Online Publishing

New Media Opportunities

2012 Published Article         © Simon Bayliss 2012

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated", so wrote Mark Twain after a newspaper reported he had passed away. (It was in fact his cousin who was seriously ill)

Fast forward a century and the same could be said in relation to print media. Unquestionably, there is a change in the air.

It may be twenty years late for those who predicted the internet would cause the demise of print, but it is slowly becoming apparent that change is happening; fortunately, it won't play out the way doomsayers of the 90's predicted.

These changes we are experiencing bring huge opportunities for the less myopic players.

Recent figures released by the Australia Bureau of Circulation reveal the startling truth of this inevitable change. Some newspaper circulations by over 15% and the top twenty magazines (by circulation) dropped an average of 9%.

Looking across the board of those titles included in the audit, the total circulation of all magazines has dropped -5.8% (8,071,885 to 7,610,987) for the period. (-5.5% for the previous YOY)

Some publishers have realised the challenge ahead and have already instigated changes while others ignored the imminent change and will need to hurriedly play catch-up; a bigger challenge as technological adaptations of their competitors is exponential and makes the process of product/brand growth even more difficult.

While the laggards may not see the opportunities surrounding the symbiotic success of both print and online, it is fair to say that print will be with us for a long time yet and success stems from understanding how the two can co-exist and be mutually beneficial to each other.

* The following relates mostly to magazine publishing, but certain elements are also relevant to newspaper publishing. *

Déjà vu? – This seems familiar

The progression of Print to Digital has many similarities to the Radio to Television adaptation fifty-plus years ago.

With the advent of television, the approach by many was to just put the radio on television (radio with pictures) as the new media was an unknown quantity both for the viewer and the producers of the content. But those who succeeded, for the advertiser and the audience, realized that success with the new form of media needed to be more than just 'visual radio'.

In the same way, printed media needs to more than just 'digitized print', as many seem to be doing now and not really comprehending the intricacies of the technological change nor understanding an audience that is ready and hungry for the online experience. Add to that, the audience, through technology, can more easily source what it is they want/need from new media thereby making it easy to switch product/brand in order to get what they desire.

It is about embracing the inherent advantages of 'New Media' and maximizing the potential of each; not simply transposing one to the other.

Television did not replace radio and the same will hold true for the print/digital transformation. Both can successfully exist and create mutual benefits for each other, provided the inherent merits of each are understood and implemented.

The online audience is considerably more fickle than the print audience, so it is even more important to provide the experience they seek and not just what the publisher wants to deliver. Or more importantly, more or the same with the thought that 'this is what we have done your years.

Online success is more about meeting content demand than simply supplying content stuffing.

Digitize and let the world in!

Simply digitizing a publication and offering online versions behind a pay-wall or subscription-only (via download) severely restricts the commercial benefit advertiser seek, as only those that have paid for access can view it.

While that may seem a natural progression for some, like 'radio with pictures', it does raise a huge potential problem for the brand, the readers and advertisers.

As an analogy to traditional publishing, digitizing content and restricting access only for those who have subscribed to it, is akin to only allowing the person who purchased a printed copy to read/view its contents. Statistics reveal there is a 1:5 ratio in relation to 'circulation:readership' over the life of a magazine; something advertisers are well aware of and pay based on readership and not just circulation. So closing off content is counter-productive to commercial potentials by restricting advertisers' exposure to not only their core target but also a wider demographic.

The element of 'circulation:readership' ratio should also be applied to online as the content lifespan is so much greater - some would even say perpetually.

Moreover, magazines have evolved with a format that is based on a tactile medium and is has design elements with reader behaviour in mind, i.e. browsing, flicking, folding, left:right bias, etc. Online it is a totally different experience and the viewer expects something unique from the new technology, so simply transposing print to digital and expecting the same take-up is like ... well, adding 'pictures to radio'.

Diversify, your audience has already

Magazines traditionally, by their very nature, tend to be specific and targeted. In times of change and challenge, like we are currently experiencing, there can be a budgetary tendency to become more specific to the core subject and not think in more incorporative terms in relation to the targeted demographic.

Say, for example, a magazines' target is travel, female, 35+, middle-upper, Grey Nomads or Glampers; while that may be the core demographic for print, what about its online brand? If the online product is the same as the printed product in terms of strict demographics, it limits the commercial potential and the opportunity to attract interest to a wider online audience. Thus if the whole demographic mix is not understood, those that are not engaged will seek engagement elsewhere.

Publishing success comes down to two things, readers and advertisers. Diverse, relevant and relatable (see below) content contributes to the reader-side of the equation while for the advertiser, it comes down to maximising their exposure. Exposure should not be limited just to the target audience, or its 'lowest common denominator, but to the wider audience and that is where online has huge advantages. Online is open and highly searchable. Someone may not be looking for a holiday in Tahiti, an outboard motor for their fishing boat, or a 5th wheeler motorhome, but they may one day, or might have a friend who is. Therefore, broadening the product perspective can catch the peripheral demographic and expand the potential audience and exposure for advertisers. And if this product/brand awareness comes from your online presence, your advertisers will see the value in being with your publication due to the expanded reach of your brand over the competition.

Relate and they will come!

Whether advertorial, editorial, photography, copy, advertisement or community announcement, if the reader doesn't relate to the message, they are less likely to engage in the product.

We all know the feeling, starting up a conversation at a social gathering and within minutes realizing it is all one-way traffic with the person incessantly talking about themselves and their interests without any clue that you may have something to contribute to the experience. And when you do get a few words in edgewise, hoping the conversation may take a more enjoyable path, it again returns to a conversational black-hole. Magazine content can be similar if it is not relatable and engaging to the audience. That's not to say the topic and premise of the content is not of interest but its mode of delivery can quickly lead to reader dissonance.

Crucially, good content should not only engage, entertain and inform but also inspire. Further to that, it should be aspirational.

Brand loyalty, its a question of belief

Like any business, brand loyalty is crucial and presents a huge challenge for online publishing. The willingness for a reader to engage in subscriptions is a great indicator of loyalty to the brand and is perpetuated for any number of reasons. Loyalty can be a fickle thing and once lost, is much more difficult to regain than gaining it initially.

Online can be a greater challenge due to the dynamic of the medium and the ease of getting similar or better experiences via different sources. Thus, it is even more imperative to develop content and strategies that nurture brand loyalty across both print and online.

As media seeks ways to become more efficient and effective commercially, sometimes the initial approach to cut sourcing and production budgets as opposed to looking at better and more efficient ways to deliver the content. More often than not this results in lessening of the quality that is offered to the reader; naively thinking that the 'churn and burn' output will not be noticed by the consumer but will keep advertisers happy through increased content exposure.

That is until the audience starts to ask the question, "Is it still value for money?" Once these questions are starting to be asked by consumers, the decline in brand belief has started and if not acted upon quickly, is very hard to turn around.

The run-on effect of this is that as circulation/readership declines and the perceived belief in the product is questioned, advertisers will start to also ask the question, "Is it still value for money?"

Management of this brand belief is crucial for the success of any product.

It's all about balance

A publishing mentor imparted some wisdom one day that I have never forgotten and sums up the best approach for not only traditional media but also New-Media... Balance.

The needs of the advertiser must counter-balance the needs of the target audience. Advertorial and editorial must never outweigh the other. Online must compliment print, and vice versa and their contribution to the other is based on a measured approach.

Too much of one over the other will severely hinder the success of the product and the brand.