There is no digital transformation in the publishing industry

August 7th, 2014

For the simple reason that there is no publishing industry.

This article — Is Print Really Killing Publishers? — makes the point very well.

There is no such thing as “the” publishing industry, only publishing industries.

“Digital transformation” is a chameleon term in the publishing industries. It can be about web sites, digital editions, apps, e-newsletters, or shiny new object of the week.

He’s exactly right. Any generic talk about “digital transformation” in the publishing industry is misguided and bound to mislead. Radically different rules apply to news weeklies, romance novels, art books, legal services, etc., and it’s very important for publishing professionals to keep things separate.

The fact that lots of paperback readers have moved to kindle does not mean that lots of magazine readers will move to iPad. Different rules apply.

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Remember when it was apps, apps, apps?

August 1st, 2014

Beware the flashy trends, especially when they are mostly promoted by developers who want you to spend money with them.

A few years ago everything was “develop an app.” If you weren’t developing an app you weren’t one of the cool kids. You wouldn’t be allowed to sit at the right lunch table. You were just so backwards. You were infected with “old-school thinking.”

“Old-school thinking” means things like looking before you leap, and expecting a return on your investment.

Well, apps have generally turned out to have been a waste of time and effort.

Publishers have their doubts about the App Store reinforced by tales from other app developers.

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Tweak the failing page on your A-B tests and test again

July 24th, 2014

In optimizing your website, sometimes you want to test something simple, like a red button vs. a blue button, or one kind of product image against another. You should be testing those sorts of things — often.

Other times you want to test a complete redesign. Those are also worthwhile, but it’s harder to know how to interpret the results.

If you’re only changing one thing on a page, any change in response can be attributed to that change. When you’re changing a whole lot of things, you don’t know which element caused the change in response.

Let’s say you test a new design against your current design and the new design loses. You might be tempted to give up on the new design and stick with what you have. But that may be a mistake. There may be one small thing on the new design that’s causing it to lose in the test.

Before you give up entirely, try tweaking the new design a few times. You may find that a small change makes all the difference.

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Match.com for business?

July 8th, 2014

Please don’t misinterpret this post. I am not saying the idea I’m going to describe is a good thing, but I do think it’s a possible way to make a lot of money by doing something slightly questionable. Or perhaps despicable. You decide.

I despise personality tests. Myers Briggs, the little online “are you conservative or liberal,” and all that stuff — they drive me crazy.

Or, rather, they fascinate me, but I despise the way people use them. They’re used to put people in buckets. It’s basically an acceptable form of racism. “You’re an ISFJ, you wouldn’t understand.”

In my experience they are always a barrier to understanding people, not an aid. I have never once seen anything good come from one of those things, but I have frequently seen them abused.

Having said all that, they’re clearly the rage, and it’s fairly obvious why. They combine science and narcissism in a way that’s bound to appeal to the modern person. You can imagine somebody who has no interest in finding a date signing up for one of these things simply to find out what kind of a person he is.

So then, here’s the business idea. Invent an easy, accessible way for a company to use something like this in hiring. Sure, there are things like this, but read on.

First, a little background.

I was at a SIPA conference once where a guy told a story about a bunch of people who went for a job interview with Southwest Airlines. About ten people were sitting in a waiting room, and somebody came in and said Southwest tended to be rather casual in their interviews and offered everyone a Hawaiian shirt. They had a dressing room with shirts in every size, and everyone was welcome to go try one on. Some did, some didn’t.

A few minutes later somebody came in and said all the people who didn’t put on the shirts could go. It was a test to see if they were willing to fit in with the corporate culture.

It seems somewhat unfair, but there’s also something to it. Corporations do have cultures, and some people don’t fit. Some large corporations realize this and work that sort of test into their hiring process, but smaller companies typically don’t have the time or the resources.

Hence, hire-the-right-personality-types.com (or something like that).

Here’s how it would work. All the owners and the existing employees would take personality tests. Management would indicate which employees are the stars (i.e., more like this please) and which are the duds. The service would determine if there’s a particular profile that correlates well with success at that company. Potential hires would take the test, and the results would be one of the characteristics used in making the hiring decision.

I think such a service could make a lot of money, although I hate the idea. Here’s why.

These tests ask things like “when faced with A, would you prefer to do 1 or 2?” Like everybody else, I have my preferences, but I am also willing and able to do things the other way if that is what’s required, and I’m fairly good at figuring that sort of thing out. I can work with pretty much anybody.

But the tests don’t care that much about flexibility. They don’t want to know if you can lead, follow, or get out of the way, they want to know which one you tend towards. They want to put you in a bucket and tell you what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.

Maybe there are tests that take that sort of thing into account, but in my experience they’re more interested in classifying you than in finding out how flexible you can be.

I went through one of these pop-psych management stupidities one time, and the moderator sorted everybody into four groups, then told us how well we would work with the other groups. My group (according to the magical sorting hat) couldn’t work very well with Hufflepuff — or however he named the group to our right — which had two of my direct reports, who were some of my best friends in the company. I worked with them just fine.

Worst still, the CEO spent the next two months treating everybody according to the little groups they had been placed in. It was awful, until he realized it was nonsense and moved on.

Obviously not everyone is as incompetent as the guy who ran our little shrink-a-doo, but that seems to be the way things work.

So, while I hate the whole concept — I think they are destructive of morale and constitute a “scientific” form of racism-by-another-name — I think somebody could make a fortune selling it.

Uncategorized What do you think?

So much for the tablet saving everything

May 12th, 2014

How many more of the breathless predictions about the tablet are going to fail?

It’s been obvious for a long time now that the tablet isn’t going to save the magazine. In fact, it’s been a money pit that publishers have been all too willing to waste their time on — for very little return.

Sure, some publishers are doing … I wouldn’t say well, but you could say they’re doing okay on the tablet. But overall it’s been a big waste.

Now we hear that teenagers are reading less and less despite the tablet.

But wait! Wasn’t the story that if we put things in a new, more “immersive experience” (add buzz words and such here) that we would be able to reach new digital audiences? It’s not that those young folk aren’t interested in serious stuff, it’s just that you need to add video and chat and social sharing and jelly beans and kittens.

The tablet is here to stay for many reasons. It’s an incredibly convenient device for some things. I check the weather every morning on my tablet, and I often check my email or look things up on the web while I’m watching TV. It’s great for getting recipes (or listening to Pandora) while you’re cooking, and I always use the mash / sparge calculator on my tablet when I’m brewing beer.

It also has serious limitations. It is not a productivity device, and the screen glare does make it hard to read — although it’s convenient to be able to bring along a hundred books on one device.

Tablet magazines are cool for about the first five minutes, but you quickly realize that a paper magazine is simply better.

I’m not anti-tablet. They have their niche. But that niche is not going to save publishing. I don’t even think it’s going to help.

Uncategorized What do you think?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?