Digital publishing — free to get in, but …

On a family vacation in Florida when I was a boy, there was this gaudy, colorful building sitting off by itself on the side of the road. I think it had a big “free admission” sign on it, because someone remarked on it to my father, and Dad said, “It’s free to get it, but it’s not free to get out.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. To tell you the truth, I’m still not exactly sure.

I thought of that today when we got a customer service complaint from a customer who had downloaded an app from iTunes that he thought was from us. It reminded me of situations where “getting out” might not be easy.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a digital magazine skeptic. Despite all the hoopla and excitement about digital magazines, actual experience has been underwhelming. There are only a small number of people who want to read magazines on their tablet, and in general, converting a print magazine into a digital magazine is a fool’s errand. A print magazine is simply a different animal than the digital … whatever it is.

Whether the digital edition is a “replica” or some other version specifically designed for a digital device, it’s a different product than the print magazine. And just as you can’t expect that apple buyers will buy oranges, I don’t see any reason to believe that magazine subscribers will want to buy this digital whatsit. And it’s not just a question of doing it well. It’s a different product for a different market.

The stats support my skepticism. While everybody reads (and plays games and socializes) on devices (almost all the time), digital magazines have not caught on. They make up a pitiful percent of magazine subscribers.

So I’ve not been a fan of making the investment to convert a print magazine into a digital … something. If you want to serve your audience on digital devices, I think it’s much smarter to throw away everything you believe about magazines, start from scratch and make a new product specifically for digital devices. Don’t call it a digital magazine. It’s something else entirely.

But I digress. I was intending to talk about this customer, his poor experience, and the business lesson that comes out of it.

You need to know a little background. The company I work for doesn’t actually have any apps in the iTunes store, although some magazine vendors have created “branded apps” for us — with our title and our name.

I know that sounds like a strange distinction, but here’s how it works. A company like Zinio, Magzter or Picsean — that provides digital editions of magazines — approaches us (and other publishers, of course) and asks to convert our magazine into their format so that they can sell it in iTunes. They include the magazine in their own storefront, but they also include an app under our name.

The consumer doesn’t know any of this. He simply sees an app that is apparently from us, and he has a lousy experience with it.

Let’s say that we take a look at the app and agree with the customer that the app is no good, so we decide to end our relationship with the vendor. Here’s where “free admission” might have the kind of trap my dad was talking about.

Subscriptions are a rolling thing. It’s not as if everybody starts Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31. So there are people out there who bought a subscription to our magazine through this (apparently) crappy app, and expect to get their year out of it. If we were to simply stop publication — even if our contract allowed that — then the subscribers would be owed refunds for the unused portion of their subscription.

Who pays for that?

A common option in this situation would be to stop all new subscriptions and serve out the remaining terms of the people who have already purchased. But does our contract with the vendor include that sort of provision?

Or, what if we decided to build our own app, and we wanted to transfer everyone from the lousy app to ours? Once again, does the contract allow it?

The larger point here is that it’s easy to get into these sorts of relationships, but when you’re dealing with subscriptions and recurring revenue, it’s not always easy to get out. It’s important to make sure you have an exit plan before you go through the gaudy pink door.

If you’re interested, here are some of my other articles on the subject of digital magazines:

As always, please feel free to share or recommend this to anyone you know who might be interested.

Working at home vs. working remotely

Last week I was in Ft. Lauderdale at the Business Information and Media Summit, a publishing industry conference. It’s a good conference, and if you haven’t heard of it you should consider attending next year. (Here’s a slideshare of the presentation I did with Education Week’s Matthew Cibellis.)

Whenever I go to an industry conference I struggle with the technology question. Do I take my laptop, which is unquestionably the best for productivity, but is bulky and a pain to carry around. Do I take my iPad, which is basically a laptop, only not as good. Or do I try the 100% smart phone route?

I opted for the smart phone.

My Droid Turbo is a good device for staying connected, but it’s not a good productivity device. If you want to do real work — on a real document, for example — nothing beats a keyboard and a mouse.

Taking notes on a smart phone isn’t so bad. I can type with my thumbs about as well as I can use the on-screen keyboard on my iPad. Maybe better. So I simply created an Evernote document for BIMS and thumbed my notes in there.

It’s somewhat astonishing the range of things you can do on your smart phone while you’re away from the office. Unlike Hillary Clinton, I do know that you can get more than one email on a single device, so I can keep up with all my email accounts. I was also working with my daughter on getting her a new (used) car, so I was in constant contact with the sales guy. (He goes to the car auctions to purchase the car on our behalf.)

Of course I was responding to office emails, and keeping tabs on the regular tasks I would be doing if I had been in the office.

All the while, of course, I was rubbing elbows with fellow publishing industry professionals, chatting with the event sponsors, learning about the latest technologies and services, listening to interesting presentations and drinking too much Earl Grey.

At times I was tempted to wonder why I need to be in the office at all. I was getting work stuff done, and at the same time my brain was getting stuffed with ideas — both from the presentations, and from my sideways manner of thinking. IOW, when the speaker is talking about A, I’m usually considering how that relates to B, C and D, because I’ve usually heard A before.

Attending a conference is a very creative time for me. Getting out of the office, away from my jar of M&Ms, from the phone and my stand-up desk, I think about things in a new way. Then I come back with my head full of new plans and concepts that will be mercilessly squashed by the inertia of the office, but … some small bit will change. I’ll get one or two actionable things that will move the needle, and that will more than justify the cost of the trip.

People need this sort of “get out of your head” experience on a regular basis, but in case you think I’m going to advocate working from home, I’m not. Working at home doesn’t get you out of your head the same way. It’s just exchanging one normal environment for another. You need to be elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong, working from home can be very helpful. It can be a good opportunity to drill down into a project and get it done without distraction.

But people who study such things say that the office coffee pot is important as well. There are things that only get done because you happened to be gettting your tea at the same time as the head of editorial, and you chatted about the status of whatsit. There’s a very important cross-polination that takes place in the office — in the halls, even in the bathroom. A company where everybody worked from home would miss that.

If you google “benefits of working remotely,” there are lots of articles about the benefits of working from home, but I think that misses the point.

Yes, there are benefits to working from home every once in a while, but there’s more benefit, in my opinion, in working from an entirely different place.

When I take the train to New York for a one-day event, I get tons of work done on the trip. That’s often a time when I load myself up with white papers and various research on some topic and study it — to learn a new technology or tactic. I’m much better at it on the train than I would ever be in the office.

I think managers should encourage their employees to take one day a month to work someplace else. Not at home. They should go to the coffee shop, or on a train, or even in the pub. The point is to get outside of your ordinary routine and think creatively.

As a general rule, people should be in the office. It’s important to have face time with colleagues, and there has to be some structure and order to the way business is done. But from time to time, get out. Go somewhere else.

You’ll still have your smart phone with you. You can still answer emails, take calls and be connected. Just get your brain out of its rut.

A behind the scenes look at book sales

I’ve mentioned that I’ve written a few books as a hobby. Fortunately, as you’ll see below, I’m not trying to make a living at it.

I’m pretty good at the writing, editing and formatting part of it (or so my reviews say), but I’m not that great at the sales part. I’m trying to learn the ropes about categories and keywords, covers and descriptions, and, most of all, online promotion, but so far my successes have been very limited, and most of my sales have been from when people who have some reach — through their own social networks — mention or review one of my titles.

This edition of the Krehbiel Report is going to be a little behind-the-scenes look at a recent effort, because I think there are a couple interesting components. I’m going to keep certain things in the dark, to protect the innocent, but there’s still enough detail here to get a look at how this self-publishing business works.

The title in question is available as a kindle e-book and as a paperback. The e-books sells for $2.99, and the paperback for $7.99. The kindle price is the lowest you can go and still get a 70% royalty, and $7.99 is roughly the price I need to get the same royalty in print. In fact, it’s a little high, but who prices their book at $7.44?

I found a blog that has a good readership, and where I thought the readers would be interested in my topic. I mailed the blog owner a copy and he wrote a very nice review.

There was no guarantee here. I simply sent the book to him in hopes he would review it. I have sent copies to three other people. A couple reviewed it, but I didn’t get very significant sales. Generally speaking, I’ve been breaking even on this. This last try actually worked.

I have three sources of royalties on this title: sales of the kindle version, sales of the paperback version, and “kindle unlimited” page views.

If you’re not familiar, kindle unlimited is a program on Amazon where people pay $9.99 a month and have “free” access to millions of kindle titles. It’s like Netflix for books. Authors are paid a royalty based on the amount of money in the Kindle Select Global Fund. Here are some sample calculations. It’s a ridiculously confusing mess with a moving target on how much they actually pay you, but near as I can tell it’s roughly 0.1 cents per page. For today’s calculation I’m going to go with that.

So, here are my potential royalties.

  • $2.99 kindle book, 70% or $2.09 per title sold.
  • $7.99 paperback book, $2.64 per title sold.
  • 0.1 cents per page read.

While I don’t have the ability to be certain about the sources of all my orders (Amazon doesn’t allow source codes, or anything sensible like that), from this one blog post it appears I have sold the following.

  • 45 kindle editions = $94.05 in royalties.
  • 31 paperbacks = $81.84 in royalties.
  • 1149 page views = $1.15 in royalties.

The book is 94 pages long, so I’m getting robbed on the Kindle Unlimited deal. (1194 page views / 94 pages per books is about 12 books, which should be $25.08 in royalties.)

There are a few things to note here.

First, Kindle Unlimited doesn’t do much for me. Maybe it works better for other titles with more pages, or … I don’t know. It’s a complicated mess.

Second, a strong minority were willing to pay more than twice as much to get a paper copy. So while e-books are very popular, print is hardly dead.

Third, despite these sales, a good review on the blog, and an interesting discussion in the comments section (with lots of positive comments), I didn’t get a single review on That surprised me.

Anyway, there you have it. Self publishing can be fun, but don’t quit your day job.

Is it time to shake up your publishing company?

Next week at the Business Information & Media Summit, Education Week’s Matthew Cibellis and I are going to speak on this topic.

The Winning Equation: Marketing + Editorial + IT = Breakthrough Results Publishers Love.

The internet and ubiquitous digital delivery of content is putting the publishing industry through some interesting changes. Change can be hard. Some people resist the change and deny what’s going on around them, while others use the time of transition as an opportunity to turn everything on its head.

It’s like navigating between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side we can dig our feet in the sand and “stay true to who we are” — and become irrelevant. On the other we can embrace a kind of change that wants us to abandon everything we’ve learned about what publishing is and ought to be.

Matthew and I think there’s a solution to this. There is a course between these extremes.

In the context of publishing, and more specifically in the context of new product development, there seem to be two options to move forward. The first is to be (or hire) The Disrupter. The second is to be (or hire) The Diplomat.

You know The Disrupter. He’s the hot-shot business school graduate who never misses the opportunity to say that everything is different now, and we have to change or die. Your old-fashioned ideas don’t work, and we’re going to move in a new direction whether you like it or not. Either get on the bus or get run over.

You know the drill. Print is dead. Newspapers are dying, and so is the old publishing model. Editors have to become businessmen, and social media mavens, and bloggers, and ….

We need a revolution to survive. We need a change agent. A “leader” who wants to fire everybody and start fresh.

I suppose this works some of the time, but in my experience it’s usually a catastrophe that hastens the demise of the company. It alienates the staff, confuses your customers, diminishes your brand, and simply wastes precious time.

After everybody in the company has been beaten senseless by the “change agent,” there are still issues to write, publication deadlines to meet, and new technologies to address. The owners come out of this mess realizing a few important things:

  • First, people don’t really change that much. Even under the threat of losing their livelihood, editors simply don’t want to become marketers.
  • Second, there are reasons why different functional groups have different personalities and different ways of seeing and doing things. Maybe editors should have a little bit more of a business focus, but you do want editors who have a professional detachment from the business side. At least a little.

The same applies to other areas as well. Some of the best IT people aren’t social butterflies, and some very good marketers need some help with their grammar. That’s okay.

Now, someone will object that “getting on the bus” doesn’t mean that editors have to become marketers and programmers have to be motivational speakers. “Getting on the bus” means adapting to the new vision.


But why, then, all the talk about “everything is different;” and “your jobs will change;” and “the old ways don’t work anymore”? What the staff hears is “but that means you want me to be one of them!

This is why we need The Diplomat.

The truth is that everyone in publishing knows that they have to change. We’ve all seen the transition from people avoiding each other behind newspapers to people avoiding each other behind shiny little screens. We get it, okay? It’s a different world and some things have to change.

But change how, and change what? And does the business school guy really know all that about … well, everything? Is he going to tell an editor who’s been working his beat for 25 years how to do his job? Of course not. You can change people incrementally, but generally speaking … they don’t change much. They also have institutional and industry knowledge that you need.

To manage this kind of change, you need diplomacy. You need to learn the personalities and strengths of the people you have and adapt your methods and strategies accordingly.

There is no single magic method from a Harvard Business School paper that’s going to apply to every publishing company.

You can learn to deploy the strengths of the people you have. If you have a worrier, how can a worrier help you? If you have an OCD person, how can he contribute? If you have a social butterfly, or a guy with aspergers, how can that personality and those gifts promote the mission of the group?

In other words, you have to do a very hard and old-fashioned thing, which is to manage people.

Your employees already know that publishing is a mess and their job is on the line. Help them to buy in to new ideas by presenting those ideas in a way that respects their personality and their professional integrity.

You don’t need to brow beat people. All you’ll do is make them nervous and often unproductive. Instead, consider looking at the issues and the challenges from their point of view and finding ways to motivate them according to their professional and personal goals.

In our session at #BIMS15, Matthew Cibellis is going to speak about how he used this sort of approach with his editorial team, and I’m going to talk about how to use it with IT. During the presentation, we’ll ask the audience to chime in with how these same principles can be applied to other parts of the company. We hope to see you there.

The problem with online reviews

Last week’s post was about the influence of social media on branding. A related topic is the influence of social media on specific products. Today I’m discussing the impact of online reviews on book sales.

Amazon has made itself indispensable in a few ways. One of the main things is that they have just about everything you could want to buy, and if you have Prime, you can get it delivered in two days … for free. They usually have the lowest price, and they get a lot of customer reviews, which can be very helpful in deciding whether you want to buy a particular product.

After all, who wants to buy the DVD player with a 1-star rating?

So reviews can be very helpful. But only if you can trust them. A lot of monkey business goes on with online reviews.

Knight Kiplinger drew attention to the ethical and practical problems with online reviews last year. Things don’t seem to have improved since then.

Businesses manipulate reviews, but so do ideologues. Vox Day says that “Social Justice Warriors” post fake reviews of his book critical of SJWs, and The Darwin Report complains about a fake creationist review, which turns out to be rather funny because the review isn’t by a creationist at all, but by someone spoofing creationists — so it’s a double fake.

The point is, people use reviews for their own purposes and to promote their own agendas.

The author of a book critical of the Clintons alleges that Hillary’s campaign posted fake negative reviews of his book. And who can doubt that this sort of thing happens to every political book?

You don’t have to take my word (or my links) for it. Find a book on a controversial topic and read the reviews. It becomes clear rather quickly that many of the reviewers simply have an ideological conflict with the perceived position of the author, and you begin to suspect that many haven’t even read the book.

I’ve written a few books, and I love to get reviews. If I was unethical (and stupid), I would pay to get positive reviews. It’s an easy thing to do. Go to and search on “review your kindle book.” For $5 someone will write a glowing review of your story, presumably even if it’s awful.

This sort of behavior undermines the value of reviews, which is why Amazon is suing phony reviewers.

In the past, they’ve tried other methods to curb phony reviews — like blocking reviews from people who share the last name of the author. They also designate reviews from “verified purchasers” — presumably they are more trustworthy — and some people think they should limit reviews to people who have purchased the book from Amazon. I think that’s too limiting.

What else could Amazon do to make reviews more reliable? Well, for kindle-only books they could get reader data from your kindle to verify that you actually did page all the way through in a reasonable amount of time. That might help with kindle-only titles, but it won’t help with print books. What about people who borrowed the book, or who received it as a gift?

The bottom line is that reviews are very valuable, which is precisely why people try to game them. So … should you trust them or not?

It’s a hard call. But don’t worry, before too long reviews won’t be these subjective things based on our faulty memories of how we liked a book. They’ll be measurable, and based on data.

Has social media really changed brand strategies that much?

I saw this quote on LinkedIn.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.” — Scott Cook

As with most things related to social media, that strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration.

Consumers certainly have a much larger role in defining a brand’s image, but is it fair to say the brand is “no longer” what the company says it is?

Some brands are the frequent topic of social media conversations. The NFL, for example. But others … not so much. When was the last time you heard somebody tweet or blog or post on Facebook about Dial soap?

So right off the bat I think we need to make a distinction between brands that are in the public eye and brands that aren’t. Although … that doesn’t mean those brands are safe from the influence of social media.

Social media has introduced another factor, which is the random freak-out. Even those brands that aren’t likely to be discussed can quickly become the focus of social media outrage — if somebody in the company shoots the wrong lion or says something that causes a stir. That is a new liability that social media brings to the table and every brand has to worry about it.

Also, “social media” isn’t just Twitter and Facebook and such. Brands are also affected by what’s said in online reviews and on recommendation sites. Many people look up a product before they buy to see what other folk say about it.
I have a feeling that’s more product- than brand-specific, but reviews do affect a brand’s reputation.

Still, even in an age where people live in their smart phones and walk into traffic with their faces glued to their screens, not everybody checks a brand’s reputation online before they buy. They see the commercials, they hear the jingles, and they want to be like the beautiful people who use that brand. Companies still spend an enormous amount of money telling people how to think about their brand. And there’s a reason for that.

The truth is that we buy so many things it’s almost impossible for us to look up everything before we purchase. In those cases — and I would say, in the majority of cases — we’re relying on what the company told us, through packaging or advertising.

Also, I hope that most people would trust their mechanic’s view of a car more than the opinions of the hoi polloi.

We need to recognize the power and influence of social media, but let’s not get carried away. For many brands, public perception really is what the company tells them about the brand.

The future of reading and content creation

Facebook is experimenting with a new way to react to a post. Rather than just “like,” people can pick an emoji that better expresses their reaction — when “like” just doesn’t fit.

I don’t know if this will work, but it’s smart for Facebook to experiment with new things. Their model is based on engagement, so if posting a silly cartoon face makes people feel more engaged … so be it.

This got me thinking about how content providers are constantly trying to understand their audience, and where things might be heading for content.

In the old days, selling content mostly meant selling books or newspapers. The cover, or the headline, or whatever the paperboy yelled in the streets, generated interest and affected sales. A few people might write letters to the editor, and there might be some buzz in the pub about a salacious story in the paper, but user feedback was fairly limited and not very scientific.

There were surveys and focus groups and such, but they simply weren’t that great.

Once the web came along, content creators had the opportunity to get a lot more data. At first it was mostly hits and visitors. Then page views and time on site. “Engagement.” Comments. Backlinks. Social sharing.

Some sites had specific tasks they wanted users to perform. Click on this. Sign up for that. Buy this other thing.

Web designers tweaked colors and presentation and words to get the best response. Which type of button makes the user more likely to buy? How can I reduce friction on this page? What words will make the reader more likely to share this story, or comment on it?

The data the website collected from the user was limited to a few things in the client / server request and response (IP addresses and such) and to specific actions the user took. Cookies and logins allowed analysis of users over multiple visits, and publishers were able to collect a lot of interesting data on users.

As more players got in on the act — and users got cookied from lots of different sites — data from other services could be added to the basics any given site collected. So, for example, there are companies that can give the demographic profile of a site’s visitors, and the site can use that data to fine-tune its content and its advertising.

That’s the sort of thing that makes many people nervous, but it’s also making the web experience far more robust and customized.

With smart phones, the data a website can collect has expanded considerably, and when you include apps, it gets really crazy. Apps can collect all sorts of personal data on the user.

Think of the implications all this will have for “reader apps” — things like the Kindle reader, for example. The publisher could see if you read (or at least paged) all the way through the article or book, how quickly you paged through, and how much time you spent at it. Amazon doesn’t give publishers that data right now, but it could.

If the book truly kept you up all night, Amazon and the publisher could know that. Things like “a real page turner” and “I couldn’t put it down” could go from throwaway lines in a review to objective facts.

With more data, and more ability to analyze that data, content creation will change dramatically.

What if your smart phone is connected to a fitbit, or some other device that monitors your vitals. Could a publisher see if your heart rate increased on page 25?

How invasive is this going to be? Will your smart refrigerator tell your smart phone that you went and got a beer after reading the scene in the corner bar? And will that become a selling point? Will Budweiser sponsor content that’s shown to increase beer consumption?

It sounds crazy, but it’s not at all far-fetched. The new revenue source for content might not be the cover price or the subscription, but the data about the user.

It makes you wonder if you really want to be wearing that mood ring with the bluetooth connectivity.

As an author, I would love to know how readers are reacting to different parts of a book. It may not be long before I can get that.

If a lot of readers are slowing down on the second paragraph of page seventeen, maybe the text is a little cumbersome. And if too many people are stopping after chapter eight, maybe I need a new hook to keep the story going.

I would like to know if people laughed at my jokes, or if their heart raced during the action scenes. I don’t write that kind of stuff, but other authors might be interested in other biological reactions to their stories.

How is this flood of information going to change storytelling and content, and what implications does it have for devices and the apps that run on them? I don’t know if we can say that the content will be better, but we can certainly say that it will be more finely tuned to measurable reactions.

News on Facebook? What’s the publishing industry to do?

Many publishers are struggling with whether to participate in Facebook’s Instant Articles program. The Washington Post is the latest to sign up.

Under Instant Articles, publishers post stories directly on Facebook rather than linking back to their own sites. The social network has sold the program by saying it will substantially reduce load times for mobile users and give publishers access to a much broader audience. Publishers will get to keep 100% of revenue brought in from ads that they sell and 70% if Facebook sells the ad. (Source)

There are some clear advantages and some possible disadvantages to moving content to Instant Articles.

One of the biggest advantages is that almost everybody is on Facebook, so participating in the program gives the brand more reach.

But … does it really? Just because your content is getting out to more people, do they recognize it as your content? For example, do people know they’re reading The Washington Post when they read a Post article on Facebook?

According to Facebook, the publisher gets to create its own experience, consistent with its brand. But I’m not sure how well that’s going to work out. People will still be on Facebook when they see this content, so it’s not clear whether people will remember the content as coming from the publisher or from Facebook.

I applaud Facebook for giving publishers flexibility in branding, but I suspect it will be a while before we know how effectively publishers can brand themselves in that kind of an environment.

Publishers also want to get user data on their readers. As I’ve discussed before, the data can be an important revenue stream. But how much data is Facebook going to give to the publisher? And mightn’t they change the rules later?

In order to better understand what readers want, publishers are also investing in learning more about their readers and connecting with them directly through digital channels, like online communities, social media and direct-to-consumer sales initiatives.(See The Evolution of US Digital Innovation in Publishing)

How is that going to work in the world of these news aggregators? Not just Facebook, but Apple / Google / Flipboard etc.?

At this point there are more questions than answers, but here are some thoughts to consider with respect to these services.

Most importantly, distinguish different types of publishers. When you read online studies and surveys and opinion pieces and whatnot, they tend to lump all of “publishing” together, which is a huge mistake. What applies to daily news will not apply to books, or to legal services, and there are important variations within categories.

Along those same lines, you have to think about the markets that are being served, what they want, and the context in which they want it. For example, there’s stuff I like to read on Facebook, but I certainly don’t want all my news mediated by what my friends happen to post, or what the Facebook algorithm thinks I want. And there’s a lot more to read than just the news.

It’s also important to evaluate how your content will appear — i.e., next to photos of cousin George’s new baby, right above an article from The Onion, next to an urban myth that simply won’t die, and in the midst of the latest social media freakout.

Is that what you really want? Is Facebook — no matter how gussied up and branded — the right place for your content?

I think publishers are going to have to take this slowly and carefully, and I think the most prudent path is to put a limited amount of content in these different platforms and watch the data very carefully.

Generally speaking, I think publishers have been suckers and have not been wise in allowing other entities to profit from their content. But … only time will tell.

Nothing is Easy, A-B testing version

There’s a song that often comes to mind when I try to evaluate the results of a split test. It’s Jethro Tull’s Nothing is Easy — because testing is sometimes difficult to set up, and it’s often difficult to interpret the data once the test is over.

Marketers do A-B tests because we often don’t know which version of an effort will get the best results. That applies to direct mail, a web page, an email, a telemarketing script … just about anything where you are trying to provoke a response.

It’s good to read best practices and expert guidelines to get ideas for your test, but you still have to test. You don’t know if any given expert’s approach will work for your market. (It can vary.)

You might also wonder whether that particular expert’s advice still applies. (Things do change.)

It’s lovely to hope that you’ll send an email with two different subject lines, and one version will win, and then you’ll be done. Yeah.

But what does “win” mean? It’s often not quite as clear as you want it to be.

For example, let’s say panel A gets a better open rate, but fewer emails were delivered. (Yes, your subject line can affect deliverability.) Panel B had a lower open rate, but more emails got through to the recipients. Which version won?

I’d say panel B won, as a general rule, but there may be reasons to prefer panel A. For example, if you’re experimenting with a subject line for an on-going series like a daily email, the deliverability might work itself out over time, in which case A is the better choice.

Whenever you do a test, you have to measure the right results for your bussiness. In some cases that’s relatively clear. If you’re trying to sell soap, whichever email sells more soap is the better choice, right?

Maybe. What if panel A sells $5000 worth of soap, but only get 500 customers, while panel B only sells $4500 worth of soap but gets 550 customers? Which is better? Maybe adding a new customer is worth more than a sale.

Testing requires you to think about what different metrics mean for your business.

Take the example of an email that’s meant to drive traffic to your website. Panel A and B get about the same number of clicks, but Panel A gets far more unsubscribes and Panel B gets more spam complaints. How do you choose?

I would choose Panel A. An unsubscribe is not a bad thing. If somebody doesn’t want to get your newsletter, you don’t want to send it to them. But you don’t want spam complaints. They hurt your deliverability for all your campaigns.

Also, for some reason, your Panel B is saying “spam” to your recipients, which hurts your brand reputation, and that’s more valuable than any individual email.

Testing is a necessary part of marketing, but it often raises more questions than it solves. Which leads to more testing. Which can become an obsession!

The secret is to stay focused on the numbers that drive your business. Don’t test for testing’s sake. Learn to put the right value on each metric, and adjust your valuation based on the goals of the particular campaign.

Apple News, Facebook, Flipboard, and your stories

Many publishers are in the same situation. They have great content, but they don’t have a big audience. Other sites have a huge audience, and those sites want the publishers’ content. Is it a match made in heaven?

It depends. You have to look at the terms of the deal, and you have to think long and hard about your strategy.

(Note that I’m not talking about the pond-scum aggregators who steal other people’s content and sell ads against it. I’m talking about reputable businesses that deal honestly with publishers.)

Is it a good idea for publishers to participate with these aggregators? How will that decision affect publisher revenue?

Flipboard has been in this business for a while. Facebook joined a few months ago, and Apple has an app called News to be released with iOS 9. Google and others are in this space as well. All of them have their own terms and ways they want to win — to be the default place where people go to see and share content.

There’s no doubting the convenience for the user of having content in one place — that is, getting content through an intermediary and avoiding direct contact with the publisher.

But is that what you, as a publisher, want? I don’t think there’s a clear answer yet, but here are some things I’ve been thinking about this week as I’ve read stories on this topic.

Will you lose your brand?

When somebody visits your site, they see your font, your colors, your logo and your design. You craft that experience to match with your brand expectations, and it helps people identify with you as a reputable source.

When your content goes into somebody else’s news service, you have far less control. Maybe none at all.

Are you effectively becoming a ghost writer, providing words for somebody else? When people read your content on Flipboard, do they remember you, or do they remember Flipboard?

If part of your strategy for providing content online is to establish a relationship with new prospects, will it help you when your content is in that environment?

Here’s a test. Go spend 15 minutes on Flipboard, and then ask yourself if you remember the publishers of the content you read.

Is it your world, or the readers’ world?

These services specialize in customizing content for the reader’s interests, which means your content is being served in an environment you don’t control.

That’s unavoidable to a certain extent. Nothing prevents users from clipping your content into Evernote, or sharing it on Facebook, or doing any number of things. So to some extent publishers just need to face the fact that it’s a new world and they don’t control the context of their content. Unless they go with a full paywall.

But it’s still something to think about, since each service will do things slightly differently.

Will you be a small fish in a big pond?

If you’re The New York Times, the aggregator will give you a lot of attention, make concessions and generally try to work with you. But if you’re a small fish, will you get lost in the crowd?

How will this affect your relationship with your audience and your advertisers?

Advertisers want to buy audience. If you hand over your content to an aggregator, you lose control over the audience, and you lose control of the relationship with the advertiser.

Publishers want to build a relationship with an audience. If a majority of the content is being consumed elsewhere — out of the publisher’s control — how can the publisher maintain that relationship?

If the aggregators get control of the market, will they change the rules?

If too many publishers take the bait and start providing content through the aggregators, what will stop the aggregators from squeezing the publishers over price? Won’t this become a race to the bottom, where your hard-won brand reputation becomes irrelevant in a world where small start-ups are eager to beat you?

Some publishers think they were foolish, back in the early days of the Internet, to post content online and monetize it with ads. Is it time to stop that process?

I welcome your comments and suggestions. I don’t have the answer to all these things, but I do suspect that this is yet another way that publishers are being taken to the cleaners.