What the Web Does Best
When Doug Harbrecht first signed on as Kiplinger’s new media editorial director, he was faced with a challenge to which many in today’s magazine industry can relate. The challenge was perhaps best summarized by Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone founder, in a recent Wall Street Journal interview: “The trick is to figure out what the Web does better, and let it do that, and then see what the role of the magazine is and what the magazine does better.”
Sounds simple enough. But as many in publishing know, it’s just not that easy.
It helps to have the right people holding the reins. Kiplinger’s editor in chief Knight Kiplinger and editorial director Kevin McCormally had plucked Harbrecht away from Business Week, where he had served as executive editor since 2003. During his stint as editorial content director, Business Week Online garnered six National Magazine Award nominations for excellence in new media—more than any other magazine Web site—and won the award in 2000.
His addition meant Kiplinger.com had found its leader—someone with a track record for success and a visionary eye toward the future of the Web. Harbrecht was tasked with not only boosting traffic, but also identifying and implementing cutting-edge online elements that complement the brand’s print version.
When Harbrecht took Kiplinger.com’s reins on March 1 of this year, he understood the latter half of Wenner’s equation was already in place. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance print magazine is among the most well known and successful personal finance publications in the United States. Its Kiplinger Letter, dating back to 1923, is the longest continually published newsletter in the nation. But like many new media directors, Harbrecht found himself searching for ways to leverage the print product’s productivity into an online powerhouse as well.
Kiplinger.com actually consists of two separate Web sites: Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, which mirrors the magazine, and Kiplinger’s Business Forecasts, home of The Kiplinger Letter and an assortment of business and economic forecasts. The sites differ significantly in both content and business models.
Personal Finance features a digital edition launched in November 2005 using Zinio’s in-browser viewing technology. The site also touts a number of online-only articles and resources “such as online columns, podcasts, Videoviews (Kiplinger’s version of a webcast) … updated online-only versions of magazine stories and slide shows,” Harbrecht says. He also promises that his team “will definitely be ramping up online-only content in the weeks and months ahead.”
The site’s content is entirely free to visitors, and its revenue model is ad-based. In fact, Harbrecht reports that ad revenue doubled from January 2004 to January 2005 and then increased another 30 percent the following year.
Business Forecasts, on the other hand, is subscription-based with no ads at this time. That is likely to change though, Harbrecht predicts, as an increase in site traffic should pave the way for advertising dollars. Currently, four-week trial subscriptions are available for free to interested visitors, as the company looks to jump-start the site.
“Our forecasting site is primarily for subscribers to The Kiplinger Letter,” Harbrecht says. “But we want to move to a model that combines subscription and registration with advertising. Already, we are offering free daily news insights from The Kiplinger Letter editors. There will be more valuable, free content to come.
“We plan to build out our business forecasting site into a resource center for business executives and decision-makers, mixing robust, free content with subscription and fee-based products and services,” he says.
A strength of the personal finance site is the double-digit number of tools available to readers, he notes, from stock-selection resources to retirement savings calculators. “Watch for rollout of some of the best personal finance and forecasting tools available online—providing sophisticated information in an easy-to-understand way,” Harbrecht says. “For example … our new tax-withholding calculator. The Internal Revenue Service offers a withholding calculator with 13 questions. We do it with just three questions.”
The sites’ modifications are currently managed by just eight staff members (five editorial, three technical) working exclusively on Kiplinger’s online projects. But all these changes will require a new approach and more online-specific staff, Harbrecht says. “The old model won’t apply going forward. We will be producing Web content for an integrated Kiplinger audience.”
Despite their differences in content, target audiences and revenue models, the Personal Finance and Business Forecast sites are likely to travel down a similar path, he says. “We want to extend our excellence into cyberspace, reaching out to a larger Web audience while building more loyalty with a subscriber audience that is already one of the most loyal in the publishing business. That means combining expert advice and trusted content with special Web-only features.”
So increases in site traffic and ad revenues are on the forefront of Harbrecht’s 2006 objectives. But what about his long-term strategy? “Our long-term goal is to find new, exciting, and interesting ways to build relationships with Web users, providing podcasts, Videoviews, blogs, RSS feeds, e-mail alerts, and other unique online platforms to grow our audience.” He’s on the right track. In addition to launching its first digital edition, Kiplinger.com has also introduced its first blog (September 2005), podcast (March 2006) and Videoview (March 2006).