Lessons from Abroad: Selling Content, and NOT Giving Content…

December 9, 2008

I know it is the season to give, but I am going to write today about selling rather than giving. For starters, I am amazed by the size of the so called news weeklies in Europe. Every time I am on an overseas trip I pick up some of the weeklies, regardless whether I can read them or not, and I am shocked how thick and heavy they are. Case in point the three weeklies I picked up in Paris. L’Express (with a supplement), Le Point and Paris Match. Each is a least 140 pages with one reaching the 200 page count. Paris is not unique, Rome is the same (some issues of Panorama hit the 350+ pages). Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Madrid and other European cities still are producing hefty-sized printed weeklies. So why them and not us? Why are our news weeklies limited to 68 to 80 pages most of the times? One thing I know for sure, it is NOT the size of the staff. Our magazines have at least double if not triple the staff of their European counterparts. So, is it the publishing model or is it the audience? Or is it as one of my colleagues at the University of Mississippi said, “My theory is that our society’s and culture’s anti-intellectualism is partly responsible.”
My theory has more to do with our publishing model. Few points to consider. Point number one, our publishing model is bloated. We SPEND much MORE to CREATE LESS content than our European counter parts. (Did you notice that even with all the cuts in our media industry there were no change in the size of the publications? Whether it is a magazine or a newspaper operating with a slimmer staff, a much slimmer staff, the publications are still the same size. Makes you wonder what were all these people doing!)
Point number two, the publishing model overseas still charges readers/customers for the content of the magazine. We give it away. The publishing model overseas still offers readers/customers content they can’t find in any other medium. We are losing our uniqueness in print. The publishing model overseas is adapting to the changing media consumptions of its audience ONLY when it is needed. Here we are talking a lot about change, we are changing for change sake, but in reality we are doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results every time; the Chinese define that as INSANITY.
Point number three: I know change is hard to come by. Yet, I also know that if we do not change we are going to die. We have to start catering to our Most Valuable Person. Our MVP is our reader turned customer. Our MVP is expecting us to Meet and exceed his or her expectations when in comes to content; Validate his or her expectations; and Preview what is coming in the days ahead. It is all about the content and the price of that content. I will feel much better if a magazine offers its selected readers/customers free subscriptions because they meet the criteria of “customers who count” than asking anyone to send $5 or $10 dollars for a one year subscription. Customers who count will be looking for “content that counts” and not just for any content delivered to any customer.
Drop your shotguns, and sharpen your lasers… The light at the end of the tunnel should not be the train coming.



  1. Hi there,

    I looked over your blog and it looks really good. Do you ever do link exchanges on your blog roll? If you do, I’d like to exchange links with you.

    Let me know if you’re interested.


  2. “My theory has more to do with our publishing model. Few points to consider. Point number one, our publishing model is bloated. We SPEND much MORE to CREATE LESS content than our European counter parts.”

    For my money this could be the single biggest issue facing American publishing organizations today. The legacy bloat in most operations is truly staggering. Incoming revenue is just dumping into a black hole of faulty and outdated operations. It’s just a sad fact that the publishing organization of the 21st century is a lot smaller than the same organization creating the same content in the 20th.

  3. I am surprised to see this article on here, Samir. I think this is a realistic view of our current collapsing publishing system. However, I don’t know how we reverse free content at this point. It is ingrained to the coming generation that writing is free. Long form isn’t appreciated in our culture currently. I recently hosted a Finnish ad-firm owner and had a lot of long talks about the industry differences between our countries. My publisher was astonished that he paid about $1500/year for two subscriptions to his local and national newspaper. This included a log-in to look at this news on their online site. Our newspapers tried that. It didn’t work. Was it just too early in the process and did they give up too early? How can Europeans afford subscriptions like this while we cry over a $50 subscription?

  4. I just discovered your blog and read your post on this and it was very good. I look forward to reading more of your post.

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