Going Beyond Print to Save Magazines
Across the conference, magazine publishers embraced aggressive flexibility. That seemed to be the message of every executive speaking at the 2010 Publishing Business Conference & Expo (PublishingBusiness.com), held from March 8-10 at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square: That they're working across every platform to give readers what they want to read, where they want to read it, and sell advertisers robust, reportable, multichannel marketing campaigns. The five magazine executives at Tuesday's Executive Roundtable featured session spoke about their own implementation of these new approaches in a panel about how magazine publishers could ensure a future for print in an increasingly digital age.
New Platforms and Mass Brand Bolster Reader's Digest Magazines
"Increasingly, all of our pieces are working together," said Peggy Northrop, Editor-in-Chief of Reader's Digest. "If you think of your brand as a circle of products with the consumer in the middle, you can really start any place on that circle" and bring new readers from that spot into consuming your other products. She pointed out that Reader's Digest "happened to start as a print magazine in 1922," but over the years had added music and books, and was now expanding into online and downloadable games on its Web site that are based on its popular magazine columns. "If you like the brand in one platform, you like the brand in another platform," she said, so "in every piece of our business we are trying to get it onto other platforms." This does more than get traffic to the digital platforms. Reader's Digest has found that those digital games are actually very helpful in getting readers to pay for content.
"People are saying the wider your focus is, the more difficult it is to reach readers," said Northrop, but "I think there are a lot of ways you can use a mass brand." Reader's Digest has 50 editions around the world, and "editorially, we are sharing content with all of these magazines, so it's a very, very efficient model." In addition, she says Reader's Digest's relationship with CNN International lets them bring worldwide perspectives into their pages. But Northrop also pointed out that there were things Reader's Digest did to "niche-ify" the mass brand, such as the "Make it Matter" column, which focuses on people who are doing things to give back to their community. These stories often bring a huge response from the readership, and Reader's Digest has done live, community-focused events that asked readers what causes they most wanted to focus on. In the last case, those readers chose literacy, so Reader's Digest held events in New York and at libraries around the country promoting literacy. In this way, Northrop feels Reader's Digest can be both "mass and niche."
Hanley Wood Finds Not All Readership is Digital
"If we don't save the advertising we can't save print," said Frank Anton, CEO of housing and construction publisher Hanley Wood LLC. Coming from the b-to-b side of magazine publishing, he also spoke of audience engagement, but explained that simply engaging readers was not the answer to his magazines' woes.
"Our problem is that people are not advertising in our magazines. So the way we're saving print is actually de-emphasizing advertising," he said. More and more, Hanley Wood is selling products to advertisers other than print ads. "We go in and we have data, so we'll talk about data. We have trade shows, so we'll talk about trade shows. We have electronic media, we talk about electronic media. We want to see what they're interested in, and once we get them interested in something ... it's a natural move then back to print. We used to go in and say give us your 24-times schedule ... and give us all the money you spend in the market. We no longer do that. We go in and say, 'What do you need? We have what you want. By the way, you need to be in the magazine.'"
However, that doesn't mean Hanley Wood isn't facing challenges on the reader front as well. The magazine is already half the size it used to be due to cuts necessitated by the housing market collapse. If you were a reader who was getting 80 pages of content and is now getting 40, "that magazine is half as important to you," said Anton. "So we're trying to rebuild the customer base so that we can rebuild the magazines and make them as big and rich as they were a few years ago."
Moderator Samir Husni asked Anton if he felt the print product was essential to Hanley Wood magazines—couldn't they just go digital? "Our readers are the guys in pickup trucks with their dogs in the front seat," he responded, pointing out that Hanley Wood was conducting a survey of those readers to see how they wanted their content. "Unlike any of us who sit at a desk all day, they're out at a construction site. ... They're just not online all day, so they still read magazines."
"We see niche as the key to long-term success," said Eric Hoffman, executive vice president and COO of Hoffman Media, which prints magazines that target the "women's market," including Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade and Cooking with Paula Deen. "With specific brands," such as Sandra Lee, Hoffman said, "we can do unique things in the marketplace, such as live events." Hoffman Media has also started a cooking club through Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade, which has an online how-to component, but also features a heavy paper-stock publication that both "helps the reader's experience" and gives them a creative higher-impact product to sell to the advertiser.
Hoffman also sees the magazine as a content delivery platform that often is a better fit for his readers than digital content. "When you think about somebody cooking, you're in the kitchen," he said. "It would frustrate me if I had my iPad and I was getting grease all over the screen, but I don't really mind my magazine [getting grease on it]. ... I think women who curl up on the couch with a glass of wine are probably doing it with a magazine and not their laptops."
Brand Key to Food Network Magazine Success
One counter-intuitive success story on the panel came from the Food Network Magazine, which launched last year based on Food Network TV channel and FoodNetwork.com, both of which are more or less free to anybody. However even though that content is out there largely for free, the magazine has found great success.
"Consumers kept saying they wanted more and they wanted it in a magazine package," said Vicki Wellington, launch publisher of Food Network Magazine. "After doing a lot of research and testing it as a consumer proposition, we put it on [the] newsstand and it blew, blew, blew off." The magazine's financial success has been significant. After starting at a 300,000 rate base, the eighth issue is already up to 1.4 million. "It's absolutely factual that print is effective," she continued. "We launched across platform [in print and on the Web]. We were able to use online to our advantage, and 50 percent of our subs came in online. So digital has been our friend, and print is very much alive and vibrant."
Giving readers what they want from the brand has been the key to success for Wellington. "It is the reader first, and everything we do is to give them that [Food Network] experience," she said. "Listen to what your [readers and brand consumers] say, not what you say."