Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Publishers Blogging

There are lots of magazine blogs. But there is a real paucity of blogs about the magazine business: its commercial prospects, the strategic issue of adapting to the web, competitive intelligence and innovation. Book publishers, by contrast, are getting to be very bloggy-minded. We regularly tune in to book publishing blogs such as Charkinblog, O'Reilly's Radar (which is a gold star technology blog with good publishing angles). Brantley's blog and the hugely informative Open Access News. Michael Cairns has posted some very helpful guidance for publishers who are considering blogging about their business. He is thinking of 'book publishers', but I reckon that the magazine publishing industry is in greater need of more coverage in the blogosphere. I know of no blogger who provides detailed and insightful coverage of the results, corporate activity and strategic issues facing magazines in the way that Cairns's PersonaNonData does for the book publishing sector. The best coverage may be from Paidcontent which is too Press-Release-driven and includes the magazine industry in its overall media purview -- so much less analytical or opinionated than Cairns's commentary.

Some of the best magazine industry blogs? I would recommend Samir Husni's (particularly interested in launches), Jeremy Leslie's magCulture (insight and focus on design) and Magforum, an informative UK-focussed web site which is evolving into a blog. If you have necrophiliac inclinations there is the funereal magazinedeathpool. Chris Anderson is one of the most influential magazine industry bloggers and pundits, but his blogging is too rarely about magazines. Its all about his big idea thelongtail. And Nicholas Carr and Jeff Jarvis occasionally touch on the magazine industry, which they both know well from the inside, but Carr needs to get a better grip on the future of digital print, less on the future of IT, and Jeff Jarvis risks losing himself in interactive TV (which is another business, not the magazine industry).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bill Gates and the future of print

Juan Antonio Giner in his Innovations in Newspapers has a great list of "Wrong Predictions" and he puts Bill Gates's reported remarks on the invevitable move of reading to the web in the same camp: another wrong prediction.

Bill Gates was clearly saying a lot of different things in this presentation. Some surely right, some pretty questionable. I am sure that he is wrong to say that newspaper subscriptions are in inexorable decline. You never know, overall newspaper subscriptions might rise whenever the publishers figure out a good web-subscription model. Web subscriptions services are surely going to work in music and in film, so why should they not work for digital newspaper services? Print only subscriptions will surely decline as more of our reading moves to the web. But growth in digital subs could more than compensate for decline in newsprint use.

You need to read the 25 wrong predictions for yourself. Hilarious. And some of them were probably made as recounted. Some we already know (eg Lord Kelvin's “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”) but this one was new to me:

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
The interesting thing about this is that Warner clearly knew what he was talking about. Warner Brothers became hugely successful after 1930. So was he dead set against the Talkies? Or was he saying something a bit more nuanced? Sure enough the fuller context to this quote is that Warner completed his thought with "..... The music — that's the big plus about this." OK he was still wrong, but he was all for moving on from the silent movie. I think Bill Gates is also like Harry Warner, very much an enthusiast for the new broader audio or digital technology. But like Harry Warner he only sees half the picture. But that is true for us all -- surely? I read Bill G. (indeed I read him digitally) as being more of an enthusiast for digital newspapers than a doomsayer for journalism.

Google broadens scope: Search is now Universal

Google has made a subtle but important change to the way it offers users 'Search'. Here is the BBC's brief summary:

Google is overhauling its search system so it returns "universal" results not just those from webpages. The change means users will also get results from news sites, blogs, video services and other relevant places........ The expanded results will be available via a series of tabs that will appear on the results page.
There is a lot more detail from Danny Sullivan. We will see how this works out; my first impression is that it is a shift of emphasis rather than a fully implemented parallel search. The tabs seem to be prioritised. News, Video, News, Maps, and Gmail, come in the top level and the other 'specialised' options are only available to me through a pull down list. It may well be that the 'top level' has been customised for my usage pattern (if you dont use Gmail, I doubt that Gmail would figure in the top level for you!). Google is increasingly delivering a personalised service which means that search results are not universal but personalised. As web services become more integrated they become more universal but also less reliably repeateable.

Curious fact: Microsoft's Windows Live searches Exact Editions content more reliably than Google. Microsoft is not dead yet.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Carbon Neutral News Corporation

Rupert Murdoch has announced that News Corporation will be carbon neutral by 2010. You may be tempted to think of this as a corporate gesture, a gimmick without much substance, but take a look at their Energy Initiative Webcast.

Rupert Murdoch and his senior executives are interviewed in the webcast (Peter Chernin, James Murdoch, Rebekkah Wade, and a dozen others) and they are committed to transforming the way the company does business. Murdoch himself is clearly on message. As he says "We must transform the way we use energy... acting on this issue is simply good business". He outlines many specific targets and recognises that they have a lot to do. Introducing digital editions of the News Corporation magazines and newspapers has to be a part of that change, which as Murdoch sees will effect consumer behaviour and open new markets.

Getting the web to work for media businesses is important and high profile. Kate Fehrenbacher at GigaOM puts her finger on some of the key issues.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Digital Editions work. Magazines need to get digital

Yesterday was a free day for me. But with a Blackberry you are never totally on holiday. Two work items piqued my interest.

Sad news for Tom Moloney, CEO of EMAP. He has left the company and the speculation is that it may be snapped up by a private equity company.

Another tiny item from feedback also snagged my interest (yes feedback gets forwarded to our Blackberries and, sad as it may be, I often look at it even on my days off). Geoff who subscribes to The Baptist Times writes in:

After only two weeks of the new subscription I am pleased with the flexibility of being able to read articles as time permits, and also reading past issues. It means that I am saving paper even if it is recycled!
Thanks Geoff! This is the kind of unsolicited reaction (almost as important the steadily accelerating growth in new susbcribers) that tells us that digital magazines are working in the market place. The new CEO of EMAP will have engineered a quick turnaround if he/she sees how much their wonderful magazine assets can benefit from digital editions. From being fully engaged on the web.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A new angle on Web 2.0

Tim O'Reilly presents a fertile thought experiment. But it is not just our commercial and financial activities which can be enhanced by web-scaled interaction. How would it help our reading on the web, if the process of reading, to think and to write, was enhanced with intelligent feedback: to the reader, the publisher, the author or journalist?

When, soon, most of our reading (magazines, newspapers, books, blogs, by definition, etc...) is web-based, how will the different reading applications co-ooperate to enhance the way we read to think? One answer is that Google will do it all..... but that probably is not the optimal solution and has a scary, pit of the stomach, feeling about it.

It is at least possible that there may be quite a number of different more or less *intelligent* reading applications/environments/services. That scenario is compelling if reading services are collaborative.....

DIVE magazine

Monday, May 14, 2007

Magazine Week Web Site

The Magazine Week web site is up, but it is clearly still in stealth mode, so it would not be fair to make any definite judgement. As yet no sign of a break-the-mould proposition..... such as World Book Day's free book token for every schoolchild.

Friday, May 11, 2007

PPA Conference and the Digital Future

We were not able to get across to the PPA conference so we relied on reports blogged for the Guardian's Organ Grinder by Stephen Brook and Jemima Kiss. I was struck by the quoted comment of Stevie Spring (CEO of Future Publishing):

Spring also pours scorn about predicts of the digital future. "Anyone who has a forecast beyond six months is fooling themselves because none of us have a clue."
That seems broadly right! Though, at Exact Editions, we are sure that the future will be heavily digital much sooner that the CEO's realise. But for sure, the only safe prediction for the future is that we will all be surprised by it, in that sense we none of us have a clue.

But there was an amusing placement, since the Guardian's Organ Grinder had the PPA reports next to reports from Microsoft where Bill Gates was saying that all newspapers (he was referring to the advertising revenues) will be online within five years. If that happens with newspapers, it is a racing certainty the same will happen with magazines. I wonder how many of the CEO's have really taken that one on board? Yes, the advertising revenues will also be online. Gates is right, and Stevie Spring is right: we none of us have a clue but there will be an innexorable shift and as Gates put it 'a massive amount of innovation' will be there with it.

Magazine Week (4)

Joel Rickett, who writes for The Bookseller, gave me a helpful run-down on why World Book Day has been such a success for UK book publishing and bookselling. Right at the heart of its success has been the 'incredibly potent voucher scheme' which puts a £1 book token in the hands of millions of children each year. This focus was a masterstroke because, from the off, it secured the goodwill of parents and teachers. Joel points out that there is now a very effective team, with a degree of operational independence, running the event, and the PR has been very strong, led by the prominent publishers and orchestrated by Liz Sich at Colman Getty. The PR has been very effective, but it does not always work (the attempts to focus on adult readers have been less successful than the school-targetted projects) and it is key to success to keep ringing the changes. Each year there is a fresh angle. Joel points out that the local PR has also been very effective, with author appearances at hundreds of bookshops up and down the country.

So far this informal inquiry has four take home messages for the first Magazine Week: (1) focus on a core, other-directed (generous or altruistic), activity which is at the heart of the week:- whatever it is, it must not be too obviously a 'retail gimmick'; (2) make sure that a good PR firm is in the planning -- with a modest but adequate budget; (3) if at first you do not succeed, then try, and try, and try again..... and (4) encourage the good and the great who lead the industry (the likes of Nicholas Coleridge, Duncan Edwards, Peter Phippen and Sylvia Auton) to become involved and committed. Such a quartet could be the consumer magazine industry's riposte to Gail Rebuck, Tim Hely-Hutchinson and Nigel Newton, mentioned in the last post.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Magazine Week (3)

More on the lessons that can be learned from World Book Day.

Its a striking tribute to the success of WBD that it has gathered support from all sectors of the book trade: publishers, authors, shops and retail, libraries and schools and of course the consumers. Everybody has been pushing and the Booksellers Association has been in the lead. I asked Tim Godfray, ceo of the BA, about their involvement and in his words the promotion has been 'without question an amazingly successful' exercise. The BA estimates that the advertising value of the publicity achieved is in the range of £3.2-3.4 million this year (with extensive promotions in the Sun and the Daily Mirror and lots of TV and radio advertising). 14 million WBD tokens were produced, and most of these tokens were exchanged for '£1 off a book' or for one of the specially produced titles, selected from publishers' offerings and priced for the promotion, at £1 a time. Godfray emphasises that this success comes from everybody committing resources. The publishers club together to fund the organization and provide the core budget, while the booksellers take the hit on the margin (they absorb the £1 off on the free Book Tokens) and the schools also like to get involved -- 40,000 school packs distributed.

It will be hard for Magazine Week to find such an obviously 'good' goal as helping kids to read, and to buy their first book. For books have a particularly central and foundational role in the reading pantheon -- I dont see 'helping kids to buy their first magazine' having a comparable pulling power with teachers and parents. But finding a goal which is not too obviously self-interested. Not in Joel Rickett's phrase too obvious a 'retail gimmick', but a noble challenge or opportunity around which the whole consumer magazine market can coalesce -- that is the challenge. Because the WBD cause is so obviously worthwhile, as well as being 'publisher self-interested' the big wheels of the publishing business Gail Rebuck (Random House), Tim Hely-Hutchinson (Hachette) and Nigel Newton (Bloomsbury) are prepared to invest personal initiatives in making it work. They have been very active, especially in PR. More about PR tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Design and highly visual magazines seem to work in a particularly interesting way through the 16-page spread available on the Exact Editions platform. Contrast Blueprint with Dazed & Confused, HALI and Contemporary.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Economist and The Independent

Juan Antonio Giner's Innovations in Newspapers blog has lots of good pictures of the Sarcozy result. Some of the best come from my daily read, La Repubblica.

Juan also has a gripe about the lack of coverage on their web sites from The Independent and The Economist. He is of course right (though by today, in both cases, the web sites have caught up - he was blogging on Sunday when many newspapers leave their web sites quiet). Newspaper web sites would be much better and more topical if they spent no time at all 're-purposing' the content of the last issue. Repurposing, costs a lot and is something which newspapers do faut de mieux from pre-broadband necessity. The much better thing they can do with their last edition is publish a digital edition immediately. Doing this preserves all the design values and the brand identity of the publication and calls for no real time decisions and no new editorial resource. Repurposing necessitates decisions and editorial resources and risks misallocating them -- inevitably it will. The web site should have all the things that a web site can do, and the newspaper daily/weekly edition cannot.

Like blogging on the Sarcozy result as it happens. Giner blogs on a Sunday and blogs enough to be three people, but I presume he is only single, in which case these world-class publications could easily manage to field one blogger on their web site whose role should be to get about as much as Juan Antonio. Good blogging is much cheaper than a repurposed web site -- and for the record a perfect digital edition service is a lower investment even than a single world class blogger. The digital must lead to increased revenues and profits, of course.

I blogged about the tardy delivery of The Economist in Italy. Our issue is still arriving over a week late (maybe today we will get our still missing issue from 28 April). The Economist distribution department has been outstanding in following up this complaint -- apparently the issue is printed in Switzerland and then trucked to Milan where it is polyloped and dispatched. But the subscriber issues still get to Florence six, or more, days later than the issues of The Tablet which are polyloped and posted in London; and about a week later than the Economists on the news stands outside the Duomo (usually on Sunday). But following my grumble, I have had two phone calls and two emails from a distribution expert, and the Economist will now try posting the Italian subscriptions in Switzerland! By the middle of May we are promised a prompter delivery. Amazingly thorough (their expert even took the trouble to find out how The Tablet copies were shipped), but remedial, customer service. A proper digital edition would be even better!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Newspapers and Magazines still looking for a digital strategy

Greenslade is on holiday, so one relies more on the excellent Innovations in Newspapers, beautifully illustrated, for the blogged news of newspapers. Juan Antonio Giner spots a characteristically shrewd, but unusually inconclusive, analysis of the Murdoch bid for the Wall Street Journal from the Independent's Hamish McRae. McRae's analysis and lack of follow-through may soon disapear behind a pay wall, so here is his intro:

Journalists inevitably find it difficult to comment dispassionately on events in their own industry, and the bid by Rupert Murdoch for Dow Jones is no exception. But the fact that Mr Murdoch should feel Dow Jones is worth so much more than the market had previously valued it at says something interesting about the way in which the newspaper industry is adapting to the new technologies. There is life in the old dog yet.
........(and conclusion)..........
The one thing I am very sure about is that physical print media will continue to be very important for at least another generation.....

Well that is in one way quite reassuring but he does not justify his optimism (I am not myself so confident about the inkiness of newsprint for the next 30 years). McRae does not see, does not consider, that one way in which print newspapers may 'survive' is by becoming digital editions which are themselves the newspaper. Exactly the newspaper, though not of course newsprint. Journalists seem to discount the possibility that digital editions may replace, and satisfactorily replace, print editions in a way in which web sites by definition cannot. Digital editions have now replaced printed issues for scientific and technical journals. Yes replaced. Web sites do something else, something different that they can do better than a paper or a digital edition. Rupert Murdoch sees all this, or feels it in his bones. That is why Rupert thinks that the WSJ is worth $5 Billion, or $2,500 per subscriber/copy sold. Rupert is right, the best newspapers have a great future and it will certainly be digital.

Juan Antonio Giner is also gloomy about the prospects for the Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, but he likes Monocle. If he is correct in his defoliation of the first issue from NY ('caviar and peanut butter' how cruel, what a dissonance on the palette) the planners of the Portfolio launch will be much to blame for not producing a digital edition of their launch issue. If you must have a five month gap between your launch issue and your first regular issue, it would be much better as a primarily digital issue. That would make the print issue a collectors item, that would would also maximise the chances of distribution everywhere (not a copy of Portfolio or indeed Monocle to be seen in Florence this last month); importantly also it would not hang around getting battered or neglected in kiosks.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

But is there a Market in the Gap?

Last week's Press Gazette had a thought-provoking article on two recent, spectacularly failed magazine launches, Popworld Pulp and So London (the web sites are, at this moment, still up). Neither of these magazines launched with digital editions. The PG article is only available to subscribers, but there is a summary on the PG's open web site.

Development Hell's music magazine, The Word, is cited as a good example of the way a new magazine can grow from a conservative launch to become an established title in a highly competitive area. They have a brilliant quote from Jerry Perkins publisher of The Word:

We knew there were several gaps in the market, but obviously you need to make sure that there is a market in the gap.
This is a motto that should be written, in 36 point, at the top of every new magazine launch plan. Such a launch plan must, in 2007, also start with the web strategy. How does the web site complement the print product? And of key importance: the magazine's founders should explain how the digital edition will be used (whether to maximise consumer awareness, subscriptions or advertiser responses). If the business plan does not convince on those grounds, the financial backers should immediately pull away.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Magazine Week (2)

Magazine Week is scheduled for 17-23 September, see previous post. I have asked a few key people who have been behind the success of World Book Day since its inception, for their advice and the fruits of their experience. Magazines and Books are different but there are surely some parallels.

Jo Henry runs BML which has been very influential in tracking the consumer appeal of WBD. Jo kindly answered some questions that I threw in her direction:

Q1 Is there a key lesson that you have learned from the success of World Book Day?
WBD works because there is a core of very committed, highly professional people within the industry who really believe in WBD as a concept and put a lot of (mostly unpaid) time into making it work year after year. It is a very good example of the way in which the book industry can collaborate to grow the market and create readers. There is also, of course, the essential sponsorship from Book Tokens which underwrites much of the cost and a lot of organizations who provide eg free distribution and printing for the specially chosen £1 books.

Q2 Do you have any advice for the magazine publishing and magazine selling industry?
WBD still has much greater impact in the children’s market, being promoted heavily through schools and libraries to that sector. However, in the last few years efforts have been made (with some success – now over 50% awareness) to reach adults as well. I would suspect that having a core audience in mind would be helpful as you launch.

Q3 A day or a week? Plusses or minusses?
In fact the voucher redemption scheme (£1 book tokens send to every school child in the country which can be redeemed against the £1 books or used as a discount voucher against another purchase) runs for almost a month, and whilst there is a concentration on the day itself, schools and shops do run the campaign over long periods. Shops find it difficult to sustain for longer periods, however, as their promotional calendars get very full, but on the other hand you risk missing lots of people if you only go for a day.

Q4 Has the international side to World Book day been important to its success in UK and Eire?
No one seems to take much notice of this. We don’t use the same day as other markets and we don’t use the same theme (give a book on World Book Day for example, used I believe in Spain).
It sounds as though WBD success, like many other marketing triumphs, is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Jo's advice on having a 'core audience' in mind is very helpful. The Spanish tip is interesting and possibly more relevant to magazines than to books. Book Tokens won't work for magazines since we do not have Magazine Tokens, but perhaps the theme of developing magazine week as the week in which one buys a magazine for a friend ...... that could work. It could have that concrete 'call for action' focus of the 'Book Token' scheme.

I am sounding out one or two other luminaries of the book trade, so there may be more advice from this quarter.

Surfer's Path

Here is an overview of the latest magazine in our 'shop'.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Magazine Week and World Book Day

The PPA (the Periodical Publisher's Association) is planning a Magazine Week for September 17-23, 2007.

This seems like a good idea. It is surely inspired by the success of World Book Day, which, although it is only 10 years old, attracts a lot of press interest and consumer involvement. The consumer involvment is probably the key to success here .... I wonder what the people involved in the success of World Book Day have to say about the project? Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.