5 wasted years: How the “print is dead” mantra has distracted publishers from the real work

February 19th, 2014

Here’s a hopeful article: 6 Things Digital Natives Should Know About Print

It’s hopeful because I’m seeing more and more articles like this — by people who are realizing that all the “digital revolution” kids were just trying to sell us something, and that print is neither dead nor dying.

2013 was the year print forgot to die. It was the year our industry seemed to reach consensus that, for many years to come, we will derive much of our profit from putting ink on paper.

This post title says “5 wasted years.” I just made that up. I don’t know if it’s five or six or what. But that we’ve been wasting time is indisputable.

The “print is dead” mantra has so permeated our brains that in our meetings, conferences, and publications, we’ve stopped talking about how to be successful with dead-tree editions or the implications of the latest print-related developments.

Right. We’ve been wasting far too much of our time and resources on the 3 percent.

Consider this. Imagine how different publishing would be today if all the time and effort and meetings and talks and agonizing about “digital” for the past five years had been spent on improving renewal rates. Does anyone doubt that the time would have been better spent?

Don’t get me wrong. The world is changing and digital is a big part of the mix. (Generally speaking that means print + web — not tablet editions or apps or any of that “feed the consultants” stuff.)

But we have to keep things in proportion, and it’s my feeling that the hard times the publishing industry has been through the last several years have been exacerbated by losing track of the core business.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The migration from paid print to ad-supported digital

February 3rd, 2014

When it comes to magazine publishing, print revenues have been flat or declining. Mostly declining. There are some exceptions, but overall the industry is losing ground.

The Big Hope was that people would migrate from print to tablet, and that tablet publishing would become a new source of revenue. Or at least something to slow the decline. Or at least worth the effort.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Tablet magazines have been a huge disappointment. A few companies have made a decent go of it, but generally speaking the results are bland, at best. People simply aren’t that interested in reading magazines on tablets. Of course the “it’s a new world” people think that this will change and all of a sudden everybody’s going to be reading magazines on tablets, but I, for one, will believe it when I see it.

There are reports that “digital” revenues are up for many publishers, and sometimes people falsely assume that refers to an increase in tablet subscriptions, but generally it turns out that the “digital” revenue is coming from good old-fashioned ads on websites.

Presumably people used to buy magazines because they were interested in the subject, or liked the pictures, or something. Has the world suddenly lost interest in all such things and is now only interested in videos about cats? I don’t think so.

I have a couple theories about what’s changing and why, and what publishers should do about it.

Tablet development is distracting from real product development: Magazines come and go in the normal course of business because the world changes. People’s interests change, markets change, etc. In the old days publishers would deal with this by changing their content to suit new markets, or starting new magazines on new topics.

The “it’s a new world” folk have convinced publishers that the real need now is to adapt to digital — by which they usually mean “create an expensive app.”

I think it’s very likely that some of the effort that should have been focused on making sure the content is still meeting readers’ needs has been re-purposed and is now focused on trying to move everything to digital. IOW, magazines are losing readers because they’re not paying enough attention to the old-fashioned idea of matching content to a changing market. They’re forgetting tried and true business practices and chasing digital will-o-wisps.

In support of this theory I note that there are magazines that are thriving — yes, even in print — because they’re writing what the readers want.

The solution is obvious. Don’t forget to do the normal business of publishing.

“Always on” consumers don’t think in terms of issues: Like many people these days, I have some sort of electronic device with me almost all the time, so if I’m on the subway and want to read about fishing, I can do that. I don’t need to wait for a magazine to arrive — either in the mail, on Magzter, or whatever. To the extent that people rely on “always on” content, the issue-based subscription doesn’t seem that important.

Note that a digital issue doesn’t solve this problem. The “always on” consumer doesn’t want to wait for a new digital edition any more than he wants to wait for a new print edition.

This doesn’t mean that publishers should abandon the idea of an issue and simply move to constantly updated online content. The solution is to create a link between the issue-based service and the “always on” service. The simplest way to do this is to make the magazine and the website work together so that each one reinforces the other.

The people who want to stay in print can stay in print, and the people who need a daily fix can visit the website. The publisher needs to make it a coherent brand experience so that whether the reader is browsing an issue or browsing the website he thinks of the publisher as the source for his chosen type of content.

Uncategorized 1 comment

Be careful applying one A-B test to another product or market

January 28th, 2014

I recently did an A-B test on a web page where one panel showed the product and the premium and the other panel showed a picture of our esteemed chief. The chief won.

Then I duplicated the test for a different product on a very similar page. This product goes to a different market, and this time the product plus the premium won.

It would be nice to say different rules apply to different products and markets, and that’s probably the lesson we should take from this. But sometimes I’m tempted to think that the universe is inherently weird and designed to drive us all crazy.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The 25 astonishing ways the internet is changing journalism

January 25th, 2014

Today I clicked on an article about how Stephen Hawking says black holes don’t really exist. It attracted my attention because black holes are cool, Stephen Hawking is smart, and he’s one of the people who got everybody interested in them in the first place.

Unfortunately, Hawking didn’t really say black holes don’t exist. He said we need to understand the event horizon a little differently. Or, IOW, something far less dramatic.

But “Stephen Hawking says we need to understand the event horizon a little differently” wouldn’t have attracted my attention, therefore I wouldn’t have clicked, and therefore the site wouldn’t have earned 1.37 cents from pointing ads at my eyeballs.

Have you noticed? Everything is “dramatic” and “amazing” and superlative in some way. It has to be to grab your attention.

So no, I’m not going to tell you 25 astonishing ways about anything. That’s just a good headline.

Uncategorized What do you think?

Is deceptive marketing worth it? Or, are you listening you jerks at Advance Vehicle Protection?

January 21st, 2014

I just got a marketing solicitation disguised to look like a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles — demanding my immediate action.

Of course if it was from the DMV I would take care of it right away, but as soon as I found out it’s a deception I wanted to find the marketer who sent this thing and smack him around a bit.

The company name is nowhere on the notice, so I called. The guy who answered said “Advance Vehicle Protection.”

Scum.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The silliness of retargeting

January 21st, 2014

I have an old clothes dryer that just keeps going, although every once in a while I need to do a minor repair. Recently I had to get a new idler pulley. It’s a cheap part that’s very easy to replace. I bought it and installed it. I’m done with idler pulleys for another decade.

But now I’m seeing ads for idler pulleys on about every third website. Somebody is wasting a lot of money.

Uncategorized What do you think?

A cynic meets a skeptic

January 3rd, 2014

I expected to like Evgeny vs. the internet a lot more than I did. Although I love technology, I am very skeptical of a lot of the pro-technology talk out there. I wanted to hear some serious take-downs of the b.s. that passes for wisdom in the technology space. Unfortunately, it was slim pickings. I don’t know if that’s because there’s little substance to Evgeny Morozov’s criticisms, or because the article isn’t very good. (It is too long.)

In any event, here are some highlights.

In The Net Delusion, Morozov “calls the idea that technology is the key ingredient to the promotion of democracy ‘cyber-utopianism,’ and shows just how thoroughly this idea has pervaded both the public and political consciousness.”

It’s completely normal for each generation to think “it’s different now.” They cast off the wisdom of their elders because the world has changed. To whatever extent that has been true in past generations, it’s an even bigger deal now. Smart phones and big data and speed cameras and ubiquitous technology are changing a lot of things.

But not everything. Some of the technology nonsense is a matter of confusing things that do change with things that don’t. For example, there are still bad people out there — even if they have a smart phone. And even if it’s an iPhone.

In this world of rapid change, people often fail to question assumptions. In one situation, Morozov was called an “internet scientist,” and then realized his usefulness in that role “depended entirely on the largely unexamined assumption that new media had a coherent and predictable effect on each country (or industry) it touched.”

I hear things like this all the time, and I see companies dumping money into the social media pit because they haven’t used ordinary business sense. They don’t have to, you see, because “it’s different this time.” You can’t rely on “old thinking.”

So-called “internet experts,” or “social media experts,” are often people who have fooled others into believing their promotional literature.

“Part of my job is to raise the cost of producing bullshit in this area, and to make sure people pay for that with shame, with being ridiculed, with harsh reviews, whatever,” he says.

That sounds like a noble calling. I just wish the article gave more examples.

Morozov speaks of “internet-centrism,” “which he describes as the ‘firm conviction that we are living through unique, revolutionary times, in which the previous truths no longer hold.’”

Right. It’s a big problem. Just because the big firms are run by young people doesn’t mean they’re your idealistic friends from college.

It’s just that he considers the larger notions of innate goodness and inevitability that “the internet” has been consciously imbued with to be bullshit. “You think about Big Pharma, Big Oil,” he says. “The mere fact that we use the term ‘big’ to talk about them means we’ve figured out that they probably have interests that diverge from those of the public. Nobody uses the term ‘big data’ in that sense.”

It’s painful to listen to idealistic young people complain about “big oil” and “big pharma” and Monsanto and all the currently fashionable bogey men and fail to realize that Google is probably a far bigger threat to their lives.

“Organizing the world’s information” sounds so intellectual and nice. It’s about as threatening as a librarian. But that’s where our liberties are going to be eroded. NSA didn’t get your personal data from big oil.

There’s a kind of insanity that overtakes people when they talk about the internet. Think about the newspapers that decided to publish their expensive editorial content in exchange for banner ads — which then went south. Or think about all the magazines that have pumped tons of money into iPad editions of their magazines — and almost nobody reads those things.

It’s important to keep up with trends and change with the times, but I have a recurring feeling that “it’s different now” also means that executives aren’t using normal business sense in their decisions.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The end of a publishing delusion?

December 17th, 2013

There was a time when everybody and anybody who knew anything about publishing was hyping the tablet magazine. You simply had to be on the tablet and in Apple’s newsstand. Anything else was “old school,” print-centric thinking. Backwards. If you thought that way you probably dragged your knuckles while eating your Woolly Mammoth sandwich.

The problem is that reality is a stubborn thing and sooner or later catches up with any fad. Tablet magazine sales have been absolutely dreadful and people are finally starting to realize this.

See, for example, The tablet magazine ship is sinking. Fast.

The article almost gets it right. Yes, the tablet magazine — whether PDF replica or the fancier versions you can get out of Indesign — has been a bust. A complete, total bust. A colossal waste of time.

But the article forgets the old “fool me once” wisdom and urges us to chase the next will-o-wisp.

Publishers must break free of the Newsstand and InDesign/PDF trap and invest in their publications as stand-alone, real, honest-to-God apps …

This is another “spend money on consultants” fantasy. Nobody wants to have a different app for each of their magazines. And before someone says “large publishers could put all their magazines in a single app,” please walk through a newsstand and see if you can identify the publisher of each of the titles. Only a magazine geek could get close.

The correct solution is a generalized reading platform into which magazines, books, articles and so on can be fed. Something like Evernote. I would say “or the Kindle app” except that Amazon (along with Apple) is the enemy of subscription publishers.

Evernote should be adapted so that publishers can feed their content to Evernote and subscribers can log in to their subscriptions. That is, the subscription they maintain with the publisher.

Unfortunately, Apple has Evernote by the short hairs and they’re afraid to do something like that. This might be an opportunity for Nook, which desperately needs a way to distinguish itself.

Anyway, that is what has to happen. Somebody with some courage has to create a reader app that responds to the needs of the reader and the publisher. That is, all the user’s reading material is in one, easy to use app, and the publisher continues to have a direct relationship with the subscriber.

Amazon and Apple have been trying to make every customer their customer. Publishers were complete chumps to play along, and the funniest thing about it is that they didn’t even get any revenue out of the deal because it never worked — partly because Amazon and Apple don’t understand publishing.

Uncategorized What do you think?

The Wikipedia beg and in-group loyalty

December 3rd, 2013

I’ve read that when you’re asking for donations it’s good to set a standard, like “most people donate $10.”

People don’t know what’s “the right” amount, so they want to know what other people do. How much am I supposed to tip the taxi? Should I tip the mail man? Etc.

I read about a study regarding those hotel efforts to get people to participate in the “save the planet, don’t wash your towel” thing. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if saving the planet was as easy as using yesterday’s towel?)

The secret, so this study said, was to get the guest to think he’s part of a group so that he doesn’t want to let the group down. E.g., “Average participation is 20%, but 30% of the people on this floor participated in the program.”

That sounds really weird to me. Why would I have any sort of in-group attachment to people who happen to have stayed on the same floor? It doesn’t make sense, but apparently it works.

Similar things work in neighborhoods (which makes a lot more sense). E.g., “The electric company is trying to conserve power. 45% of your neighbors have reduced their electric consumption this year, …. ”

Anyway, Wikipedia has decided to ask for contributions. Here’s their version of the tin cup rattle.

Wikipedia beg

Notice that they specify an average donation of $15, but then notice that $15 isn’t one of the choices on the right.

Interesting.

(BTW, all reasonable people love wikipedia, so I gave them $20.)

Uncategorized What do you think?

The “death of print” is the excuse of the day

December 3rd, 2013

It seems that every magazine is having the same problem. It’s the “death of print.”

Something amazing has happened. Magazines no longer fail because they aren’t meeting the needs of their subscribers. They don’t fail because they have misunderstood the market, or because they are serving an interest that doesn’t exist any more.

If there was a magazine on how to get the most out of your Apple Newton, it would fail because of the “death of print.”

At the same time, other magazines are magically succeeding — in print. Wired is going great guns.

They must be cheating.

Uncategorized What do you think?