Entering the ‘Other’ World (Beyond Print)
It is the million-dollar question many magazine publishers are faced with: What does print media have over the seemingly endless array of digital media forms now in existence?
After contemplation, the follow-up question is: How far should we extend our brand into that ‘other’ world? The world of digital delivery—of digital editions, podcasts, webcasts, television and extensive online coverage.
While interviewing publishers and editors on the challenges magazine publishers face and what they project for the future, it became clear that many in the business are walking a tightrope, balancing the viability of a printed product with the growing demand for more digital delivery.
An answer to that million-dollar question also became clear—print products do possess something its alternatives do not.
“Of all the media out there, print is the most engaging,” says Mike Federle, group publisher of Fortune Small Business, New York, which provides content on the personalities and practices of successful entrepreneurs in America. “Readers take magazines and curl up in their favorite chairs to read them. But when obtaining information online or via television, those people are most likely listening to music or conversing with a friend. Print is different. It has its place, and we must stand behind it.”
The publishers interviewed for this story agreed, but also revealed an acute awareness of the exciting, and somewhat foreboding, digital delivery mania. And most expressed a mix of optimism and trepidation about what the future holds for print in these fragmented media times.
PERCEPTION VS. REALITY
But is all the hoopla surrounding digital delivery based in reality? Federle says: yes and no. “The biggest challenge in the marketplace is the perception that everything is going digital and the question over print’s role going forward,” he says. “The idea that print isn’t or won’t be a reader’s preference is actually founded partly in perception … there are those who will always want print. Yet, some would say this … is based largely in reality when looking at where ads are going for some publishers.”
Federle adds that the challenge isn’t so much about expanding digital delivery, but how to continue reinforcing all the reasons to still use print.
Alison Tocci, publisher, Time Out New York, completely understands this difference. But the digital boom is very much a reality for her. “There are so many ways people receive information now, which is something that has changed so drastically in one lifetime,” she says. “When I was a kid, there were four TV stations, now there are hundreds. The Internet is at our fingertips, and within seconds we can get updates on the latest news and events.
“Digital delivery is the biggest challenge for those creating print production on a periodical deadline,” she adds. “And it is the fragmentation of the market that makes it harder to reach people.”
Tocci explains that readers can now customize what they read and how, when and where they get information—whether it be in the office reading online, on the beach reading print or on the train reading on a handheld device. “Delivery seems a necessity. It is an option that would allow that segment of our readers who just want to know theater listings to obtain them without having to go through other listings,” says Tocci.
David Lipson, president of Metrocorp, Philadelphia—publisher of Philadelphia and Boston magazines, among others—also shares concerns about digital delivery, but from a different viewpoint. He is worried about globalization and homogenization.
“The two things that concern me right now [are] the sheer number of media choices out there that are growing at a faster pace than the number of consumers and advertisers; and the seeming homogenization of media and content. We live in a global world now and, as a local business person, uniformity concerns me.”
Despite this, both Philadelphia and Boston magazines experienced banner years in sales. For Philadelphia magazine, 2005 represented its best year ever; for Boston, the second-best. Like Time Out New York, these magazines serve as entertainment guides, with listings, reviews, features and narrative essays.
The ballyhoo of digital delivery is more of a perception than a reality in Joel Schalit’s world. As managing editor for Tikkun magazine—a bimonthly Jewish critique of politics, culture and society—obstacles and concerns take on a different form. “For a publication like ours—a niche publication that caters to a specific community—our objective and challenge is to commission and publish incredible, distinct analytical pieces to distinguish ourselves from comrade publications,” explains Schalit. “We exist in a warm and welcoming publishing community, and we all see ourselves as working toward the same goals.”
Schalit concedes there is much discussion about the viability of print media because of ad migration to the Web and the timeliness of Web publications over print. “But it depends on the magazine, especially those covering news and current affairs,” he says. “A lot of news-driven publications have been hit very hard by declining ad revenue, and I believe that the Web is more competitive for up-to-the-minute political information.”
As a result, he adds, some publications are trying to develop an online strategy that could generate the same or equivalent revenue as print. Then there is Jonathon Feit. He is chief editor, publisher and co-founder of Citizen Culture, which says it is the first magazine to go completely digital. The magazine targets young professionals. His readers: Generation Xers and Yers. While he believes there is a place for print, he abandoned a print edition after eight months to re-launch digitally last fall.
“The challenge for print publishers is just the sheer number of titles out there that make it hard to survive,” says Feit. “With 900 launches a year, the market is oversaturated. They are all vying for attention from readers that have very short bits of it to give.”
Citizen Culture offers perspectives for young professionals and includes an array of special sections, from arts and entertainment to law, religion and travel. Blogs and podcasts are also highlights of this modern-age magazine.
Feit’s online venture plays directly into what might be the third highly priced question for magazine publishers—one which was posed by Time Out’s Tocci: “As a magazine publisher, I also wonder, ‘How can we reach college kids and the Generation Yers, and what are they willing to pay for in the future?’
“Do they expect everything to be free since they are used to going on the Internet and getting it that way?” she asks. “Nobody knows what their habits will be. Everyone is holding their breath to see what the generation coming up will pay for, and if there is enough of a model that will work to benefit them and us. It is kind of a gamble.”
EXPANDING AND BRANDING
A gamble, yes, but Tocci is willing to place at least a few bets to meet new demands and ensure readers turn to Time Out New York over other publications. She says webcasts and podcasts are on the to-do list, but her current solution to the fragmented market has been the creation of a more robust Web site and a television presence.
“Our full magazine is now online, and it is multicriteria searchable. Users can pick and choose the category and day they want to view listings,” she says. “There are a million things to do to make the site sticky, and we’ll be working on that this year. The site won’t replace our print version, but it adds to our menu.”
An on-demand TV station is on the menu as well. “We just launched that station, and we have a share of that revenue stream. Its intention is to expand our brand and drive subscriptions.” (See “Time Out New York Takes to the Tube” sidebar on page 40.)
Also spreading its wings across various channels is Fortune Small Business. “We’re doing events, conferences and blogs, and we’ve done some podcasts,” says Federle. “We don’t deliver to cell phones yet; that is something we are discussing. But it is all part of the buzz factor, and doesn’t really have an appreciable audience for our business.”
What makes Federle a little more confident than his competitors in meeting digital demands is that Fortune is a subsidiary of Time Warner. “I can easily tap into venues like CNN,” he says. “For instance, we have writer Andy Serwer present a morning webcast called ‘In the Money’ for CNN. Overall, there is clearly a desire for integrated packaging—meaning print with a strong online component and other delivery, and we can easily do all of that.”
While Lipson of Metrocorp focuses mainly on print, he is investing in an online presence and producing television shows and events, including home entertainment and a cooking show on CN8 and CBS. “We know that the Internet would attract a younger group, but we are comfortable in our skin and in our mission,” he says. “We appeal to those making a good living, and as people achieve expendable income, they will come to us.”
While publishers wade into the deeper end of digital delivery, they are still dependent on ancillary profits to help keep afloat.
For Lipson, additional revenue comes from sponsorships of events as well as the TV shows. “We also publish annuals like Best of Philly, which brings [in] good profits for us.”
Federle reports that Fortune breaks up its revenue streams into revenue categories including print ads, subscription, consumer, online and others such as conferences, reprints and data products.
“Our data products include issues like the ‘Fortune 500’ list and ‘America’s Most Admired’ lists,” says Federle. “In total, our extra revenue streams represent about 6 percent of our top-line revenue. In terms of our bottom line, it is a much bigger percentage.”
He adds that Fortune will be posting a lot more online for added profit. In fact, during the first week in January, a new joint site was launched, called CNN/Money.com. It is powered by Fortune Small Business, Money, Business 2.0 and CNN. “This [Web site] will allow us a site of scale that will give us many more opportunities to package very big deals across the money group,” says Federle. “We are talking about 20 million influential and affluent users. Already we are seeing robust sales into our Web site among the financial advertising category.” (See page 34 for more on the new site.)
For Tikkun, reprints are a significant source of revenue. “We have a very strong, consistent demand for reprints,” says Schalit. “Our content is often used by researchers, so the reprint business has been very good to us. I don’t think that will change soon.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2006
With the turn of the New Year, these publishers at least are confident that their own publications will flourish. And they all believe offering some level of digital delivery is necessary. But for the majority still offering print, the message is clear that much will be done to retain a strong print presence this year and beyond.
“We will deliver content of any kind people want. With e-paper coming up, I’m sure we will be on that, and we will deliver across podcasts and the Internet. But there will always be a print edition because of its unique qualities,” assures Federle. “It is portable and it is tangible, which is why magazines have been so successful. Some vertical B-to-Bs may be feeling a pinch, but print magazines like ours should survive.”
Tocci adds, “Another big frontier to consider is satellite radio. We need to focus on our brand and deliver no matter what. What are the changes for the future? I can’t predict, but it is clear we have to be on top of it.”
Lipson and Schalit are more focused on a new surge in demand for their print products. “Cities are thriving. Our newsstand sales are strong, our renewals are strong, and we attribute this partly to the baby-boomer generation,” says Lipson. “So many boomers have migrated to cities, and they are our target audience—affluent and influential individuals,” says Lipson.
Schalit’s readers are part of the Jewish publishing community, which has doubled in size with the advent of Israeli publications in English. There are now more Jewish publications demanding attention than ever before. Recent additions to the community include Heeb magazine, Guilt & Pleasure, JewSchool.com and Jewcy.com.
Offering greater insight into print publishing’s future overall, Schalit says, “It seems there is a tendency to over-emphasize the evolutionary nature of digital media. What I think will happen is that media itself will become diversified in terms of formats. We’ve been in a recession for several years, and my sense is there will be a new generation of print publications when the economy strengthens and older magazines that may have suffered may find themselves looking at larger circulations.
“In the end, the fact remains that format diversification will be permanent,” says Schalit. “I believe print and digital magazines and other forms will all be available to consumers.”
Sharon Cole is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.