Thursday, April 17, 2008
The State of Digital Magazine Delivery, 2008
How much circ should be digital and whether they should be new subs or converts.
Jane E. Zarem
Digital magazines are booming. The anecdotal and statistical evidence is overwhelming. Why? Analysts point to a variety of reasons, from a new generation of readers wanting a "high-fidelity" experience that combines elements of both print and online media, to the comfort level younger readers have with all things digital, to the natural synergy digital magazines have in the b-to-b space.
Whatever the reasons, the effect is obvious. Digital magazines appear not to be the transitional technology that they were perceived as not too long ago but are, instead, a hybrid technology of choice for many publishing brands and consumers.
There is no question that the growth has been remarkable, even putting aside the hype from the suppliers. Four of the major providers-Texterity, Nxtbook Media, Olive Software and Zinio-reported a combined 585 digital titles in 2005. This year, those same four suppliers report a combined 2,718 titles. And that almost certainly understates the total number of digital magazines, considering some longstanding vendors such as Qmags or Advanced Publishing weren't included, nor were the slew of vendors that have cropped up in the last couple of years, nor were the increasing number of printers that offer such solutions, nor were the magazine companies that produce their own digital replicas, such as 1105 Media.
Why do they opt to produce digital editions? Many reasons. Consider Playboy, for example. It has about 60,000 digital readers on a total circulation of more than 2 million, and it's mostly incremental readers. Phyllis Rotunno, senior VP of subscription circulation, is surprised more magazines haven't picked up on the digital trend. "It's a low cost of entry," she says, "and you really don't have anything to lose. Digital has been a great outlet for us, and we're happy with it."
"The number of publications that are moving into their initial digital effort is still very significant," says Steve Paxhia, lead analyst in the Publishing Strategy & Technology Practice at The Gilbane Group. "While the base isn't large, the number is actually growing quite nicely. It's safe to say that it is growing in excess of 25 percent per year."
And as that growth continues, Paxhia sees three predictable steps in the assimilation of digital-magazine technology:
1. People tend to accept the technology with which they're most comfortable. That would be a replica or facsimile-a post-process digital version of a print publication. That preserves the browsing metaphor that print readers get from a physical magazine, and it also offers scanability.
2. Often what happens, and it could happen simultaneously, before, or after launching a digital version, the publisher puts some or all of the magazine's articles on its Web site. That doesn't preserve the formatting and navigation of the digital edition, but the content is accessible and searchable. You then have both ends of the continuum, but that often becomes an internal bifurcation of the publisher's digital strategy.
3. Having the two ends of the continuum start to come together-blending the digital magazine and the Web site-is what many customers really want. Readers want to be able to search when they want to search and browse when they want to browse and contribute when they want to contribute.
Some of the Trends
The digital-magazine market has been vibrant for less than five years, but it nevertheless has enough maturity to have developed some interesting and important trends. Publishers are starting to realize, for example, that this isn't simply a plug-in technology. It requires focus and attention for the initiative to be successful. "It must be considered a standalone product that gets its own energy from the sales and marketing staff," says Nxtbook Media's marketing director, Marcus Grimm. "That will determine the success or failure of the digital publication."
Also, the technology has gotten much more robust in the last couple of years. Vendors can add RSS feeds, enhanced ads, and many more bells and whistles, while the publisher still needs to supply only a PDF of the magazine. That means that small publishers who can't afford to dedicate the resources necessary to keep up with cutting-edge trends can also participate.
"As the Internet continues to evolve, the high-fidelity experience has become very important to consumers," says Zinio CEO Rich Maggiotto. "The magazine layout is quite conducive to that and can become a graphically intense, rich media experience. Some content providers realize that they must expand to rich media in order to ensure against audience erosion. Others are slow to move. At the end of the day, though, publishers are content creators and audience builders. They have a brand, a trusted brand, not a magazine."
In large part, the industry is still being shaped by the needs of the marketplace, according to John Blanchard, VP of operations at Reed Business Information. "Quite frankly, I don't think it's moving fast enough," he says. "Digital edition vendors are monitoring the needs of the publishers and modifying their platforms accordingly. I'd like to see them come up with more innovative ways to use the technology and then integrate it within the publishing platform."
Defining the audience and finding the "sweet spot"
No one believes that digital will replace print. Yet kids 18-34-which Stephen Bernstein, president of Zenbu Media, calls "the sweet spot for digital"-are techno-savvy, on the computer a lot, and like their information portable. "And as the technology continues to improve, which all technology does, it will make them even more excited about reading in a digital format," he says.
On the other hand, Texterity's Cimarron Buser believes that trade magazines are "the sweet spot"-at least in terms of acceptance. "B-to-b publishers have found digital delivery useful because of the cost savings and the ability to reach out internationally," he says, "and advertisers seem to be responsive in that arena." The readers-whether consumer or b-to-b-are also responsive. Key findings published in Texterity's "Profile of the Digital Magazine Reader 2007" indicate high overall satisfaction with digital magazines (see chart, right).
Nxtbook's Grimm agrees. Nxtbook's clients are about 90 percent b-to-b. The company has been growing 30 percent for the last three years in both readership and revenue-a trend Grimm expects to continue. "Every month, more than a million people read a Nxtbook," he says, "and they stay inside for five minutes compared to the average stay of less than a minute on a Web page. The click-through rates are also higher. It's just a different type of experience." So he believes the b-to-b sector is "a natural" for digital delivery.
Of course, taking into account Zinio's 300 publisher clients that represent 850 mostly consumer digital magazines-a number projected to reach 2,000 titles by the end of the year-the consumer market looks like a "sweet spot," too.
Nevertheless, with the exception of portability and speed of receipt, there aren't a lot of reasons to prefer digital unless there is value added beyond the publication itself. "We've learned over the last year that it really isn't about pulling a print reader to digital or getting a digital reader to convert back to print," says Grimm. "It's really about giving the product to both audiences in the way that they prefer to receive it." And a reader may prefer one at one time and the other another time.
"Digital editions by themselves won't drastically increase your circulation," confirms Peter Spielvogel, director of product marketing at Olive Software. "You will find some environmentally conscious people who prefer to receive only a digital edition. The real value comes when publishers embellish their offerings with multimedia ads or content, adding more value for both readers and advertisers and attracting a more technology-oriented subscriber."
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It's Web 3.0, and Someone Else's Content Is King
Without Original Reporting, How Long Can the Aggregation Party Last?
By Matthew Creamer
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Tina Brown launched a publishing venture a decade ago, she used glossy paper bound between celebrity-splashed covers filled with long articles written by big-name, big-dollar contributors who spent weeks or even months reporting and crafting their stories. Here's how she'll probably do it in 2008: Hire a few editors to handpick stuff already kicking around the internet that will be ranked or graded, perhaps in some slickly designed graph.
Whatever you think of Ms. Brown and her so far skimpily detailed plans to launch an IAC-backed news-aggregation site, you have to admit her shift in purpose from producing original content to curating it is a sign of the times -- end times maybe -- for media as we've known it. Ms. Brown is the woman, after all, famous for presiding over the most magazine-y of magazines, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, two books whose deep reporting, extensive fact-checking and long stories have no digital-world analogs. But with the expensive pursuit of professional content failing to jibe with profitability, media entrepreneurship looks to be reduced to a meta role of repackaging what's already out there.
Welcome to the era of the aggregator.
Stealing others' thunder
If Web 1.0 was about old-media companies making half-hearted gestures at that online thing and Web 2.0 was a brisk reminder that, dot-com bust notwithstanding, the internet is a very real and open thing where walls and control don't work well, then part of Web 3.0 will be about figuring out how to monetize that openness. Euphemisms aside, the next chore for media outlets will be trying to sell ads against other people's content in addition to their own. Aggregation, not as a sidelight but as more of a focus, is a mission change for media, and there's a case for it, to be sure. Time and attention have limits, but the universe of content, it seems, does not. So finding a way to quickly and cleanly deliver relevant news is important. But there are also potentially large societal costs, and success is by no means guaranteed.
The portals and blogs, in very different ways, introduced the role of sifting and collating. Then mainstream media started to figure it out as a way to add more eyeballs and improve their performance on search engines. And as aggregation and curation took a front seat, deep investments in news-gathering became few and far between.
The Pew Center's most recent edition of its annual report on journalism, as gloomy a document as you'd imagine, noted that news organizations continued to tear down their walls. Eleven of 24 major news sites linked to off-site stories, up from three the year before. Yet the focus of reporting narrowed because of the attrition of news-gathering resources. The other side of that coin is that more organizations are getting hip to the reality that they can't depend on being destinations, so they're adding to their websites features that facilitate sharing and aggregation in ways that often take the content and the reader off-site. In short, they're finding ways to make their product an easily transportable commodity.
Why pay more?
The dynamic was summed up neatly in an October 2007 column in Vanity Fair by media pundit Michael Wolff. His observation that "news seems ever more valueless" bled into the conclusion that value resides in the organization of news. A sharp piece of analysis, the column doubled as an announcement of Mr. Wolff's new venture. Newser.com presents its version of the top stories of the moment in an image-heavy grid. When you move your mouse over a block, up pops a small window containing a summary of the story, a link to the source and an ad, perhaps for a brand such as Verizon or T-Mobile. It's not an industrial-strength collector like a Google News; it's more selective and it's probably more carefully presented. Mr. Wolff balks at the term "aggregator" but he doesn't quite have a concise descriptor for what Newser is.
The problem, of course, if you care about things like a robust economy of information, is that this prizes the organization of news stories, not their creation, begging pressing and ultimately depressing questions for the future of news. If aggregating is becoming the best way to make money from content, who's going to undertake the costly business of creating that content?
Asked whether, as a conten provider of the old school, he ever finds this state of things depressing, Mr. Wolff argues that the wealth of content on the web from both professionals and the legions of bloggers and other formerly-known-as-amateurs effectively is creating a golden age for content. "I'm tired of that New York Times argument that only the following kind of people create quality content. The range out there is remarkable ... and it's cost-free."
Then there's the question for the burgeoning business of aggregation itself. "The space is heating up," as Mr. Wolff puts it. So how do you grab enough consumers' eyeballs to get advertisers interested? That's no mean feat when you consider the fragmentation on the web in general and, in specific, among the growing number of sites purporting to be the last word in telling you what you need to read. It's a universe of boundless competition.
Evidence not all in yet
Newser has had some early success. Unique visitors jumped from 352,000 to 658,000 between January and February, according to ComScore. But pointing to the popularity of the websites of The New York Times or CNN, MediaVest VP-digital director Mo Renganathan isn't yet convinced consumers will support aggregation. "The general population hasn't migrated to the news-aggregator mentality in any broad sense. It'll be interesting to see how it transitions over time. I don't know if it'll flip."
Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix.com, a site that organizes news stories by ZIP code, argues that you need one of three things to succeed: an unusual approach like that of the immensely popular Digg, whose users vote stories up or down and thus allow the community to determine the most important news; a technology, such as Topix's artificial intelligence; or a content differentiator such as the Huffington Post's stable of celebrity bloggers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he is bearish on the chances of survival for Ms. Brown's venture. Asked if her penchant for drumming up attention in the offline world will translate to a digital environment, he wagged: "You can't translate that buzz while using other people's content." (An IAC spokesman declined to make Ms. Brown available for an interview.)
He's not alone in his skepticism. Gabe Rivera, founder of Techmeme, a popular destination for those who want a snapshot of news and discussion around Silicon Valley, was blunt. "I expect efforts in news aggregation by established media companies to fail overwhelmingly," he wrote in an e-mail. "Successful aggregators have largely come from (1) enterprising individuals; (2) pioneering new concepts; and (3) [those who are] motivated by ownership of their project. Most big-media news-aggregation projects, lacking all three elements, are doomed. I expect somewhat better things from independent projects. Most will still fail -- that's typical in this space."
It's a tough assessment from someone who's made aggregation work, though it's perhaps not as bleak as the overall outlook for journalism, which has to come to grips both culturally and economically with a new model that's summed up by Pew like this: "There is no single or finished news product anymore."
No argument here. So go ahead, pass this along. Digg it. Share it on Google Reader or on Facebook.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Now fashion mags make models 'fatter'
Fashion magazines are manipulating images of skinny models to make them look "fatter" than they really are.
The move is a response to critics who blame images of so-called "size zero" models for the rise in eating disorders in young girls.
The fashion industry has long been accused of making models and actresses look thinner and is now using the same techniques in reverse to deflect criticism
Belinda Coleman, of the retouching agency The Shoemakers Elves, said there was a trend towards presenting less "extreme" images of thinness and of enhancing figures. "Where models are looking particularly gaunt, magazines are saying, 'We can't have that - fill out their chests,'?" she said.
"It is now deemed just as negative to be too thin as too fat. Every¬one is scared of being highlighted as the magazine or label that promotes very thin girls, so they are being a lot more careful about the images they present."
Another agency, the iWanex Studio, boasts a portfolio of "before and after" images of celebrities that it has retouched for magazines. In one of the "after" photographs, the thighs of Cameron Diaz, the actress, have been visibly widened, her arms filled out and her stomach made smoother and rounder, with her prominent hip bones from the "before" photograph erased.
Nicky Eaton, the head of press and PR at Condé Nast, which publishes Vogue, GQ, and Glamour, also confirmed that images of models were enhanced to make them appear fuller-figured.
"There have been cases where models are booked way ahead of a shoot and then they turn up two months later looking less healthy and perhaps a bit underweight. We wouldn't be happy showing them that way, so it is then that we would need that person to look a little bit fuller."
But Susan Ringwood, the chief executive of the eating disorder charity Beat, condemned the practice. "Altering models' bodies to appear fuller-figured proves that the industry acknowledges there is a serious issue with projecting images of very thin models, but [it is] missing the point," she said. "They should be using naturally healthy models in the first instance, instead of having to make them look that way."
In 2003, Kate Winslet, who has defended fuller-figured women, appeared on the cover of GQ in a picture that had been altered without her knowledge to make her appear much slimmer.
The following year, Keira Knightley was shocked after appearing with an enhanced bust on posters for the film King Arthur. Last year, however, she dismissed reports that her image in adverts for Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle perfume had been enhanced, despite speculation that she was made to look curvier.
This month, the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA), which represents the magazine industry, appealed for the introduction of a voluntary code regulating the use of digital manipulation and is to hold discussions on the issue with magazine editors.