you going to be able to take what I call our “welfare information society” we’ve created in the last 10 years, and find a way to charge and make money?

TJ: First off, I believe that we will make money from ads because we’re putting a huge focus on making the ads just as engaging and entertaining and as on target as the editorial content. A lot of our focus has been making our ads exceptional.

As a media person, I’m kind of embarrassed that the only media form where the ads are as important as the content is the Super Bowl. That’s one little thing that the ads are important on and I think we can make the ads just as important in our digital push of content. So, I think that by making better ads, we have a better business model, but I really don’t have the answer to that subscription problem. There’s a lot of really smart people working on that and it’s kind of a conundrum. People don’t seem to want to pay for digital products. I think over time they will, but I don’t know when or how we’re going to reach that tipping point.

SH: Tell me how you will respond to those who will say, “Now you are mixing church and state.” Is it our job as media folks to create better ads?

TJ: It’s certainly not mixing church and state. We are very definitive and emphatic about which screens are advertising and which screens are editorial. What we’ve done is we’ve created a new engaging form of media that tells stories in interactive, lean-forward ways. We think our advertisers should do the same. Now, because we created this form of media, we’re helping our advertisers learn how to create ads for that form of media.

We are sort of seeding the ideas at first. Like, “Hey, you can do a ‘Which ski suits me best’, a personalized interactive ad, versus just a pitch of a message.“ We’re just helping them learn that this is possible now. If you invented a billboard and no one had ever seen a billboard, you’d also have to create the first billboard ad, wouldn’t you? No one would know that format of advertising. That’s kind of the era we’re in right now. I think that advertisers will quickly catch on, and this is by no means merging “church and state.”

SH: When I buy a magazine, I’m buying it for the ads and the articles. I don’t like separating the two.

TJ: You’ve been an editor, and as an editor, I’m always embarrassed when the advertisements aren’t as on target or as good as my content. I feel like it’s wasting or interrupting my reader’s time. The time that the reader is in my world, so to speak, I feel responsible and I don’t want to insult him or her with crummy ads, just like I don’t want to insult him or her with crummy editorial.

SH: As a visionary in this field, where do you think we went wrong in this business? Were we swept away because the newspaper industry is hurting and they took all of print together? Or were we so in love and romanced with the iPad?

TJ: I don’t know if we went wrong yet. It was so good for a while that we considering this more challenging era problematic. I think there’s areas we’re going wrong. I think as content producers we have to get out of the mindset that content should be delivered to consumers when we want to deliver it. I think we should deliver it more or less when they want to get it, which might be every day, for all I know. It might be every half-hour. I think that’s an area where we’re going wrong, but I think being stuck in a print-centric mindset where it’s a monthly frequency and the editorial’s great and the ads suck, I think that’s an area we’re going wrong.

I just think it’s relative. You know how good the magazine industry was for a long, long time and I think that now we’re challenged a little more; there’s people who are doomsayers about it, but it’s just a little more challenging now.

SH: You’re the doctor. What’s the prescription? How do we face this challenge now?

TJ: I think it’s pretty simple, which is remarkable to say. You’ve got these different mediums. You have to deliver the right type of content for each medium. For example, on television, if we’re going to have apps that reside on your television, we should stream video to those apps. If we’re going to do the things we’re doing on desktops and laptops, I believe interactive infographics are the best. I think in print: good long reads, long-form journalism might be great, and great photos. I think from a content perspective, making sure you don’t force the wrong kind of content onto certain mediums.

From an advertising prospective, I think it’s working with your advertisers to do the same. When you look at the ads that are in the magazine apps in the iPad, they don’t touch the potential that they could have. They’re still pitches. I think once we get our content right for the medium and then help our marketers get their ads right for the mediums, we’ll be in a fine place. Does that work as a prescription?

SH: It sounds like a good start. Like you said, it’s such a simple prescription. Why aren’t we following it?

TJ: Because we do print so well. It’s hard to get out of that mindset. Editors are in love with the great read and their contacts are really great at creating great reads, all our contributors. So, the people we know create print media. So, we try to force those people’s skills and our skills into the other mediums which I don’t think works.

Other than maybe the New York Times, who has a great infographic department, we’re still very word-centric and that’s not the right form of content for the different mediums. We’re probably going to see some kind of Renaissance in the types of people that we’re hiring. People who know how to work with data better, who are more interested in information management than words and words telling a great story. That’s what I believe. I believe it’s a form of our context and our knowledge base.

SH: If someone said, “OK, Tom. Here is your crystal ball. What’s the future of print?”

TJ: Are you talking next three years, next 10 years, or the next 50 years? To me, print has a great future for our business until it become psychologically unsustainable. I don’t know if the world is always going to want to be cutting down trees and driving boxes of magazines around the country or world. But other than that, people love having a print product on their coffee table and I think that’s good news for us.

SH: What’s the future of the Internet? Is the Internet dead?

TJ: The future of the Internet? If I could answer that question, I would be in the penthouse of this hotel (where he was staying when we spoke via the phone). I don’t know. Delivering great content that’s easily accessible, whenever the user wants it, and helping our marketers reach those users with equally great content.

SH: It seems to me you’re betting more on the desktops and on the laptops than you’re betting on the tablets, for now.

TJ: For now, I go with the numbers. You know what, there’s not an iPad owner who doesn’t have a desktop and laptop, or very few. I love the tablets; I think they’re going to be a great supplement to how we consume media, but I believe this, and I hate to say this, but I believe people consume a lot of media at work while they’re screwing around between spreadsheets or whatever and that doesn’t just have to be Facebook. It can be our magazine content or our company’s content and it’ll be on the computer they’re using at work, which is probably a desktop or laptop. Desktops and laptops, those are dirty words. Those are great ways to consume content.

SH: You’re one of the few folks that I’ve spoken to who is really talking about the need to educate the advertiser. If we are going to make money, you can’t just tell them to do it by themselves, and you’re getting out of that replica world that everybody is talking about.

TJ: Skiing Interactive, for one, doesn’t relate to the Skiing print product in any way other than to DNA, perhaps, but not in the content. The content that we do in print is not as dynamic as the content we do in Skiing Interactive for the desktop and laptop. I’m really interested in helping and bringing the advertisers along with us. I don’t know if they are aware of everything the magazine industry is trying to do, and if we create something great, we have to help them create something great along aside it.

SH: One of the reasons I created the Magazine Innovation Center is to help amplify the future of print, because I feel like we use print so much to amplify the future of technology and digital and the web. Do you think it’s a lost cause? Can we use digital to amplify the future of the printed Skiing Magazine? Or is that necessary?

TJ: I think we can really help keep the brand in front of users with the digital product and then I do believe, especially in enthusiast products, whether you’re a cook or a snow skier, you like that product lying around your coffee table, so that when someone comes to visit you, it says, “Look, I’m into food” or “I’m into skiing.” So, I think that by keeping the brand important, which is in front of people everyday in their digital lifestyles and their digital habits that will create a continuing existence for a great print product.

Now, I’ve read on your site, “Is the future of magazines the book-a-zines?” and that might be. Maybe as we increase frequency digitally, we will decrease frequency and quality on the print product. The important thing is the brand is still going to be strong.

SH: Some companies are starting to think about the web and its interactivity as a good source of subscription models and direct marketing. Do you see that as a legitimate part of the deal?

TJ: I think that ultimately subscriptions might come as a package where you get a few print products, you get access to enhanced versions of the website and you get this pushed interactive product delivered to you on a regular basis. And getting back to one of your original questions, that might be how you monetize the subscription side of it, by packaging it into a multimedia, cross-platform situation where you just get everything that the brand offers for a certain price. I hope and want there to be print in that mix. But I know that there is going to be digital in that mix.

SH: What about the reader? The more mass and general the magazine is, the less specific the knowledge about the readers. How important is it for our future to go back to the old premise of knowing your audience?

TJ: That’s probably never going to change; as far as the primary importance and what the Internet era has created, more fractionalized and specific audiences. Then it’s even more important to know your audience. If I’m a skier in Colorado, I might be different than a skier in New Hampshire, and we probably are going to need to address those specific subsets. For those big generalized magazines, I don’t know how they’re going to do it. If People magazine wants to cover everything from music celebrities to soap opera celebrities, I’m not sure how they’ll do that. I like to deal with enthusiasts and people who are very passionate about specific things, and I think our company has always addressed, as our slogan says, “Connecting people with their passions.” General interest stuff, I don’t really know.

SH: What are some of the steps to fill the prescription you mentioned earlier?

TJ: I think it’s the same stuff we’ve talked about before; making sure that you don’t force one medium’s content inappropriately onto another medium, making sure that you pay attention to helping your marketers create equally engaging content across the mediums you are entering in. I think if your product is on target with the audience, appropriate for the medium, advertising is equally that way, and then your frequency is such that it’s available when the user more or less wants it, I think those would be the steps. The No. 1 step: break out of the issue concept and the print paradigm and then everything becomes in place, so to speak.

SH: What’s your next big project?

TJ: I’m just working on helping our company forge its way into the new media landscape. I wish I were in total control of my destiny. I want to work with all the groups that are working with, making media work for the future. I know we make great content; we just have to reach the people with it and in the correct way.

SH: Do you see the cup half full, half empty, three-quarters full?

TJ: I think the cup is 90 percent full. I think we learned a lot about efficiency in this era and we have an unbelievable amount of opportunities, and that’s a pretty good formula for being profitable.

SH: That’s great. You are the first person ever who goes above the 50 percent mark. I love it.

TJ: That feels pretty good. Why would anyone be in this industry if we thought it didn’t have a good future? It’s like people living in Detroit. They say, “Look, Detroit’s dying. I’m moving.” I think if you’re going to stay in this industry, you gotta make it work, and I think we can make it work.

SH: Thank you.

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8.2 Million Copies in a Dash! The Strategy Behind the New Food Magazine Launch

November 16, 2010


2010 will probably be best remembered as the year of magazines-distributed-via-newspapers. The year that the little kid came to the aid of its big sibling by adding an infusion of blood and livelihood. In October 2010, the new Athlon Sports, aimed at a male audience, was launched with a 7 million circulation inside America’s newspapers. Last week the new Dash magazine was also launched via newspapers with a female audience in mind and a 8.2 million circulation.

Both are attempting to serve the 100 million daily newspaper readership (yes, you read that right, 100 million folks still read the printed newspaper every day in these United States of America). Athlon Sports is going after the 55 million male readers and Dash magazine is going after the remaining 45 million female readers. Read here what I wrote about the launch of Athlon Sports last month.

Dash is the new magazine from Parade, the granddaddy of all newspaper-magazines with a circulation of 32.5 million every week. Dash bills itself as the “go-to source for putting quick and delicious meals on the table during the week. It has a mix of fun, a bit of inspiration using America’s best-loved food brands and always a back-to-basics sensibility.” The magazine is aimed at women who balance work and home and are between the ages of 25 and 54. The November pre-launch issue is the first of what will become a monthly-frequency-publication starting in February of next year. It is the second newspaper magazine launched by Parade after their two-year-old Parade Healthy Style.

“If you know the reader, you can figure out the edit,” Maggie Murphy, Dash’s editorial director told me. And boy, do they know the reader! They have studied and researched their readers inside out. Women newspaper readers, while not big on buying food magazines, read the food section in the newspaper on a regular basis. They want food content that will help them put the food on the table in a “simple, fast and delicious” manner, as Dash’s tagline says.

Ms. Murphy joined Parade in June as editor of the weekly and editorial director of Parade Publications. Her first assignment was to create the prototype issue of Dash magazine in four weeks. Drawing in on the vast wealth of food content from sister company Condé Nast’s bon appétit, Gourmet and epicurious.com, in addition to Parade magazine itself, Ms. Murphy and her team were able to create a down-to-earth food magazine for that “dashing moment in the life of the busy women who have to put that meal in the oven and get it done in the time the kids are done with their homework.”

“The uniqueness of Dash is evident in three areas,” Tracy Altman, senior vice president of special projects at Parade, told me. “One is the lack of duplication from other food magazines; two is the unique audience that we are reaching; and three, the Condé Nast relationship.” Ms. Altman should know. She was the publisher at the Publishing Group of America’s Relish magazine, another mega-launch newspaper-magazine that was launched five years ago. ” We all had such a great time putting together the strategy for Dash,” Ms. Altman said. And the “We” of course refers to the many folks behind the launch of Dash, including Ms. Murphy and Allison Werder, senior vice president of business development under the leadership of Jack Haire, chief executive officer of Parade.

The Dash strategy includes the monthly magazine distributed on Wednesdays (best food day) mainly in the B and C county newspapers. In addition to the printed edition, Dash introduced dashrecipes.com, a daily digital offering that includes a recipe database in partnership with Epicurious.com. Also, a retail distribution plan is part of that strategy which includes a public placement program that will make the magazine available at local markets and food festivals nationwide.

So the next time you are dashing out of the world of print, take a look at Dash and the rest of the national magazines distributed via newspapers; you will be glad you did. It will reassure you that the printed medium is still very well and alive. The problem is not with the medium, as I have said time and time again; it is with the message. So, for a change, stop dashing out of print and stop and study the Dash strategy to launch a new magazine… there are plenty of lessons to be learned. On that note, you can dash out of this blog and go pick yourself up a copy of Dash, lighting a candle in the print tunnel rather than cursing the dark.

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DECEMBER 9 IS min’s MORNING OF INTRIGUE: Most Notable Launch of the Last 25 Years and the Hottest Launches of 2009 – 2010

November 7, 2010

25 years ago, Steve Cohn was the first media reporter to write about a new publication born at The University of Mississippi called Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazine. Steve, who has been editing min (media industry newsletter) since then, turned the coverage of my first Guide into an annual review of the hottest and most notable launches every year. Each December he devotes a page in min in which he and I review and preview the hottest and most notable launches of new magazines.

Well, this year, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Samir Husni’s Guide to New Magazines, I will be honoring the 25 most notable launches of the last 25 years from a list of more than 18,000 new launches. The event will take place on December 9 at min‘s Most Intriguing People in Media breakfast in New York City. At the event I will reveal the MOST notable launch from among the 25 notable launches since 1985. Also at the event I will honor the 15 hottest launches of 2009/2010 (with a Sept. 30 cutoff date for the 2010 launches) including the hottest launch of the year, the hottest editor, publisher and art director. Also three magazines that reinvented themselves this year will be honored at the min event. Click here for more details about the min event.

What follows is what Steve wrote in minonline and in this week’s issue of min newsletter:

min’s Most Intriguing & Hottest Launches Set for Dec. 9
By Steve Cohn

We launched min’s Most Intriguing People in Media list in 2003 because there were many who made a difference in media but were not necessarily “hot” in an obvious sense. We wanted to recognize people who are making waves or embarking on a big adventure or facing a stiff challenge. Our Dec. 9 breakfast at New York’s Grand Hyatt continues the tradition in citing five executives who were new to their jobs in 2010—Prometheus Global Media president/CEO Richard Beckman, Next Issue Media president/CEO Morgan Guenther (see right), Sports Illustrated VP/corporate sales Kim Kelleher, ABM president/CEO Clark Pettit and Condé Nast president Bob Sauerberg—and, for each, “the best is yet to come” applies. As it does to the remaining 16.

University of Mississippi journalism professor Samir Husni—aka “Mr. Magazine”—will preside over two other celebrations on the program: the Hottest Launches of the Year and the 25 Most Notable Launches of the Last 25 years. At the event Samir will announce the hottest recent launch and the hottest launch of the last quarter century. We invite you to join us. Click here for more information.

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The ACT Experience at the University of Mississippi: A Different Discussion About the Future of Magazine Publishing

November 2, 2010

By John Harrington
Editor, The New Single Copy

There is no question that the program for the ACT (Amplify, Clarify, Testify) Experience, sponsored by the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, held two weeks ago, was different from what we expect at magazine industry gatherings. Speakers included the editorial director of a large Brazilian publisher, the CEO of a publisher launching a seven million copy newspaper supplement, the head of a major custom publishing company, the creative director of group of hotel publications, the founder and president of a national advertising sales service business, the managing director of a major Dutch magazine, the chief marketing officer of digital development company, the editor of a totally online magazine, and two consumer marketing (AKA audience development/circulation) observers and analysts.

The agenda was assembled by a Lebanese immigrant to the United States, and it unfolded in a part of the country probably best known for college football and being the scene of some of the more notable and disturbing moments of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The registrants were an equally diverse group, and they also included a good number of journalism students. Given that eclectic mixture, it is my perhaps biased opinion (I was one of the “observers and analysts”), the event provided an outstanding perspective on the state, current and future, of the magazine business. Media businesses are always in transition, but the pace of that transition increases and decreases in cycles.

Right now, for magazines, it has accelerated to a dizzying level. At the American Magazine Conference (AMC), held in early October, where the venerable Magazine Publishers of America changed its name to MPA the Association of Magazine Media, the agenda was heavily focused on digital developments, with a list speakers not quite as international, but equally representative of the onrushing magazine future as those on the program at ACT. Early this summer, not even six months ago, new CEOs were named at each of the four largest publishing companies. Implicit in those executive changes is a shift in publishing strategies, in the words of one of those publishers, from an “advertising-centric” to a “consumer-centric” economic model. Clearly, the focus at AMC, from a more corporate perspective, and at ACT, where a somewhat more entrepreneurial view was evident, was on potentially seismic changes in the publishing business.

There was a gentle irony evident at ACT, organized by Samir Husni, the professor who made the University of Mississippi’s journalism school a force in magazine publishing, and is generally thought to be proponent of the role of print on paper. Digital was part of nearly every discussion that took place, not just in the development of editorial content, but in the roles of marketing and advertising, and even in consumer marketing. The shifts moving through the business were captured in comments by Ann Russell, editor of VIVMag, an online publication, who also has considerable traditional magazine experience. On her changing role, she said, “The editor is becoming a director.” Looking ahead, she asked, “Are we there yet?,” then answered her own question, with “There is no there.” Another aspect of the shifting landscape was offered by Thomaz Souto Correa, editorial vice president of The Abril Group (Brazil). It is important as digital format are developed, he said, “to concentrate on the future of the reader, more than the magazine.” He followed that up by saying that publishers need to “maintain editorial credibility to keep reader trust.”

Both comments are central to the viability of print, whether on paper, in digital, and in the next incarnation as well. In my presentation on newsstand and its role in a future heavily influenced by digital, I raised the issue of the breaking down of “silos.” Initially, it referred to the oft-times isolated parts of circulation, subscriptions and newsstand, where my experience found promotional strategies often in conflict, and worse, counter productive. However, at ACT, in group discussions following the general presentations, the silo issue, or more properly the breaking down of silos, resonated for the broader magazine media business, especially as publisher models transition from ad-centric to consumer-centric. The New Single Copy has regularly commented on how “good” publishing economics do not always translate into good newsstand channel economics. As an example, a publisher’s decision to reduce frequency saves on production costs while spreading advertising revenues, but reduces wholesaler and retailer income with any operational savings. Further, advertising promises were often the basis, as the late Dan Capell wrote, for “most bad circulation decisions.”

Samir Husni and the Magazine Innovation Center intend a second act, and maybe more, for ACT. It has the opportunity to become an incubator of change for the magazine media business for the next decade and beyond. It will not replace AMC, but if expanded to include a few more of the “usual suspects,” without losing its entrepreneurial flavor, ACT can emerge as an influential and complementary fixture on the media calendar.

Besides Russell, Correa, and myself, the other speakers at ACT were Stephen Duggan, Athlon Sports; David MacDonald, Sunshine Media Group; Haines Wilkerson Morris Visitor Publications; Lisette Heemskerk, Mood for Magazines, the Netherlands; James Elliott, James G. Elliott Company; Baird Davis, consumer marketing analyst; and Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio. The opening dinner speaker was Roger Fransecky, CEO, the Apogee Group; and the closing dinner guests heard from Bob Guccione, Jr., founder of Gear and Spin magazines, as well as the first editor-in-residence at the Magazine Innovation Center.

Reprinted with permission from the November 1, 2010 issue of The New Single Copy newsletter.

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