Paywalls on the mobile site, but not on desktop?

As traffic on mobile devices increases — often making up half of a site’s total page views — publishers are struggling to monetize those mobile visitors. See Mobile Readers Abound; the Ads, Not So Much.

The problem is fairly straight-forward. You can squeeze more ads into a desktop page view than you can on a mobile page. Also, some of the analytics and tracking options a website can use on desktop don’t work as well on mobile, if they work at all.

The very same article, viewed on a desktop, might generate twice the ad revenue it would get on a mobile device. That paints an ugly revenue picture for publishers, since more and more traffic is moving to mobile.

Supporting content with ads was a questionable decision to begin with, in my opinion, but investing in a mobile platform only to see your ad revenue drop …. That goes beyond “questionable” and might even qualify as self-defeating, except that it’s not as if the publisher has much of a choice. People are going to read on mobile devices — while they stand at the bus stop, or (unfortunately) while they’re walking into a telephone pole.

That’s just the way things are. The web has moved beyond the desk, and publishers can’t change that, even if they wanted to. However, they might be able to change their strategy so this trend doesn’t destroy their revenue.

Why not do something different on mobile?

Publishers could go all in and set up a paywall for mobile readers, but there are steps short of a full-on paywall that might tip the scales.

For example, why not require mobile users to register? An email address can be more valuable than an ad impression.

I asked a few of my publishing colleagues what they thought of this concept.

Andy Kowl from ePublishing says that many of their clients successfully gate their content, but none of them currently make a distinction between desktop and mobile visitors. Depending on what content management system you use, Andy points out that there could be some technology challenges in putting a paywall on mobile but not on desktop. This is because the part of the system that runs the paywall is often separate from the part that triggers the responsive design. E.g., the paywall has to connect to a user database.

My tech colleagues here at Kiplinger say that’s one of the reasons it can be a good idea to put the mobile site on a different domain so you can control things separately. You simply redirect mobile users to the other site.

Another reason to use a different domain for mobile is there are simply different things going on — like swiping. It’s already hard, and is going to get increasingly harder, to make one site, using one technology, that addresses all the possibilities.

Besides, even “mobile” is a becoming an unhelpful word. It’s not just smart phones and tablets. People are going to be accessing your content in their cars. Screens are becoming ubiquitous.

Ed Coburn from Mequoda reminds me that sponsorship is another option for monetizing content on mobile. I haven’t heard whether that option provides enough of a boost to make up for the drop in revenue on mobile sites, but it’s certainly worth considering.

Ed also points out that most people assume they can get your information on some other site, so if you make it hard to access on yours, they’ll just go elsewhere.

That’s very true. Publishers need to make their content unique — either in what they say, in how they say it, or in why they are a more trusted source. Anybody with a keyboard can write about anything. The trick for publishers is to write in a way that people would rather listen to you than the other guy.

It’s tempting to say “mobile is here to stay.” But with the rapid change in technologies, who really knows? Maybe a decade from now we’ll all be fitted with an implant that displays visual information straight to our optic nerve, and creates a little voice in our heads for the audio content. (Many years ago I mused on such things in The Intruder.)

Wherever technology takes us, there will be a market for intelligence, wit, style and … yes, plain old hard work. Content will still have value, but we’re going to have to be flexible and creative in how we make a living off selling it.

Ashley Madison, Cecil the Lion and Internet Rage-Justice

This may not seem like a publishing topic at first, but please bear with me.

A few weeks ago, a dentist did what many wealthy westerners have been doing for a long time. He went on a big game hunt.

Yes, I know there are peculiar details about this particular hunt (which the dentist might not have known about), but the reason this particular big game hunt is unlike all other big game hunts is that it became the outrage of the week on social media.

The dentist’s life will never be the same again. No doubt hundreds of other big game hunters did much the same as this notorious dentist. But he drew the wrong number in the Internet rage lottery, and he’s the one we’ll remember.

In another tale of Internet rage, hackers threatened to expose user data from Ashley Madison, a website that purports to help 31 million men violate their marriage vows with 5 million women. The website didn’t bow to their demands, so the hackers allegedly posted data on all the wannabe adulterers who use the site.

(At this point I don’t think we know — and we may never know — if the data is genuine.)

Internet rage-justice stories are part of the culture now. So-called “social justice warriors” combat “sad puppies” over Gamergate. Memories Pizza gets scolded for something they didn’t even do. And what Lena Dunham did or didn’t say might end up on the evening news.

It’s kinda weird.

Some people believe “the Internet is just an outrage machine.” (See Two Theories of How To Break the Web’s ‘Rage Machine’) And they may be right.

So what does all this have to do with publishing? Too much, I’m afraid.

The internet has become fundamental to publishing, because the internet is basically one big publishing machine. Sure, there are other things on the internet, like e-commerce, but a lot of internet traffic is about creating a place for people to share and consume information.

And rant about it.

Almost any discussion of publishing, or a new product launch, will involve a social media strategy and how to promote the content (or the product) on the internet. Whether they like it or not, publishers are now swimming in a pond full of angry aspergers kids with keyboards.

The Internet Rage Machine hangs over the heads of publishers like a sword of Damocles. Make one misstep — or, forget that. Do one thing that can be demagogued as a mistep — and your reputation is gone.

“But,” you think, “we just publish boring tax information. Why would anybody get upset with us?”

Remember Brendan Eich, who was cast out of Mozilla for private donations he made to a social cause?

The mob justice on the Internet might not care about your product or service, but only about something one of your officers did (or didn’t do) years ago. It’s unpredictable and it’s dangerous.

Every company — in fact, every person — should have some fear of the randomness of internet rage, but I think publishers need to be particularly careful since they are out in it by necessity.

At this point you’re probably hoping I’m going to offer a solution.

Sorry, I can’t think of one. Internet “justice” is like an armed, wandering madman, ready to strike the random fatal blow.

The only solution I can think of is to have enough cash reserves to ride it out if you draw the wrong card and the world comes crashing down on your head.

Who bears the risk? When is a commission appropriate for a sale?

I’m a little disturbed about this, but the business of publishing has been invading my dreams recently. Even on vacation!

I woke up in Stuart, Florida, thinking about the price point at which it makes sense to have a salesman for a publication, and about the risk and reward in the sale.

Generally speaking, my experience — and the experience of my colleagues in specialized publishing — seems to be that you need a price north of $1000 before you can support a sales force. And preferably much more than that.

But in my dream I was thinking of something else. I was remembering a conversation many years ago, when certain staff at a publishing company wanted a commission on sales. The owner was usually against commissions, and I agreed with him.

The way I saw it, he was the one taking all the risk in the publication. He created the infrastructure that allowed us to support the publication in the first place. He paid the author. He paid the marketing expense. The whole thing was a gamble with his money.

So why should somebody else get a commission, just because they play a certain role in the process?

I think it depends on the purpose of the commission. In my recollection of the conversation at that company, people felt it “wasn’t fair” that they were doing all this work and the owner was getting the benefit.

They were completely wrong about that. The salesmen had an inflated view of their own importance. They weren’t “doing all this work” in a vaccuum. There were editors and layout professionals and artists and authors. There were customer service reps and fulfillment professionals and managers. The success of the publication depended on them as well. Why didn’t they deserve a commission based on sales?

They were working on a salary. They weren’t sharing the risk in this particular new launch. The company paid them to do a job whether the publication was a success or a failure.

It’s true that at one level they also shared in the risk. If the company failed in all its efforts, they would lose their jobs, and if the company succeeded in all its efforts, they would be in a growing company with possibilities for advancement.

They were several steps removed from the specific risk / reward of an individual publication. Which was, in my opinion, entirely appropriate. They were no more due a raise or a bonus if the publication succeeded than they were due a fine or a demotion if the publication failed.

So I think the “fairness” argument was a bunch of moonshine.

However, bonuses and commissions can serve another purpose, which is to motivate performance. If a salesman knows he will get a cut of the sale, he is likely to work harder to get it.

That’s fine, if that’s the agreement. As a matter of custom, that sort of structure is typical for many sorts of positions — just as it’s customary to tip a waiter, but not the guy who sells you a suit.

But there’s no reason to assume that’s the only way to do things, or even the best way.

Legal challenges for ebooks

When publishers create digital versions of their material, they need to pay attention to some potential copyright problems.

One of the biggest is that if the publisher obtained a license to use art, or charts and graphs, those licenses may not permit the publisher to use that material in a digital edition of the book. Modern licenses should take those things into account, but if a publisher is converting older titles, they may not.

Even if the license does allow digital publication, it may put other restrictions on use that can affect the publisher’s business model. It may, for example, limit sharing, or the publication of excerpts.

Another thing to consider is text to speech (TTS). If a digital book includes a TTS function, that may conflict with the publishers rights (or marketing strategy) for audio books. For more on this, see E-Book Legal Restrictions Are Screwing Over Blind People.

After reading that article cited above I wanted to be sure my kindle books have TTS enabled. By default, any book that uses the 70% royalty program allows TTS, but I couldn’t see how you enable it for books that use the 30% royalty.

Publishers are adapting to the fact that eBooks aren’t sold the same way print books are sold, which means they might not be sold the way the publishing contracts envision. For example, you can’t sell one chapter of a printed book the way you can an ebook, so the idea of excerpts and subscription services poses an interesting challenge. Is it a “sale” when a digital version of a book is downloaded as part of a book subscription service, like Oyster or Amazon’s Kindle Direct?

According to Spotify for books, …

Most subscription services have agreed to pay publishers each time a reader gets a certain way into a book — typically around 10% — and the fees are about the same as if they had sold it as a one-off download.

Under KindleUnlimited, Amazon pays the publisher based on how many pages the subscriber reads.

Publishers will have to keep an eye on this model. If it catches on, a lot of contracts will have to be adjusted.

It’s an exciting era for publishing, which is getting more complicated all the time!

Why print books are better than digital, and my recommendations for eBook readers

I read on my iPad every day, but the experience frequently reminds me how much better it can be to read a real book. Sooner or later, somebody is going to solve (at least some of) these issues on the digital side, and the experience will lean more heavily to the pro-digital side. But for now, here’s how things stand, IMO.

Why Print is Better

  1. Browsing a book store or library is a way better experience than browsing any online equivalent.

  2. It’s easy in a print book to flip to the index, or some other page, and back to the page you were reading. In digital books you leave your spot at your peril. It’s very easy to get lost.

  3. When you do lose your place in a print book, it’s far easier to find it again than it is in a digital book.

  4. #3 is partly because of the tactile sensation of the book in your hand, which gives you a lot more feedback than you think. The thickness of the pages you’ve read vs. the thickness of the pages yet to read; the position of the words on the page (left or right, top or bottom). Your mind makes a record of your location that’s based on more than just what you’re seeing.

  5. Studies have shown that people retain more of what they read in print. This is probably because of this multi-sensory experience explained in #4, including even the texture and smell of the paper. Memories are closely associated with other senses.

  6. If you want to review a book, or blog about it, it’s so much easier to highlight things, attach a sticky note, scribble in the margins, etc., and it’s very easy to find those notes later. The disadvantage, of course, is that you then have to type them.

  7. Print is easier on the eyes than backlit displays. eInk displays are a big improvement, but I fear they might go away. The trend seems to be towards the backlit screens. (What we really need is a device with both backlit and eInk screens.)

  8. You can get used print books, and they’re cheap. The “first sale doctrine” does not apply to a digital book, so you can’t buy a “used” digital copy. (What would that mean, anyway?)

    The printed version — even a hardback — is often much cheaper than the eBook version. This is a big part of the reason students buy hardbacks. Also, they can sometimes profit from the notes made by previous studients.

  9. It’s much easier to quickly find what you want in a print book — especially something like a dictionary.

  10. You don’t have to wait for a print book to boot up, and you don’t have to charge it.

  11. It’s easier to lend (or borrow) a print book.

  12. There’s also a vanity / signaling advantage to a printed book. Visitors to your home can glance through your shelves and see what kind of a person you are by the books you keep.

Digital does have some advantages

As you can see, my list of the advantages for print books is fairly long. But ebooks do have some advantages.

  1. You can carry around hundreds of books in one device.

  2. You can search the text of an eBook.

  3. You can buy an eBook and start reading it inside of a couple minutes.

  4. References in an eBook can link directly to the other information.

  5. It’s possible to include other media in an eBook, like sound and video.

  6. eBooks don’t clutter up your house, or the waste system.

  7. You can read some ebooks in the dark

My recommendations for eBook readers.

Many of the limitations I mention above are entirely solvable with better eReader technology. Some eReaders may already do some of these things, but they all need to.

  1. Add a “put my finger here” function, so that I can whip around anywhere I want in the ebook and quickly flip back to where I put my finger.

  2. Along the same lines, create a back button. It’s enormously frustrating to follow a link to a footnote, or an illustration, and not be able to get back to where you were.

  3. Make it easier to copy and paste text from the book into any other application. Some of the “sharing” options in eBook readers limit which applications you can use.

    This is an annoying feature of electronic devices in general. They try to guess what you will do and only give you those options. Somehow I’m always the guy who wants different options.

    Anyway, adding a simple cut and paste option that can work across any app on the device would make it so much easier to blog about a book, or write a review.

  4. Create more visual clues to where you are in the book. We need more than a bar at the bottom that says 27% done. It might be a good idea to divide the book into sections and display a section icon on the side of the page, or … something like that.

  5. A lot more needs to be done with search in eBooks. For one thing, the keyboards on most eReaders (and devices that use eReader apps) are awful, but that’s not likely to get fixed until we come up with a completely new interface.

    And — as I have mentioned — there’s getting back to where you were when you started searching.

  6. A printed book can include a fold-out map, or illustration. With an eBook, even though you can zoom in on things, you’re always limited to the size of the screen.

    Why? Why not put a small projector on the eReader so you can display the map (or chart, or figure) on a wall, or a desk?


There are two important lessons for publishers in all of this.

  1. If you have the capability, build an eBook reader that solves the problems I’ve mentioned.

  2. More importantly, don’t believe the radicals.

People made all sorts of predictions about the iPad and eReaders and digital books and such that look ridiculous now. eBooks did not eliminate printed books, and they don’t look like they’re going to any time soon.

Be sketical of what you hear from the forward thinkers, thought leaders and keynote speakers. They’re paid to say outlandish things.

But what did you think of page 47?

With Amazon’s “kindle unlimited” program, people can get access to a pretty big collection of ebooks as part of their membership in the club. It’s like spotify for books.

Part of the genius of this sort of program is that the books seem free, even though you’re paying a monthly fee.

I’ve expressed my doubts about that model for magazines, but for books I think it will work, and if anybody can do it, Amazon can.

Most of my books are registered to participate in that program, and I get paid based on how often my books are read.

In other words, some group of people pay Amazon $9.99 a month to read unlimited kindle books. Amazon then pays the authors / publishers based on what the kindle unlimited members actually read. It’s not based on book downloads, it’s based on pages.

If somebody downloads my book, reads five pages and then stops, I only get paid for five pages.

This means that Amazon is keeping track when you page through an ebook. Remember, data is valuable stuff.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one way to monetize content is to mine the data on how people are using the content.

Give away content, but track how readers use it — This article will challenge your ideas about the value of content. What We Got Wrong About Books.

What’s more valuable, a $10 magazine subscriber, or the fact that you know he reads every one of your articles about DIY home repairs, and he lingers on photos of Italian sports cars?

Imagine a future where all content is free, and then imagine ways you can still monetize your content by collecting data on the people who are reading it.

In my Amazon interface, I can see how many pages of my books are read on a daily basis. I can’t see who’s reading, but I can see that somebody is (or was) reading one of my books.

It reminds me of Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next. (If you haven’t read it, try The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel.)

Anyway, this is an example of how data is becoming more and more important, and how it can be used to help producers make better products.

As an author, I would love to know what parts of my books people like, what they hate, what they skim past, what they highlight, etc. When I give a friend a book to read, I’d love to get it back with marks all over it.

A good eReader platform could do that. Imagine an eReader that would allow readers to provide that level of feedback to authors, even to the point of liking and disliking individual pages or paragraphs.

To a small extent, they can do that now. On some of kindle books I purchase, I can see areas that other people have highlighted. That’s somewhat interesting as a reader, but very interesting as an author.

eReaders have come a long way, but they have a long way to go. They are the perfect platform for communication between readers, and between readers and authors.

A fictional conversation with Jeff Bezos about magazine circulation

I’ve had subscription fulfillment systems on my mind recently. It’s gotten so bad that last night I dreamt about it. I was visiting a fulfillment bureau I used to work with and happened to bump into Jeff Bezos at the coffee pot. I told him that Amazon simply doesn’t understand the subscription publishing business.

They’re not alone in that. Over the years I’ve known several programmers who’ve become so frustrated with fulfillment systems that they’ve toyed with the idea of writing one themselves. I’ve always warned against it. These things are absurdly complicated and do processes behind the scenes that most programmers wouldn’t think about.

They have to earn revenue by issue, and regulate entitlements. They have to deal with different prices and offers on different efforts. They back start and future start subscriptions, pause them when people go on vacation, and send the magazine up north in the summer and down south in the winter. They have to keep people in different renewal pools, and assign them to those pools according to various criteria.

I’m barely scratching the surface of the strange things these systems have to address. The deeper you dig, the more complex they become. Trust me. I’ve been living it for months.

But why are they so complex?

A programmer I know likes to blame marketing. Computers, he says, are very good at doing one thing a million times. Marketers, on the other hand, want to do a million things one time.

There’s some justice to his complaint. Marketers are always trying new things, and they rarely have the technical knowledge to understand how their ideas influence back-end processes. Often they don’t care. In fact, not caring is sometimes touted as a virtue.

Just make it work. We can’t have the back end running the front end.”

Think of what that implies for a system that has to accommodate thousands of marketers in hundreds of companies. We want 12 issues per year, but not one a month. Wait, we need to save money so we’re moving to 10 issues a year. But only for these subscribers. And this other publication is a weekly, except for these two weeks. Oh, we still have to have 52 issues, so we’ll double up on these two, and they won’t always be the same two.

If you sat down for a day with a pencil and paper and tried to come up with all the variations a fulfillment system has to deal with, you’d miss half of them. I promise.

These things preserve the accumulated “wisdom” of decades of marketers — tinkering, wondering, testing, imagining, “Why not?”-ing.

Jeff Bezos simply decided it didn’t have to be that way. Amazon doesn’t have to have a million different options when they sell toasters, so they don’t need them for magazines either.

To a publishing geek, this is madness. It’s the arrogance of the internet generation. They think everything’s different now.

“You don’t know what you’re doing, Jeff,” I told him. “Publishing simply isn’t like that. It’s complicated.”

But every once in a while it’s important for somebody to poke the sacred cow. We can’t keep doing things simply because they’ve always been done that way.

The coming explosion of niche publishing

It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next with publishing. (Remember when the Apple newsstand was going to revolutionize publishing?) I’m going to give it a shot anyway and make a few predictions.

First, I’m going to start with some trends that we’re seeing now, and will, I think, continue to see …

1. More and more usage on the smart phone. I ride a commuter train every day, and I’ve watched people’s reading habits change over the years. You rarely see a newspaper any more. Despite the fact that most people are reading, paper books aren’t as common as they used to be.

While the dedicated eReader seems like the perfect device for somebody who’s stuck on a train for an hour a day, the increased size of smart phones is eating into that market. Even though the eReader offers a better reading experience, it’s not better enough for many people to justify carrying around an extra device. They’ll just read on their phones. (Don’t underestimate “good enough.”)

Increased screen size, memory and processing power is getting to the point where it’s almost possible to do some work on a smart phone. That trend will continue — until someone comes up with a truly transformational input device. (Such as the one I discuss in The Intruder.

2. More social. I admit that I sneak a peak at what people are doing on their smart phones from time to time. Yes, it’s rude, and no, I’m not a stalker. I’m not reading what they’re typing. I have a professional interest in what kinds of things people do on their smart phones.

A lot of people are playing games, but that seems to be decreasing. More and more are engaged in some sort of social activity — tweeting, texting a friend or checking their Facebook feed.

As connectivity gets better, people are going to be doing more and more social activities on their phones.

3. More customization / personalization. Smart data is the thing. Facebook feeds you the stuff it thinks you’ll want. Google (it’s rumored) gives you search results you’re more likely to click on. News sites can track your interests and give you more of what you’ve read in the past.

Companies are starting to learn that data about their readers is one of their most valuable assets, and they’re looking for new ways to monetize that. On the other side of the device, users like a more customized experience. Those two interests will continue to drive ever more customization.

4. More “gamification.” By which I don’t really mean games, but systems that use points and rewards. A good example I’ve seen recently is sites that only allow you to read a full article after you take a survey.

The generalized notion is that if you behave the way somebody else wants you to behave — do a certain task, buy at a certain time, answer a question, etc. — they’ll reward you. It’s a way of paying without paying, and it’s going to become more common.

That’s all the easy stuff because it’s what’s happening now. Some people would simply take those trend lines and draw them into the future, but that’s a sure way to err. If you don’t believe me, just look at predictions based on trend lines for eBooks and eReaders. Lines don’t just go on into the future with their current slope.

Rather, I think something semi-transformational is going to take these current trends and merge them into something new. Of course I don’t know for sure what that’s going to be, but here’s my prediction.

A shift to multiple personnas.

I have one identity — I’m just one person — but that one identity isn’t all that relevant to advertisers. The guy who wants to sell me fishing equipment doesn’t care that I also homebrew, or that I like to read about anthropology. So the content provider and the advertiser want to be able to home in on interests, not (in one sense) on people.

On the other end of the device, the user wants to keep things separate as well. My political and social views have no relevance to homebrewing, and if a particular lure is working for perch in the Severn River, I really don’t care if the guy who’s giving me fishing advice agrees with me about the Confederate flag.

The user wants to have different online identities. One for work life. One for games. One for politics. One for hobbies.

So, my prediction for publishing is a shift from gathering people to gathering personnas. Any given person will have multiple online identities. The system that perfects that — that allows people to conduct their digital lives under the umbrella of different personnas — is going to take Facebook’s lunch. Unless Facebook does it first, of course.

The primary impact on publishing is that niches will be much easier to reach and much easier to identify.

The secondary impact will be further fragmentation — by device and by monetizing strategy. There’s no reason to think that bond investors will behave the same way as Taylor Swift junkies, either in the device or technology they use or in the best way to get them to pay for services.

The short-term impact on publishing — and on content creation in general — is going to be a need to dive ever deeper into niches.

If you enjoy the Krehbiel Report on Publishing, please forward it to your friends and colleagues.

What Marketing Needs to Know About IT, Part 3: Learn the Right Approach

This is the last of my 3-part series on what marketing needs to know about IT. Here are links to part 1 and part 2.

Be Diplomatic

There’s a huge cultural gap between marketing and IT, and the sort of things that work in a sales or marketing environment might not work in a techie environment. The marketing VP who likes to go around “lighting fires” isn’t going to be well received by IT.

Some people like to be contacted by email. Some prefer the phone. Some prefer face to face. Some like group meetings, while some prefer working things out one on one.

If you want to work with other people, you need to be aware of how they prefer to work.

IT wants details

When IT says, “write me a requirements document,” they’re not just trying to be difficult. They’re asking you to think about what you’re asking, and to present it in a logical way. Remember, they’re going to have to build this thing, and engineering a solution requires a lot more detail than some blue-sky idea.

“Good enough” vs. Perfect

I’ve found it useful to classify IT professionals in two ways. First, there’s the yes and the no types. Second, there’s “good enough” vs. perfect.

Some IT guys will reflexively respond to a new project with a cheerful, “Yes, we can do that.” Then they’ll come back later with their list of problems, caveats and limitations. Other guys will reflexively say “No,” but then they’ll think about it and come up with a list of things they can do, or a new way to approach it.

In both cases, don’t take the immediate response too seriously. People need time to think about an idea and work through all the ramifications.

In the same way, some IT guys are willing to slap something together and say it’s good enough. It works most of the time, on most browsers, and why should he spend all his time and effort for the three people using IE6 on old Macs?

Then you have perfectionists who want every detail to be exactly right before they can release it.

Both of these approaches present challenges. You need to come to some agreement about “good enough.”

Also, sometimes IT has a tendency to over-engineer a solution and build a complicated system when it’s not really necessary. Sometimes it’s best to start with simple and easy things and work from there.

What Drives IT Crazy

Generally speaking, IT thinks the people in the marketing department are flakes who come rushing in at the last minute with half-baked ideas that don’t make any sense. Unfortunately, they’re often right. Don’t be that person.

Like anybody else, IT professionals want you to respect their intelligence, their time, and their process. They don’t like doing a lot of work to set up a fancy new system that will be used once and then forgotten.

Get them involved early. Give them a sense for how large the project might be, which parts are critical and which are not, and get their ideas on how to simplify the process, or break it up into smaller pieces.

IT wants a requirements document, and you should definitely write one, but only after you’ve had a conversation about scope.

A Procedure for Working with IT

You can avoid a lot of problems by following this sort of a process.

  1. Marketing fills out a “bare bones checklist” for the project. The checklist focuses on what marketing wants and why, not on how it will be done. That will be resolved later.
    • Elevator pitch – two sentences on what needs to be done and why.
    • Scope – how many pages / visitors / sales will this project effect?
    • Is it a one-off project, or part of a larger effort?
    • Return – what do we hope to get out of this?
    • Timeline – when does this have to be completed?
    • Other Drivers – is there some Big Factor to be considered (e.g., it’s the CEO’s pet project)?
  2. IT reviews the checklist and meets with marketing for clarification.
  3. Marketing provides wireframes of the major pages that have to be built.
  4. Somebody writes a consensus document on what will be done.
  5. Both sides buy in (or goes back to step 2).
  6. Marketing writes a final requirements document
  7. Project moves forward.

If you’d rather listen to me talk through this topic, here are some links to a fairly low-quality video I did of this presentation. The videos were limited to 10 minutes each.

Marketing and IT, part 1

Marketing and IT, part 2

Marketing and IT, part 3

Marketing and IT, part 4

“It was in the issue with the tiger on the cover”

Here’s an interesting article to stretch your concept of the digital magazine.

5 Digital Magazine Trends to Keep an Eye On in 2015

Magazines have traditionally been issue based, because that was the only way to distribute them. But the web is a constantly moving target. So what does a magazine on the web look like? Some folks at Fast Company are looking at new ways to think about online magazines.

Their vision of the next generation digital magazine app is more than just a publication. It resembles an article-based hub, or one central location combining magazine content with a steady stream of regularly updated content from Fast Company’s various websites and Top 5 stories of the day.

They want to “put the reader first” and ensure that “every time [the reader opens] an application there is going to be new content in there.”

Well …. That’s certainly nice in some ways, but not in others, and I’m not sure it’s really “putting the reader first.”

I enjoy Facebook, for example, but the fact that it’s always scrolling by — and that it has atrocious search — makes it good for keeping up with “right now,” but lousy for looking up something from a week ago.

Is that “putting the reader first”? It all depends on what the reader wants to do with the content, doesn’t it?

Digital does not necessarily mean transitory, and we don’t want to structure all digital content as if it’s only supposed to survive for a day. Twitter is not the entire world of content.

There’s also the question of retention of what you read. There have been studies about content retention when reading print vs. digital material. The jury’s still out, but there’s reason to suspect that people retain more when they read in print because the experience involves other senses.

E.g., “it was on a right-hand page about 2/3 of the way through near the bottom.”

I discuss that a little in this post: Why the cool kids misunderstood the actual kids.

How can a digital experience add some of those tactile stimuli to help in retention? Whoever can figure that out will be helping digital readers immensely.

The effect of the print medium on retention, and the issue-based, tactile experience with a mazine, highlights this even more. As I implied in the title to this post, sometimes you remember an article by what issue it was in — and you remember the issue by the image was on the cover.

If a “digital magazine” becomes an issue-less, constantly flowing river of content, how will that affect retention?

I’m not saying any of this to argue for “editions” or to argue against a continuous flow of changing content. What I’m saying is that there are trade-offs, and it’s not a sure bet which one is more useful to the reader.