Creating an International Print and Digital Empire: A How-To
A global digital model can work for print publishers, but, if Hearst Magazines International’s experience is any indication, it will not be built around paid content. That is one of the lessons I took from Yale Publishing Course this year.
If you’re looking to keep track of what innovations leading publishers are trying, digitally and in print, Yale Publishing Course is a good place to start. YPC director Tina Weiner asked me to stop by to see what was happening in the magazine track and, while I could only stay a morning, it was a morning filled with energy and ideas.
Duncan Edwards, President and CEO of Hearst Magazines International, shared with the attendees his experience building a global print business while pivoting to a more digital future. Hearst is the world’s largest cross-border publisher and the 11th largest content producer in the world. Active in more than 60 markets around the world, they are still launching print magazines while at the same time developing and implementing digital business models.
But in building these models, Hearst is not pinning its hopes on the sale of digital editions of their magazines. With so much free content available, it’s unrealistic to expect people to pay for their digital edition. And while still creating content-appropriate apps, Hearst has de-prioritized them, regarding them as a route to the content available on Hearst’s global sites.
While finding many points for optimism, Edwards said, that optimism needs to be based on the understanding that the old business models for global publishers have to change. While print is still profitable, print publishers need to adapt to the mobile culture.
The unstoppable urge to check the phone forces media organizations to embrace a high-velocity, news-driven future. Most of us know the statistics, but they are still worth repeating: almost 1 billion young women will have a smartphone in the next 5 years. The average smartphone consumers check their phones 110 times a day. In Nigeria more people have smartphones than have indoor plumbing.
Meanwhile, distribution at retail internationally is getting more difficult, and the informal roadside kiosks traditionally found in many markets are closing. So a new group of publishers is embracing new global media opportunities.
There are some common traits that publishers can use as guidelines in building their next-generation platforms. Edwards identified critical success factors in building a digital business:
- mobile focus
- high-velocity original content
- global platform
- native ads
- highly scalable
- agency services
- owned and 3rd party distribution
These opportunities are by no means limited to digital-only businesses. Traditional publishers have every right to play—not only that, but they should win. They have assets to be envied by digital businesses everywhere:
- brands loved by consumers and advertisers
- a global footprint of creators and sellers
- profitability and access to capital
- a clear and differentiated voice in a cluttered world.
A mobile focus forces publishers to move from a monthly orientation to one based on moments. The traditional monthly rhythm, working in advance to assemble an issue, is hopeless when thinking about digital publishing. Over the last ten years, publishers have moved from a model based on evergreen content optimized for search to one based on high-frequency newsy content optimized for social.
Hearst began this journey by rethinking the U.S. Cosmopolitan magazine. The death of Cosmo’s founder, Helen Gurley Brown, was a wakeup call. Within hours, every online site, data stream, and news forum had the news out—except Hearst. It took 3 days for Hearst to write and publish Brown’s obit online. Hearst discovered then that it was quicker and easier to publish the information on Facebook than on their own site, and realized that they needed to change their game.
They accepted the challenge and began changing the speed and frequency of their content delivery. From there they moved aggressively across their portfolio. An early lesson was in efficiency. You don’t need to do everything multiple times. You can do it once, and make it available globally.
Previously Hearst had granted each magazine in each global market its own platform, template and design; an early adaptation was to create a standardized design template, by magazine, to be used in markets around the world. Publications have the creative freedom to vary content, fonts and colors, but the technology underpinning it is standardized.
Today, 20% of digital content is now shared across Hearst’s magazine sites, whose responsiveness and efficiency is driven by a central news team that makes its content globally available as appropriate. Hearst Global Content Generator provides content feeds with more than 255 stories available every day, a 24-hour newsroom, and single-source coverage for major stories.
Owning rights is essential to building a global business. Hearst buys once and uses everywhere.
With these tools at a publisher’s disposal, today’s international model may not require a local partner. Years ago such a partner was essential. Print required feet on the ground—people to find printers, negotiate with distributors, and so on. Digitally these local liaisons might be less important. This could be a game changer for publishing in smaller countries, where the market is no longer sufficient to support a print magazine, but a digital presence can thrive.
Today Hearst distributes content where ever the company can create audiences and sell ads, whether through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest—or Snapchat, through which Cosmo has found a huge new audience. A daily publishing regimen inside the Snapchat program yields 2 million views a day. These 2 million seem to be new customers, more likely to become fans of Cosmo in digital than in print form.
With all this in mind, Edwards concluded, the future is bright for magazine publishers. All they have to do is create content consumers want in a clear and distinctive voice in a process that is ruthlessly efficient and easy for consumers and advertisers to use. Once you have that, the rest is a breeze.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.