Thursday, January 10, 2008

Memo Pad: Portfolio Numbers, Please...

Memo Pad: Numbers, Please...
By Stephanie D. Smith
NUMBERS, PLEASE: Portfolio has published six issues since its debut in April, but so far, the jury remains out on whether consumers are reading the Condé Nast business title. Sources close to the magazine and with access to circulation figures say the title has collected around 300,000 subscriptions and, on average, sold 85,000 newsstand copies an issue. They also estimate Portfolio's single-copy sell-through percentage is between 15 and 18 percent (a Portfolio spokeswoman declined to comment on the numbers). The magazine has attempted to pop at newsstand by using more abstract cover images, but in recent issues has moved toward a single image - the January cover was the first to feature a close-up of a human.

A new magazine's sell through percentage is naturally lower than that of an established title, since most publishers tend to blanket newsstands with issues for maximum visibility while assessing where the magazine sells best. John Harrington, editor of magazine industry newsletter The New Single Copy, believed Condé Nast would be satisfied if Portfolio's sell-through were in the mid-20 percent range. As a new title matures, a successful one should increase that number to around the 30 percent range or higher. "Fifteen percent certainly wouldn't make them happy," said Harrington.

Portfolio's circulation, as with most business magazines, is based largely on subscriptions, so its newsstand performance is not the only judge of the magazine's circulation strength. "It's somewhere in between a business and a men's or lifestyle magazine, in terms of how they're positioning it. So it's a little harder to judge than normal," added Harrington. "Because it's a unique editorial package, I would think the company would be prepared to give it more time and would not apply normal expectations to it."

It may be too early to tell if Portfolio will meets its circulation targets - or what those targets could be for the future - but publisher David Carey already has his advertising goals in place for 2008. After posting 655 ad pages for all of 2007, the goal is to snag 900 pages this year, when Portfolio will publish 12 issues. Of course, Carey has more on his mind now than Portfolio - on Monday he was given responsibility of Wired Media and The Golf Digest Publications, which previously reported to outgoing group president Mitchell Fox

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Observations from a Curious Mind

Observations from a Curious Mind
Posted by Courtney Smith
As the Governor of the American Advertising Federation's District 14, I attend numerous events each year. This past June in Louisville, KY, the hours spent sitting at banquet rounds filled with half eaten salads listening to the illuminating thoughts of industry experts, needless to say, caused my mind to wander away from meeting agendas and how Roberts Rules of Order works like I was supposed to be doing as a District leader. I found myself unable to stop searching for connections between the nuggets of cutting-edge research, opinions from self-proclaimed industry thought leaders and intimate after-hours conversations inspired by open bars and the brief escape from "real life" back home. I filled many a quad pad page pondering the collective idea pool that was brewing amongst the creative constituency in attendance; it's these thoughts, observations and questions that I share with you here. For today, my first thought on the list.

1) As long as a product provides value, it will be rewarded with loyalty.One of the keynote speakers said this in his speech. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that sometimes clients don't get this. What it says to me is that marketing is not a rainmaker and can't make a bad product better - period. Consumers are smarter than you think, and will not be loyal to anything that doesn't give them something unexpected in return. I think it's true of services too; isn't it always about value? Value-add, value-driven, values-based - we need to be careful how we use this word, because it's a damn good one that will lose its meaning if the industry adopts it deeper into its buzz word virtual dictionary. In other words, don't devalue value.

Thought number two on my list of things to ponder I am sure will cause much debate. After all, it pits the creative world against the measured world of interactive and summons the core of what clients in my experience want to know about their marketing efforts - how do I know this is going to work?

2.) The moment the metrics become more important than the message, it spoils the gift to the user and becomes counterproductive. I heard this in a keynote given by David Verklin, founder of CaratUSA and wanted to put him on TIVO pause as soon as these words left his mouth. Finally, an industry professional that wasn't trying to crack the metrics nut and put a barcode on creative! As I thought about the meaning of his words, it made me reflect on my own habits as a consumer and put them into the context of how we build and market brands for our clients. After all, the thing I usually remember when I see an incredible piece of creative for the first time isn't the product or service's name or website address. . . it's the way it made me feel when I was tickled, saddened, outwitted or touched in some way by the magic of how a simple phrase, imagery and copy worked together in harmony to tell its story. This feeling has never been something that could be measured with unique urls or click-thru ratios, but it is what I want to experience when I come across this brand again. So how do clients know if what we're doing for them will really work, if brands live in our heads and names and url's are hard to remember? We have a saying in the office that for every great gift you've ever received in your life, you will never, ever forget who gave it to you. Think about it. If what you receive is something that personifies you, celebrates you, is unexpected and makes you take notice, the giver will live in infamy in your head forever. The same is true of great band marketing. When your approach is thoughtful, your audience is understood intimately and the delivery is just right. . . the same magic can be gifted to an audience. At the end of the day, if clients just had faith in what we as marketers with integrity are spending our precious brain cells strategically creating in this space, then the answer to their question will be paid back with long-term customer loyalty and increased profits. This takes time and considerable patience however - but I guarantee that the results will last a lifetime.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Print is Dead: Long Live Print

Print is Dead: Long Live Print
By Jonathan Weber
We all know by now that the future of media is online, and I'd be the last person to deny the significance of the changes wrought by the Internet. But I think one of the most interesting things to emerge in the media business this year will be a comeback of sorts for print.

Print, of course, hasn't exactly gone away - magazines and newspapers still account for more then a third of worldwide ad revenues - but the chatter in the industry suggests its death is just around the corner.

In the U.S. especially, the newspaper business appears to be in a free-fall, with many big papers reporting year-over-year revenue and circulation declines of ten per cent or more - shocking numbers indeed for century-old businesses. The big magazine companies, and especially kingpin Time Inc., are under ever-growing financial pressure; nobody would be surprised if the new CEO of Time Warner sold the magazine unit.
Yet the story in the field, especially outside of the big coastal media hubs, is quite different from what the media news websites would lead you to believe. If you want publicity in Anytown, USA, the best way to get it, still, is a story in the local newspaper. And if you're selling advertising to local businesses, a lot of your clients still want to be able to hold that ad in their hands.

At NewWest.Net, we're actually launching a print magazine in a few weeks; print was always part of the plan, and everything we have experienced so far suggests that this is a sound strategy. Even though, as a company, we are "online first" in almost every respect, we still expect the print magazine to generate substantially more ad revenues in its first year than our three-year-old online publication.

Another project that I'm involved with, a local newspaper startup in northwestern Montana called the Flathead Beacon, also illustrates this point emphatically. Even though a strong website was launched concurrently with the print paper last spring, and online is considered central to the strategy in every way, the print accounts for the vast majority of the revenue. I'm sure that will change eventually - but not this year, or next, or even the year after that.

I think a big part of the gap between perception and reality when it comes to print media has to do with a set of expectations that have developed from what were, in retrospect, very specific and unusual circumstances.

Newspapers have been in steep decline for half a century, when measured by the percentage of the population that regularly reads a newspaper. But in the U.S. that decline in readership has been accompanied by consolidation, with most cities being reduced to one newspaper from two or three or four. The surviving ones, not surprisingly, became extremely profitable; the issue for most newspapers today is not that they are not profitable, but that they are much less profitable than they were before.

Similarly, it's not that newspapers today no longer have influence, it's that they have relatively less than they had before. Magazines had a golden age back in the 1960s, when publications like Esquire and Playboy almost defined their era, intellectually and culturally. The fact that they no longer carry the clout they once did doesn't mean they have no future. The success of Felix Dennis' The Week suggests that even the hoary newsmagazine, seemingly the most antiquated species in the entire magazine firmament, can be reinvented and made relevant.

Media consumption is extraordinarily habit-driven, and old habits die hard. Maybe, once the people who grew up on Facebook are running all the local businesses in town, those businesses will lose their affection for the slick, well-produced color print advertising that still dominates many markets. But that time is quite a ways off still. And in the meantime, as the excitement surrounding new forms of media begins to wear off a bit, there will be a renewed appreciation for the power of a highly flexible, portable, shareable, high-definition technology known as print.

Jonathan Weber is the founder and editor in chief of NewWest.Net, a regional news service focused on the Rocky Mountain West in the United States. He was previously the co-founder and editor in chief of the Industry Standard

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Quest for the Perfect Cover

The Quest for the Perfect Cover
Publishing Executive Magazine
By Jan V. White
When a magazine's cover "worked," we can never determine for sure exactly what worked. Was it the photo? Was it the subject of the cover story? Was it the big type run in process yellow? Surveys can be taken, focus groups convened, but experience teaches that you can't escape flying by the seat of your pants. That's another way of saying that we depend on the editor's gut feeling. I was one of the judges awarding "best cover" medals in an intramural competition at a publishing company large enough to warrant such an act. The company's owner-who ought to know given his company's output-told me that the only factor he could be sure of is the coquettish, come-hither look in the model's eyes. (That is a somewhat frustrating criterion if your product doesn't deal with that kind of subject.) Here are four cover stories to illustrate the complexity of the problem.

1. One cover stands out vividly from the thousands in my half century of magazine-ing. They were refurbishing the newsstand in the Stockholm airport terminal, so their magazines were spread out on the sidewalk. The standout was greenish all over: in the picture, the logo, the type, the coverlines. It was the Swedish Golf Digest, so its greenness was perfect for its subject. The cover carried all the usual elements, but they were blended by the color, and that simplicity popped it out from its surrounding, gaudy competition. Less is more, but can you imagine the arguments before they agreed to go with it?

2. In the late '90s, there was a period of intense competition among three women's general-interest weeklies in Norway. One of them decided to abandon fashionable elegance and do some hard-selling by covering the cover with as many pictorial and verbal appeals as they could squeeze in, using every color (especially process yellow), typeface, angle, overlap, silhouetting, shadow and trick. The startling difference created enormous curiosity, and their sales skyrocketed. The other two quickly latched onto the technique in their own variations, and after a few issues, the only way to tell them apart was to decipher the logos.

3. Newsstand sales are vital to magazine circulation in Brazil. The problem with selling them in São Paulo is that the pollution sneaks dirt between the pages, and who wants to buy a soiled copy? Therefore, plastic-bagging is essential. But if the issue is bagged and you can't flip the pages while you're browsing at the newsstand, how do you know what's inside? Coverlines-lots and lots of them. Nevermind that your product is stylish and elegant, and the gorgeous cover subject is ruined by all that type. All that type is inescapable, given the outside sales conditions, like it or not.

4. A few years ago, I came across a unique cover problem in Ecuador. All the covers of the local, general-interest weekly newsmagazine bore pictures of partially clad young ladies, though there was one issue on the wall in the editor's office that showed jungle guerrillas with guns. That had been an experiment and a circulation disaster. The mail system could not be depended on to deliver magazines, and newsstands were few, because they required a lot of investment. Circulation depended on boys who bought a handful of copies to peddle in the streets. The cover with the boy-oriented guerrillas was a failed attempt to appeal to these newsboys. Convinced that they couldn't sell a magazine that lacked a pretty model on the cover, the newsboys refused to buy any themselves.

No matter what you put on the cover, keep the six functions of covers in mind:

1. Familiar recognition from issue to issue (that's the brand)

2. Emotionally irresistible (that's the image's appeal)

3. Arousing curiosity (that's to pull the casual glancer in)

4. Intellectually stimulating, interesting (that's to promise benefits)

5. Efficient, fast, easy to scan (that's showing off the service)

6. Worth the investment of money and time (that's the "What's in it for me?")

No wonder that the cover is a complicated puzzle. But all these qualities are essential, so they must be borne in mind when the inevitable arguments arise.

Four reasons not to judge your cover on-screen:
1. The screen is the wrong size, no matter how big it is. You can't see it intimately as if it were in your hands.

2. It lacks scale because it is isolated in its own magic electronic world, so you have nothing real to compare it to. You can only guess at type sizes and hope they're OK.

3. It glows in vivid colors that will inevitably turn disappointingly dull when printed in ink. A hard-copy printout may be closer.

4. Worst of all, it is virtual. It is just an illusory likeness of the physical paper product that your potential buyer will ultimately be holding. If you are producing magazines on paper, think and remain conscious of "paperness" all the time.

Four ways to judge your cover:
1. Covers are the prime sales tool that must be judged realistically both for content as well as form (i.e., what they show and how they show it). Never trim a printout, mount it beautifully, and display it with its alternates on the finely polished surface of the conference-room table. Designers love to do this, because to them, the cover is enormously important (and so it is, but not necessarily for their reasons). That framing, matting and mounting in a formalized presentation cheats you into believing that what you are being shown is "art" that you must judge on aesthetic grounds, liking it or loathing it . . . "Can we make the type a tad redder?" Few magazines qualify for covers that are "art."

2. Instead, ask the designer to print out all the alternates as hard copy, trim them accurately to magazine size and glue them onto old issues, so you can see them as close to the real thing as possible. Now, toss them on a tabletop, so they flop around and overlap like real magazines do.

3. If you can spare the time, go to the local drugstore or bookstore, and sneak your upcoming issue in among the other magazines on the racks. Does it hold its own or does it disappear? To ensure that atmosphere of realism, I persuaded that multititle publisher to invest in a full-color, life-size photomural of a newsstand and have it permanently installed. We attached clips and glass shelves on it to hold the mock-ups. The realistic circumstances not only improved the noticeability of the covers, but reduced friction between art/edit/circulation/management, because everybody could see what the reality of selling was about.

4.If selling on newsstands is not your problem, but competition among executives is, gather copies of what your targets might be reading, including your competition, of course. Mock up an executive's in-box or tabletop arrangement in some way, and place yours among them. That is the realistic way to judge your cover. Keep that still-life stack for next month's headaches.

Three fixes-avoiding a weak cover:
1. If the cover pops out from its background, don't weaken it by fussing with it. You've probably done something courageous (like that all-green Swedish Golf Digest) and deserve congratulations. Leave well enough alone.

2. If it is invisible like wallpaper, decide what element is worthy of becoming dominant by enlarging, by isolating, by more controlled color, by more clever wording. . . . Do it deliberately, strongly, with conviction. The great thing about seeing the sketch cover in its realistic setting is that it warns you away from itsy-bitsy decisions that don't matter. To succeed out there, you have to realize that you are making a poster, albeit in miniature. A billboard.

3. Check out the suggestions about the four type sizes. (See related content.) A magazine is first and foremost a physical product, so experiment with it as such and be sure to make the most of its capabilities. Unfortunately, every decision will demand a price. Example: The spectacular, shiny coverstock that helps the colors vibrate is so slippery that the magazine falls on the floor. To whom are you catering? Youngsters don't mind bending down to retrieve it, but seniors will let it lie there, because it is too damn much trouble. It is all really psychology, isn't it? Well, of course it is! Publishing is a form of person-to-person conversation. The cover triggers it.

Jan White, the author of the book, "Editing by Design," lectures worldwide on the relationship of graphic design to editing. After 13 years with architectural magazines at Time Inc., he established his own publication-design firm in 1964. He has written dozens of books on editing and design techniques.