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From the Editor : Is Your Publication Habit-Forming?

September 2012 By James Sturdivant
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The recent Publishing Business Virtual Conference & Expo, presented by Publishing Executive and Book Business, was capped by a keynote from New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who spoke about how habits are formed and maintained, and how we can break (or encourage) them. (Duhigg's keynote can be heard on-demand at the show website.) It got me thinking about the appeal of magazines and their changing place in our lives.

Appeal is a funny thing. We in the business tend to focus on the appeal of content—words, images and design. While this is obviously important, the way we read matters as much as what we read. I'm not talking about mobile versus desktop versus print. I mean how content consumption is built into our routines. According to Duhigg, every habit has three components: a trigger (or cue), a routine and a reward. For instance, as he points out in his book, "The Power of Habit," a trigger can be a time of day or a built-in craving. A routine is what you do each time in response to the trigger, and the reward is whatever you find pleasurable about the experience. Understanding the trigger and the reward can help you change the routine—what we normally think of as the habit.

I wonder if we in the publishing business have thought enough about the power of habit when it comes to inserting our digital products into people's lives. With print, there was a built-in habitual component that worked very well for generations. At a certain time of day, you knew the newspaper would come. You might even have heard the sound of paper hitting porch. This triggered the routine of getting the paper and the pleasurable experience of reading the day's news while sipping coffee. It was the same with magazines. They would appear in your mailbox, or on the newsstand, at a very specific time, calling out to you with a colorful cover or compelling copy. This triggered the opening and reading, as well as the pleasure of relaxing on the couch (or having an excuse not to talk to people on the train, or whatever). There were certain columns or cartoons you looked forward to getting. You couldn't just read the latest from Pauline Kael or "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" whenever you wanted; you had to wait for it. Maybe a friend of yours picked up the magazine on the newsstand first before you got it in the mail—annoying, right? But it only heightened the anticipation.

 
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