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April 02 2013

10:49

Native Advertising Shows Great Potential, But Blurs Editorial Lines

Radio legend Paul Harvey was such a great storyteller that he could totally enthrall you before you realized you were listening to an ad.

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Today, you'd call that sponsored content. The larger term is native advertising -- strategies that mesh branded messages into the media where they appear. They include articles on news sites; funny videos and animated GIFs on humor sites; tweets and Facebook updates, and more. Instead of interrupting the flow like a typical TV commercial, pre-roll, pop-up or print ad, it blends into its surroundings and, in theory at least, offers the reader/viewer/listener something interesting.

Pew Research Center's 2013 State of the News Media Report found that while the amount spent on native advertising in 2012 was comparatively low -- $1.5 billion compared with $8.6 billion for banner ads -- it's rising fast. Spending for sponsored content grew 45 percent in 2011 and almost 39 percent in 2012. That's second only to video ads.

A Word from Our Sponsor

Some fear sponsored content blurs the ethical church-and-state division between advertising and journalism, while others say the revenue keeps reporters employed.

Reuters' Jack Schafer put it strongly in a recent piece, "A Word Against Our Sponsor": "If, as George Orwell once put it, 'The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket,' then sponsored content is the meal so wretched that even pigs will reject unless sugar-frosted," he wrote.

But whether you love or hate native advertising, examining the recent history of the news business, including declining revenues and widespread layoffs, sheds light on why it's growing so quickly.

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Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, told me that tough economic realities and the "anemic" growth of digital ad revenue opened the door.

"The grimmer news is that basically for every $16 that a newspaper is losing in print revenue, they're gaining $1 in digital," he said. "Just as the case with classified ads, which disappeared ... it's very possible that other forms of digital ad revenue are maybe more difficult than previously thought."

Forbes Leading the Way

Forbes was the first major news site to integrate sponsored content. In 2010, I wrote about how Forbes Media chief product officer Lewis Dvorkin shook up the established formula with AdVoice -- which hosted sponsored articles on Forbes.com.

Forbes Media chief revenue officer Meredith Levien told me it was slow going at first, especially since few companies had the staff or mindset for content creation. But in the last 18 months it's grown dramatically, in part because the publication added a team of writers, editors and graphic designers -- separate from the editorial team -- to help brands produce their articles. "We can't staff it fast enough," she said, adding that BrandVoice was "No. 1 on the list" of factors that made 2012 revenues the best in five years.

Last year, Levien successfully lobbied for the name to be changed to BrandVoice.

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"AdVoice conveyed the notion it was part of the advertising mix," she said. "This is really about content and thought leadership."

Levien adds that she was gratified to see the Washington Post adopt a similar model earlier this year. "I don't think we can take credit for it, but we were especially pleased to see the Post get into it," she said.

A recent random look at BrandVoice content showed a piece from Oracle titled "King Richard III: Villain, Hero, or Tragic Victim of Identity Theft?" NetApp offered "3 Steps To Build Your Personal Brand For Tomorrow's Business (Tips From The CIO)." The CapitalOneSpark credit card team offered: "Optimize Your Website To Convert Visitors To Buyers." The "Voice" pages include links to more from the sponsor, which in some cases includes press releases.

In February, Dvorkin blogged that BrandVoice now has 20 partners. While he remains passionately upbeat, others are more cautious.

Digiday recently quoted Businessweek.com editor Janet Paskin saying she's treading lightly: "Our credibly and integrity, for all journalists, is sometimes harder to defend than it should be. We don't want to compromise that or allow for that perception."

Edgier Sites Jump In

While the traditional journalism community remains divided, many edgier news and entertainment sites see no problem at all. Some of BuzzFeed's snappy content is sponsored, as is some of what you'll see on Cheezburger, Gawker, Vice and others.

Onion Labs, the in-house advertising and marketing team of The Onion humor site, works with sponsored content in several ways. It integrates brands into its own video content -- such as 7-Up's placement in its morning show, "Today Now." It creates original content for major brands. It also posts or links to content produced by the brands themselves, like this video for Adobe:

CollegeHumor CEO Paul Greenberg said his site embraced the concept five years ago. At the Native Advertising Summit in February, he said there's such interest that the site's inner workings now resemble a digital ad agency.

"We've really had to turn into a machine to super-serve the clients that come to us and meet the demand that we're seeing in the marketplace," he told me. Listerine, he says, saw a 17 percent jump in sales after its native ad campaign.

Matt McDonagh, vice president for national sales at The Onion, says a Nielsen study shows that humor is the best way to reach a young target audience. Even big names such as Hilton and Coke Zero are dipping their toes into the comedy pool. "Brands are willing to take a few more risks than they were a few years ago because to hit 18- to 24-year-olds -- you're not going to do that on '60 Minutes,'" he said.

It seems that when it comes to entertainment sites, sponsored content has found a comfortable home.

"Those kinds of sites have pretty seamlessly integrated this," Pew's Jurkowitz said. "It's a more controversial choice for traditional legacy news organizations."

What Not to do

In 2010, Gary McCormick, then-chair of the Public Relations Society of America, publicly warned that poorly labeled sponsored content could be confused with objective news, especially because disclaimers can be lost as information is shared. Three years later, he feels media and brands understand the need for authenticity and transparency.

"It may be that it's no longer always the 'buyer beware' -- it's now the 'manufacturer beware' of putting out false claims," McCormick said. "If you come out with something hidden behind the wall it only takes one consumer to spot it ... They're going to dig deep."

When The Atlantic ran a boosterish Church of Scientology native ad, then deleted critical comments, the outcry prompted an apology with the opening line, "We screwed up."

At the Native Advertising Summit, The Atlantic Digital's vice president and general manager, Kimberly Lau, called the Scientology incident a lesson in what not to do. "The whole experience clarified how it is people are going to judge these things," she said.

The Onion did a scathingly hilarious take featuring fake content praising the Taliban.

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The Onion's McDonagh notes the parody came from the editorial, rather than sales side, but he feels their pain. "To The Atlantic's credit, they're testing some things out and trying to make themselves a smart digital publisher," he said. The key, he adds, is to understand and stay true to your audience.

Sharing the Wealth

The native ad boom is also already creating new business models -- maybe even a whole new advertising sector.

Take, for instance, the success of Sharethrough, which helps increase the reach of sponsored content. For example, if a brand creates a post for one site, Sharethrough carries it to other platforms such as WordPress, Forbes.com, The Awl and Thought Catalog, which direct traffic back to the original post. Videos can be embedded and viewed in a number of blogs and sites.

Although it's only four years old, it's worked with 20 of the top 25 brands of AdAge magazine's Megabrands list. Relationships with many websites and publishers helped it create the Native Advertising Summit. (As a matter of fact, it popularized the term "native advertising," building off the phrase "native monetization" used by venture capitalist Fred Wilson.) Sharethrough has also become a clearinghouse for information about the new industry with tools such as the Native Advertising Leaderboard, which is searchable by brand, publisher, topic and social actions.

"There's a lot of creativity happening in this space right now," said Chris Schreiber, the firm's vice president of Marketing & Communications. One recent project promoted an infographic Pop Secret developed about how people watch movies. "They were delivering value -- something you didn't know and was easily sharable," he says.

When sponsored content -- especially videos -- work, he says, it's great. "It's more about thinking what's valuable for the audience and the consumer rather than what's valuable for the marketer."

Microsoft met its marketing goals while engaging a new audience with its The Browser You Love(d) to Hate campaign for Internet Explorer 9. Roger Capriotti, director of Internet Explorer product marketing, hired producers to create visual content that targeted young people who might otherwise disregard the product. The effort relied on viral shares and news coverage instead of paid posts; the most frequently shared video recalled memories of growing up in the '90s:

As anyone who's tried to make a video go viral knows, 25 million video views -- including 22 million for "Child of the 90s" alone, is nothing to sneeze at, even for Microsoft.

"If we can build good content, we can engage them in a way that we haven't engaged them in the past," Capriotti says. The best part, he says, was reading positive reviews posted by new-found fans.

The Rest of the Story?

Jurkowitz, of the Pew Research Center, questions how far the native ad trend will reach.

"Obviously the growth rate is high, but we're talking about a universe of small numbers here," he says. "There's some momentum in this direction, understandably, but it's not by any means a foregone conclusion that this is going to become a dominant form of advertising in mainstream news outlets going forward."

But The Onion's McDonagh clearly sees brands moving away from conventional ad campaigns, and demanding more creativity. "Brands are trying to develop content and trying to act more like publishers, and that's a sea change from where we were three to five years ago."

Sharethrough's Schreiber notes that as soon as new platforms crop up, advertisers jump on them -- as they've done with Twitter's Vine app, which creates short videos. He expects newer platforms will arise specifically for native advertising. "You're going to see new media created with native advertising, knowing that's how they're going to make their money," he says. And brands, he says, will learn what works best for their audience and their message. "They'll find their voice," he concludes.

Usually at this point in a Paul Harvey show, he would knowingly say, "And THAT's ... the rest of the story." But right now, prospects for native advertising are not so clear-cut that any one person or group can claim to have the last word. The only thing that's certain is that they will continue to evolve.

Terri Thornton, a former reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @TTho

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April 01 2013

11:00

Digital Magazines Dive Into Native Advertising

Ah, that awkward moment when you're interviewing someone about online advertising and you have to pause to quit your ad-blocking browser plugin so you can view a sample ad.

Clearly, I'm part of the problem, not the solution, for magazines trying to develop online monetization opportunities for their digital products. Yet most online advertising options, like banner ads, provide little profit to magazine publishers.

But a new (old) approach is rising to the rescue in the form of revitalized, interactive, and highly tailored sponsored content within digital magazine products. That is to say, yes, magazines are also taking advantage of the "native advertising" boom.

While some of the sponsored content looks a lot like digitized versions of the "special advertising sections" that print magazines have long used, today's innovators are coming up with more creative ways to integrate sponsored content to increase its effectiveness and to maximize profit.

Sponsored content on the web and in replicas: GTxcel

One of the challenges of using sponsored content for today's digital magazines is that standard PDF-like replica editions typically only include static ad pages, like those in print issues. GTxcel (the just-rebranded company formerly known as Godengo+Texterity) is releasing a new product, Turnstyle, that will allow publishers to add interactive sponsored content to an HTML5-based magazine app.

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Available first for iOS apps and later for other platforms, Turnstyle allows a publisher to insert interstitial full-page ads that can show video and lead to additional pages of sponsored content within the app, accessible through touch interaction with the ad. Readers can interact with all of this content without leaving the magazine app. Interactivity will be fully functional offline as well. Personalization and geolocation features are likely to be added in the future.

"In magazine apps, the industry is pretty much banners and ribbons at the bottom, maybe an introduction page. Then you get into the flip experience," says Kim Keller, executive vice president for sales at GTxcel. "The ability for you now to be able to insert an interstitial ad that is completely interactive is very powerful."

Keller sees this new product as especially valuable for magazines that want to create standalone special issues for regional or seasonal themes. "They can create it very easily with Turnstyle -- a 20- to 30-page app with sponsored content that is highly interactive and relevant to that special edition," he says.

The goal of the new product, along with the other sponsored content strategies GTxcel recommends for its magazine customers, is a positive user experience of marketers' messages -- "not sponsored content that gets in the way, that is obviously just an advertisement," says Keller. "When a publisher does sponsored content correctly, the reader doesn't care. They actually love it."

Sponsored content made customized and current: Nativo

Part of creating a good user experience for sponsored content is ensuring a seamless, relevant look and feel in the context of a magazine's usual content. Nativo (known as PostRelease prior to its rebranding this month) is creating ways to help publishers integrate native advertising (another term for sponsored content) into their web and digital magazine experiences with a smooth, integral feel.

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"When [publishers] are redesigning their sites, they are looking at native advertising as not just an option, but perhaps their lead option," says Justin Choi, CEO of Nativo. "They can get improved monetization because they're focusing on driving engagement, as opposed to interruption" caused by banner ads and other forms of display ads.

Nativo allows publishers to use native advertising that marketers have tagged and customized in such a way that it matches the editorial content's existing online appearance. So far, the company has attracted magazine clients including Maxim, Source Interlink (publisher of Motor Trend, among other magazines), and Entrepreneur Media. The service works across platforms, including mobile devices and the web.

"The publisher says, 'I want the native ad here.' They start tagging, and the system knows to replace those elements when they get a branded element," explains Choi. "Once it's integrated, they can control that native ad the same way they do other advertising. They can turn it on and off. They can geotarget it. All the same ad controls they can do with advertising, they can do it with native."

This kind of branded content is an especially good option for mobile publishing, says Choi, at a time when other kinds of mobile ads are bearing little profit for publishers. While mobile traffic is growing rapidly, advertising formats for mobile haven't adapted to maximize that audience.

"Monetization has to be solved by publishers. Smart editors realize that. Native placement works remarkably well on mobile, for the user experience but also for monetization," says Choi. "Publishers are thinking of this holistically."

Of course, making sponsored content or native ads a truly seamless part of a digital magazine experience is an issue of not just transparency, but also brand voice: Who produces the content? What kinds of brands fit with the publication's editorial perspective? Nativo's focus is on the technology to integrate these ads, one part of what Choi calls a "whole ecosystem now helping brands produce better content."

Sponsored content across media properties: Brightcove

For companies that publish more than one magazine or have other digital properties, the ability to reuse sponsored content across more than one website or app is alluring. The same content can be rebranded and republished in more than one place, maximizing its value to the publisher.

Brightcove is one company exploring ways to make this reuse easier for publishers. With a long list of magazine publishers as customers, Brightcove's platform allows the sharing of a single video -- like one created by a sponsor -- in different settings, with unique branding and distinctively formatted players for each publication.

"If I'm ... creating sponsored content because it has good upfront value and will invest my reader, I'm going to take that sponsored content across a number of platforms," says Chris Johnston, vice president of digital media solutions for Brightcove. "If I have that on my homepage, that's great, but if I have another property that has a whole gallery of videos, it adds value to them, too. If another property has a feature on a related topic, they may already have a video, but they may want to show another to show depth of knowledge."

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The possibility of applying sponsored content to multiple media properties may appeal to publishers that want to make the most of an initial foray into sponsored content.

"Most magazines aren't working on lots of sponsored content. They more typically lean towards the traditional CPM-based model because it's easier," says Johnston. Creating sponsored content in-house for an advertiser, or managing its creation by an outside firm, is difficult for publications already stretched to just create their print and digital products. "Lots of content creation and distribution takes effort," he says.

So while magazines may like the idea of integrating more sponsored content into their digital products, and the payoff may be greater than the investment in other advertising efforts, it's going to take time for these innovations and others to find a place at many publishers -- plus a willingness to face the other challenges of sponsored content, like ensuring readers' positive experience of the content and maintaining a consistent editorial identity.

Keller of GTxcel, however, is optimistic, comparing the integration of sponsored content today to the early adoption of Google AdWords by publishers.

"They had text in them, and people were concerned it might look like editorial. It's not uncommon for that view to be applied" with sponsored content today, Keller says. "What we've found is that over time, as more and more publications have adopted native advertising, that concern has subsided."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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August 13 2012

14:00

How National Geographic Used Cowbird Storytelling Tool to Tell a Reservation's Whole Story

Sometimes, it takes more than one storyteller to get a story right -- especially when the subjects of the story are members of a community that often feels misrepresented by media.

Thanks to multimedia storytelling tool Cowbird, photographer Aaron Huey and National Geographic were able to collaborate with the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation to jointly tell their story to the world. The result: the Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project, a companion to the August 2012 cover story in National Geographic magazine.

The Roots of a New Storytelling Approach

After working with the Oglala Lakota people for seven years, Huey felt their stories couldn't adequately be conveyed in the pages of a magazine.

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"To make a really great narrative [in print] often means only telling the story of a couple of people, and trying to use those stories to tell the larger story of the community and where it's going," Huey said. "That's often confusing for the community itself. People always asked me why I couldn't fit in something about the all-star basketball team, or the scholars going on to college. Everyone wanted something specific and claimed that I was missing the entire story because I didn't have those things. They felt like they were misrepresented. They felt like for decades in the media, they'd been misrepresented."

While on a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University, Huey reflected on this storytelling dilemma. He tried to build a multimedia platform himself that could be used by National Geographic, but he realized quickly that he didn't have "the money or the expertise" for the job. But when he discovered Cowbird, an online storytelling tool developed by Jonathan Harris, Huey knew it was just right for the stories he wanted to tell.

"It was obvious that it was the perfect collaboration. I didn't need to reinvent the wheel," he said.

Telling the Whole Story, Unfiltered

Cowbird allows people to tell stories with photos, audio, timelines, maps, and other media. Working together, Huey, Harris and the National Geographic team crafted a Cowbird story interface and embedded it into the magazine's website.

Each block on the page tells a different story, from bits of tribal history to an account of one boy's encounter with racism. One photo, titled "Rez joke #2," shows Lakota men in line at a convenience store with the caption, "Pine Ridge traffic jam."

Submissions continue to roll in. Huey screens each story to ensure that it connects to Pine Ridge or the Oglala Lakota in some way; stories are otherwise unedited.

"National Geographic was incredibly brave to run this unedited content and to trust me to do this right," Huey said.

Inspiring New Approaches

The magazine's editor-in-chief, Chris Johns, said Cowbird and the "unfiltered voice" of the Pine Ridge storytellers were a natural fit for National Geographic. "This is a future that we're terribly excited about and fully embracing. This just suits our DNA perfectly."

For a magazine whose goal is representing often new, distant and unfamiliar places and cultures, this partnership has inspired thinking about new storytelling possibilities.

"I believe in the importance of letting people have their voice," Johns said. "We want to hear the voices of others, the voices of those who were photographed, to hear what they feel about the work we are doing."

Huey said this style of storytelling will continue in his own work, and he hopes it's something more journalists will embrace.

"We can't just put stories out there that are filtered through one or two people's vision anymore," he said. He noted that tools like Cowbird that enable multifaceted storytelling are especially useful for telling stories about a community likely to feel misrepresented by media.

"It's the right tool whenever there is a possibility for people to feel misrepresented -- when we as journalists are talking in big brush strokes about whole peoples or ways of thinking," he said.

Huey hopes that the Pine Ridge project will contain more than 500 stories by the end of 2012.

"We found a way to make the story infinitely expanding," he said. "The only limitation is apathy."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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April 17 2012

13:32

Spain's iPad Mag, Vis à Vis, Shows Growth, Points to New Path

In a small office in Alcala Street, in the center of Madrid, a team of seven young entrepreneurial journalists are working overtime to produce the next issue of digital magazine Vis à Vis.

Conceived exclusively for the iPad and launched in January, Vis à Vis is an interactive, visual and modern publication that wants to reinvent journalism.

The first edition of the magazine recorded up to 42,000 downloads. The third edition was released on April 1, and the team's expectations are very high.

"Journalism is going through a phase in which either you undertake your own idea or you have to conform to the reality of market," said Laura Blanco, the magazine's editor in chief.

Together with Ángel Anaya, she holds the reins of this initiative that forged its roots during their first year at college. The seven editorial staff members are between 23 and 25 years old and studied together in the Spanish city of Valencia. After working on a project involving the editing of a print magazine, they decided to launch their own publication online.

"With the emergence of digital platforms, the entire printed press industry started wobbling," Blanco said.

When the iPad appeared on the market, she and her colleagues realized that it would be a suitable platform for a lifestyle magazine, because it could combine quality content with interactive features.

"In August [2011] we reached Madrid with much uncertainty, but with a lot of hope and enthusiasm," Anaya said. He confessed that the magazine is "his creation" and passionately narrated the gestation process of the idea. In the beginning, the group of friends had to rely on family support to fund their project. When they asked for a small bank loan, they were told that they were "too young to take that risk."

"Free Forever"

Vis à Vis is exclusively edited for the iPad, with all the possibilities that it offers, and a distinctive feature is that it's free of charge. "Free forever," reads its motto.

"Nowadays, it is very difficult to ask people to pay for something they know they can have for free," Anaya said. That is why he bet fully on the digital environment from the start. "In addition, we had observed over the years that tablet readers' profiles were moving from executives with high purchasing power to young readers."

The magazine's content consists of interviews with prominent figures in the areas of sports, television, fashion or gastronomy, presented in a personal "vis à vis" (face to face) setting. "We try to create a special atmosphere with each character. Interviews are always done in a kind of 'petit comité'," Blanco said.



Who's behind Vis à Vis? A meeting with the editorial team. Video: Gina Gulberti


Vis à Vis runs on a basic concept: All content types must be able to be consumed at different times of the day. "From extensive articles that you can read calmly at home during the weekend, up to short and more visual articles that you can rapidly go through on the bus or on the underground, that's what Vis à Vis is all about: a magazine that escapes the ephemeral concept of the paper," Blanco said.

The editorial team relies fundamentally on the power of social networks for its advertising strategy. "Word of mouth worked very fast," Anaya said. The first issue of the magazine launched on January 4 and recorded about 42,000 downloads. In February, the second issue had already reached approximately 38,000 readers within two weeks.

For the third edition, the team has already secured the first advertisements that will finance the project. "Brands are seeing a great advertising potential in the interactivity offered by the iPad," Anaya said. "They are contacting us directly."

Reinventing journalism

Thanks to their enthusiasm, Anaya and his colleagues have gradually overcome, step by step, the challenges posed by a society very anchored in the printed press. Some people have praised the magazine as a great initiative promoting journalism, while others have shown more skepticism with regards to long-term development of the project. Other times, though, some people have become so excited with the project that they have offered to help.

"It is a risky venture to undertake a business in times of crisis. But if you don't do it, you will never be able to aspire to anything better," Blanco said.


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Laura Blanco and Ángel Anaya hold the reins of the initiative.


While Blanco and her colleagues don't see their magazine's only-for-iPad design as a restriction, they don't reject the possibility of producing future versions of the magazine for other platforms. "We are covering a market in full expansion," Anaya said.

The figures seem to prove it: Last February, Apple registered 25 billion downloads from its App Store, and the recent launch of the iPad 3, or New iPad, has beaten records worldwide, with more than 3 million sales in the first four days.

In a media world that's evolving, Vis à Vis relies on two crucial elements for its success: the enthusiasm in reinventing a distribution model and the obstinate belief in the possibility of a new way of doing journalism.

Gina Gulberti holds a Master's degree in Multimedia Journalism. In 2011, she obtained a Robert Shumann scholarship for journalists and worked for the audiovisual unit of the European Parliament in Brussels. She has worked for different Spanish media outlets such as RNE (public Spanish radio), Onda Cero radio and ADN journal. Her interests include Web 2.0., audiovisual production, European policies and independent journalism. Now based in Madrid, she is collaborating with digital newspapers while working for the press office of La Fourchette in Spain.

ejc-logo small.jpgThis piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

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December 21 2011

15:20

December 19 2011

15:20

Getting a Tablet Is Easy; Getting Digital Magazines Is a Pain

Buying that new iPad, Kindle or Nook for Christmas is just the first step to becoming a digital magazine reader. While shopping for books and movies is a fairly straightforward process, getting your favorite magazines onto your new e-reading device can be trickier.

The ways you can buy a magazine are rapidly multiplying, making it harder for readers to evaluate their choices. Major magazine publishers, digital newsstands and magazine customer service companies are trying to simplify the process of setting up digital magazine subscriptions, but so far, it's still sometimes a confusing process. Here's one strategy to get your digital magazine subscriptions set up for e-reading enjoyment.

Check Subscription Expiration Dates

It's helpful to know when your print magazine subscriptions expire if you really want to switch fully to digital-only subscriptions. If you have only one or two print issues left, you might wait until the print subscription ends to sign up for a new digital-only subscription, if that's offered by the publisher. The reason for delaying the move is that the "midstream" print-to-digital subscription switch is challenging for publishers right now. Some magazines can immediately convert your subscription to digital and stop your print issues from arriving in the mail; some can't.

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Zinio, one of the major newsstands for digital magazine subscriptions on iOS and Android, is developing a way to make this conversion easier, but it's still in the works.

"For example, if you had Men's Fitness and you wanted to switch it midstream, you would let Zinio know, and Zinio would contact the publishers to handle it for you," said Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio's global executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Mullen said magazine publishers might model this process on Canada's epost service, which provides a centralized location for consumers to request e-bills instead of paper bills from a variety of billers.

For now, don't count on being able to immediately go all-digital for your existing magazine subscriptions. Depending on the magazine's policies, you may be better off waiting until the end of an existing print subscription, or may have to continue the print subscription to get digital access. You may also find that some of your favorite publications don't even have digital editions yet.

Investigate Your Options

When you're ready to pursue digital subscriptions, your first step should be to review -- thoroughly -- each magazine's website. Information about digital editions and magazine apps can sometimes be hard to locate, so rather than sifting through the magazine's website, opt for a Google search for its title and "digital edition" or "tablet edition."

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"Over time, I'd like to see a standard way of communicating what formats are available and a standard way of getting to them," said Tony Pytlak, president and chief operating officer of Strategic Fulfillment Group, which provides fulfillment services to a number of magazine publishers. "Right now, even a lot of the newsstands that are coming out don't provide things clearly."

You might find that you can access a digital edition for free as a perk of your existing print subscription. For example, subscribers to the print editions of The New Yorker or Wired can immediately get access to their tablet editions for free. Later, when you renew your subscription, you might seek a digital-only option if you find you're enjoying the digital editions more than print.

Publishers are experimenting with package deals, meaning offerings will vary widely among different magazines.

"Our publishing partners are trying to find, for their unique audience, what's the right combination of print/digital, at what price points -- and what does a subscriber to one or the other, or both, actually have access to," Pytlak said.

SFG gathers customers' responses to various print and digital subscription package deals in its database so that publishers can analyze their success. "If you're going to test print only, or digital only, at one price or another, or digital at a slightly higher upsell, capturing the customers' responses to those kinds of offers will help our partners understand them," Pytlak said.

Some magazines have chosen dedicated apps as their only digital content option (other than their websites). That means you'll have to visit the app store for your device (such as the iTunes Store) to download the app, and then likely will purchase the subscription to the magazine's content through the app. You'd then revisit the app on your device to access new content as it's made available.

Additionally, some magazines' digital editions are offered through a newsstand-type app like Zinio, which serves as a storefront for digital magazines. Amazon also sells digital subscriptions for Kindle devices through its Kindle Store, just as Barnes and Noble does on its website for the Nook.

Make the Switch

Once you know what subscription choices a magazine offers, you can either attempt to switch your print subscription to digital by using the magazine's website, if that's an option available online, or -- more likely -- you'll need to call customer service to get help.

"The best proactive approach is to contact the publisher directly, and let them know what they're trying to transfer to digital, and let them know what digital platform," said Zinio's Mullen. "If they've got an iPad, they can say, 'I want to transfer my print subscription to the digital version you have on [the iTunes] Newsstand' ... It will be extremely helpful for the customer service team to know that."

Still, there's no guarantee that customer service representatives will be able to help you. Pytlak said your success may differ from publisher to publisher.

"It varies in how they let their service providers help them," Pytlak said. "Some service providers are not able to handle the transition from print to digital. It's a function of the publisher and the service provider working together to sync those things up and make it easy for the customer to do that."

Form a Digital Magazine Habit

Once you've successfully made the switch to digital subscriptions, it can be hard to remember that you have new issues to read without the physical reminder of a new issue arriving in the mail.

Some magazine and newsstand apps will provide a notification on your device that a new issue is available to read. Those notifications can pile up and become easy to ignore, however. If notifications aren't available, you'll have to remember to reopen the app and see what's new. It can be easy to forget about apps, especially considering app users' habits: 26 percent of apps downloaded are never opened again after their first use. If you're paying for a subscription, though, your motivation to revisit an app might be higher.

Some magazines' digital editions will give you the option of receiving an email notification whenever a new issue is available, which -- depending on your email habits -- might be a more effective reminder to read your magazine.

Improving the Process

Clearly, making the switch from print to digital magazine subscriptions isn't always an easy process. And not everyone is choosing to switch completely just yet.

"I'd call it a shift in consumers' media habits, but not necessarily a transition from print to digital," Pytlak said. He said today, SFG receives more requests from readers to change subscriptions "either print to print, or print to digital and print, more so than print to digital."

Mullen said that rather than just converting existing print subscriptions, many new e-reader users are trying out magazines that are new to them, especially when promotional offers are available.

"They'll buy a single issue of a magazine they've never bought in print before," she said. Additionally, using Zinio, "a very high percentage of people will subscribe to magazines they've never subscribed to in print."

Both Pytlak and Mullen say that standardization of print and digital subscription management is necessary both to make subscribers' lives easier and to improve publishers' ability to gather and analyze data about their subscribers.

"I see 2012 as a big year of change around subscription management on the back end and in fulfillment processing," Mullen said. "It's a very consumer-oriented challenge that we all need to address. A lot of publishing houses are interested in making the midstream switch as easy as possible. The lack of standardization is really the challenge, and where I think we will see advancement in 2012."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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October 05 2011

14:46

Once Magazine Takes the Photo Magazine into the App World

Photographers who might have aspired to see their work published on the glossy pages of a magazine can now opt for the glossy screen of an iPad.

Once Magazine, a "visual storytelling" app for the iPad, is a new showcase for photographers' work and related multimedia. The app provides three cohesive photo essays, each with an array of high-resolution photos that are united by narrative text and supplemented by other features, such as infographics and audio clips.

Once's free pilot issue was released in August. Its next issue -- which will cost $2.99 and offer subscription options -- will likely be released in October with the debut of Apple's iOS 5 and its new Newsstand feature. Once is yet another magazine app that challenges our understanding of what magazines are -- and might be. Its founders think it might also represent an important path into the future of photography.

Once's Editorial Concept

Once's strategy is to assemble "stories worth touching," said publisher Andrew Jones, in order to make the most of the iPad's interface and its ability to display high-quality images.

The app's focus on quality visuals means that its editorial process begins with the photography. The editorial team identifies photographers with intriguing work and asks them to participate. After about 20 photos on one theme are selected, the Once editorial team identifies a journalist with relevant knowledge and experience, and commissions text that wraps a compelling story around the photo sequence. Additional interactive elements and audio clips are added to the photos to enrich the reading experience.

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The three photo essays included in Once's pilot edition cover a lot of territory, and each depict life in different regions: the far reaches of Greenland; Abkhazia, a region of the country of Georgia; and Sun City, Ariz., a retirement community near Phoenix.

While photographers whose work is used in Once may have taken these photos while working on other projects, the text used with them is newly developed.

"It's a unique editorial model in that the stories are built retroactively. It fits well with our budget and our business model," said Nick Hiebert, Once's communications director. "We don't have to pay journalists upfront to go to these countries. We find journalists who are already in these areas or already have expertise in the area, which makes reporting much easier for them and more cost-effective."

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Photographer Andrea Gjestvang, whose photographs of life in Greenland are included in the pilot issue, appreciated the opportunity for a different selection of her images to tell a new story in Once.

"I like the idea that they brought in the journalist who wrote the independent text. [It was] her words, her story, but it went very well with my pictures," said Gjestvang, a freelance photographer who is based in Norway. "Normally, when I have been presenting this project, I've been focusing more on the daily life and social life, whereas they focused more on the hunting side. The selection of pictures was a bit different than what I normally use, but it was nice that one big project can have different stories within the project."

The Audience for Photography

Once's high-end visual concept is based on its founders' observation that the public is increasingly interested in and sensitive about photography, but so far it's been difficult to make photography lucrative.

"Once is addressing a number of problems, we like to think, one of them being that photography is not paying very well," Jones said. Yet DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras and cell phone photography have helped more people take higher-quality photos and in greater quantities, he observed.

"It seems like a real disconnect. More people know more and are exposed to really high-quality photography. Once is trying to leverage that whole shift in consumer habits, toward thinking about photographs being really valuable," Jones said.

Starting with the next issue, photographers published in Once will receive a cut of the magazine's revenues. The $2.99 charge for each issue first will be reduced by Apple's standard 30 percent cut, then the remainder is split: half to the magazine and half divided among the three published photographers. So far, the magazine's writers have received a flat fee, but Once is exploring ways to include them in the revenue-sharing model as well.

Hiebert noted that this isn't usually how photographers are paid for their work. "Typically, photographers are contracted with a set amount of money. Because we have this new data that Apple gives us through iTunes, we're allowed to see how many downloads are coming -- and how much money the magazine is making -- much more accurately than publications in the past that were relying on traditional sales data," he said.

Photographer Gjestvang is hopeful that this model will appeal to a wider audience.

"Many photographers hope that it will bring a new way of publishing work in the future which will also pay for what you are doing," she said. "Of course, you need the audience to pay for the project that you spend so much time on ... It's also important that if you want to have a broad audience, to not only make a magazine for other photographers, but for all kinds of people, to make the audience curious about what's going on in the world."

Once Looks Ahead

The Once concept is likely to evolve to include additional multimedia -- though photography will always play a major role -- and to be available on new platforms.

"We're trying to push a new type of storytelling experience that is only available on the iPad, kind of a tactile experience," Jones said. "That learning experience, that entertainment experience is so much richer when we can bring in the reader through physically touching."

Today's photographers shooting with DSLRs often capture audio and video that can be incorporated into Once. Infographics are also now easier to create with new online tools. The complexity of the app as a whole, though, is still somewhat limited by technical considerations.

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"We would love to include as much video and audio in every essay [as we could], but the truth of the matter is that it increases file size and that maybe affects download numbers," Hiebert said. "We also don't want to ... distract from the narrative focus."

The magazine plans to move next to the iPhone, then to explore opportunities on Android platforms, including the new Kindle Fire tablet, which require more development than the shift to the iPhone. The potential for the forthcoming iPad 3 to include a higher-resolution "retina display," similar to that already used for the iPhone 4, would also be an ideal match for Once's content, Jones said.

The new platforms will likely lead to still more innovations.

"The iPad has allowed us to develop a pretty unique product in Once. You don't envision a magazine as a three-essay package," Hiebert said. "But we can reconceptualize what the magazine is, now that there are different platforms for delivering them."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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July 05 2011

18:06

Golf Digest Adds Interaction, Depth, E-Commerce to iPad App

It seemed like the first-delivered iPad was hardly unsheathed from its box before News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, apparently unfazed by a rich past of misguided forays into Internet ventures, announced the launch of The Daily, which was immediately labeled the first tablet-only newspaper.

And it was mere weeks -- if not days -- after its debut when media critics began declaring it a failure, often pointing to a sense of wandering malleability as The Daily's staff grappled with the dilemma of where a news app fits in a world of near-instantaneous news. Gawker readers guffawed at a leaked memo from editor in chief Jesse Angelo instructing his staff that they were to find, among other things, the "oldest dog in America, or the richest man in South Dakota." Hilarious comments like these reveal an oft-repeated lack of vision that nearly always plagues the first pioneers of a new medium.

In its early days, the radio industry remained a meandering platform thought to be utterly useless to advertisers and entertainers until Albert Lasker, considered by many the founder of modern advertising, discovered comedic actors like Bob Hope and used them to promote Palmolive soap, Pepsodent toothpaste, and Lucky Strike cigarettes to millions of listeners. With mobile and tablet apps, content producers must weigh their offerings in print and on the web and determine what more, if anything, they have to furnish on an app.

Despite such still-lingering questions, Conde Nast has thrown its hat into the ring, launching iPad apps for several magazine titles. It led with an app for the venerable New Yorker and a much-touted, widely praised one for Wired, and it began expanding into the app sphere even more when Apple launched magazine subscriptions on its tablet device.

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Though it's still too early to be considered a "veteran" of the mobile app, Golf Digest wasn't exactly a novice to the medium when it joined its sister publications with a new subscription offering. It had already been publishing a mobile phone app and, earlier this year, had spun off one of the magazine's annual features -- the Hot List -- into its own iPad app. The monthly iPad magazine subscription, Conde Nast announced, would be $1.99 per issue or $19.99 per year.

So how did Golf Digest determine what kind of content would be ideal for not only driving its print and web readers to the app, but new users as well?

The rule is to read the reader

Bob Carney, the magazine's brand editor, is someone who grappled with this question in the months leading up to the subscription's launch.

"For Golf Digest, I think at the very beginning we thought we'd add every kind of bell and whistle we can," he told me in a phone interview. "And we found out that not only is that costly, but really for someone coming to Golf Digest, what they want is more of what they get in the magazine. So for the magazine, instruction and service information about the equipment are the most important things, and the iPad app ought to take that and extend it, not go somewhere else."

Case in point: the publication's swing sequences. Flip through any issue and you're apt to come across them -- the arc of a golfer's swing spread out across several images. The digital editor's natural inclination is to dispel of the still images completely and upgrade to video, perhaps even making it embeddable for wider distribution. Carney and his team, when making the iPad app, opted for an even more granular level. Taking advantage of the tablet's high-resolution screen and interactive features, they designed the swing sequences so the user can control every facet of the swing, jumping forward and back, pausing at the moment of impact. By handing over this control to the user, Carney said, it allows him to learn at his own pace.

This isn't to say video doesn't have its place within the iPad. Sometimes, the magazine will take a swing sequence by, say, Adam Scott, whose swing Carney characterized as "beautiful," and then shoot video of other golfers offering audio commentary, analyzing the minute details of Scott's technique in a way that sheds light on the methodology of a truly superior golfer.

"What we learned is to not try to reinvent the wheel," Carney said. "You try to take what you have and move it to the next level so that the user gets more information and control and you're using all the audio, video, and other tools available. The web is nice, but the web is usually 'lean forward,' where somebody says, 'You should see the Adam Scott swing sequence,' and you have two minutes before your next call and you look at it and you think it's cool and a great swing and now you're back to work. When you're playing on the iPad and you have the time to listen to those guys and move that swing back and forth, it's a different experience, and it's very cool."

Like the web, an iPad app is devoid of the distribution costs that hinder print, allowing the editorial team to vastly expand on something that might take up only a few pages in the print magazine. But of course most of the stuff that ends up in the app must be directly correlated with that month's print issue, necessitating constant overlap between the print and digital teams as the magazine is put together. Carney estimated that it takes three weeks to compile the print issue and three weeks for the app, with a two-week overlap in between. "We have a wall where every page is put out, and I noticed recently they have a layout of the July issue for every iPad screen as well."

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Expanding the Hot List

Like other publications, Golf Digest is experimenting with rolling out individual apps and products centered around its annual lists. Its Hot List, a yearly ranking of the best golf equipment, was spun off into an iPad app before the magazine itself was even offered on the device.

Craig Bestrom, the magazine's editorial development director, told me in a phone interview that the app allowed his team to expand the list beyond the realms previously employed in the print product.

"The equipment portion of the magazine that was devoted to the Hot List was probably 60 pages," he said. "And this app had close to a thousand screens. That's probably the greatest comparison that you can make, that suddenly we're able to devote a lot more photographs and information. This is a far more comprehensive guide compared to what you get in the magazine. It's not only drivers, but all the new sets of irons, all the new wedges, all the new putters. It's all the club gear for 2011."

In the print version of the Hot List, for instance, the magazine featured about 14 drivers, and each driver was assigned a quarter of a page. But with the iPad app, Bestrom said, you get "multiple images of the driver, you get the sound the driver makes at impact, you have the ability to share on Facebook or on Twitter to your friends about a particular club or clubs that you liked and why you liked them."

The opportunity for e-commerce

The app allows for an e-commerce opportunity as well, enabling its designers to offer the clubs featured in the list up for sale with a simple click. Through a program called Golf Digest Rewards, a user is able to sort through the best prices for a club and purchase it via the app. Bestrom didn't have ready sales figures for me, but the e-commerce component indicated an opportunity for a diversification of revenue that may be necessary as print advertising revenues decline.

Ultimately, it seems the iPad app fits in between the stodgy formality of a print product and the open flexibility of the web. For Carney, it's the removal from the immediacy of the Internet that allows the magazine to flourish within this new medium.

"It works much more like a magazine, in that you really have to make it an experience in itself," he said.

And according to a recent survey, the consumers most coveted by high-end advertisers may agree. As Business Insider's Noah Davis put it, "The average user is roughly $60,000 richer and eight years younger than the typical Golf Digest reader, with an annual household income of $279,600."

Perhaps Golf Digest, the magazine for a sport thought to be played mainly by the affluent, is the perfect publication for a device often associated with that same demographic.

Simon Owens is the director of PR at JESS3, a design agency in Washington, D.C. You can read his blog or follow him on Twitter

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July 01 2011

18:26

Smartphone Sensors Could Revolutionize Digital Magazines

We've all done those personality and health quizzes in magazines. You know, the ones where you suspect that answer A will categorize you as the personality type you're trying to avoid, so you choose B instead.

Everyone does that, right?

These evasive strategies for magazine quizzes, though, could be a thing of the past as smartphones and tablet devices evolve to incorporate a variety of new sensors that will keep us honest. While they might not be able to assess your personality yet, sensors are rapidly becoming capable of detecting all kinds of information about you and your surroundings. These sensors will not only change digital magazines' editorial content and advertising, but also lead to entirely new ways of authoring content and serving readers.

Location Services Have Room to Grow

Many consumers already use location-sensing tools, such as GPS features on smartphones, to find nearby businesses. Some magazine and media applications have also integrated location-based features that display relevant content for a user's local area. But there's a lot more that can be done with location information as sensors improve, and as media companies take fuller advantage of what they will offer.

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Location-based services still have space to evolve, said Wayne Chavez, an operations manager for the sensor division of Freescale, a semiconductor company that is developing a variety of sensors for mobile devices, among other products. Chavez said improved location sensors and related applications will combine both GPS data and magnetometer readings to determine the device's orientation and know which way the user is facing. That detail allows greater customization of information.

For example, imagine a tourist taking a picture of a notable building. The picture can easily be geo-tagged already with today's GPS sensors, but new sensors and related applications could gather more information, including "what direction you took the picture from. It can tell you based on your previous interests and queries what's around you near that building. You might be around the block from another historic building," Chavez said.

Software on the device -- such as, perhaps, a local magazine's app -- could then use the sensor's data to push to the user details of how to navigate to that next location of potential interest, as well as ways "to read more about a historical marker, at any length, with instant access to that media," Chavez said.

Magazines' editorial content could even dynamically change to reflect more detailed location information. Joseph J. Esposito, an independent media consultant, offered an example of how it might work.

"If you're reading a future edition of The New Yorker, maybe a story about a young couple that falls in love in New York, and you're walking along, then the story changes because you just walked in front of a Mexican restaurant," Esposito said. The story could update its content to harmonize with the reader's location and activity.

While some digital magazines have already experimented with contextual advertising based on location data, Esposito said the use of this sensor information eventually "will start to have an editorial direction as well."

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There's room to improve contextual advertising based on location, too, for digital magazines and other media applications. Chavez suggests that location data could eventually be combined with information from "the cloud" -- online compilations of user information -- for more precise targeting.

"I see many providers saying, based on the location of your handset and your history, I can pre-filter and stream to you information that might be relevant to you," he said.

Sensor Publishing

Esposito's example of the dynamically updated New Yorker story, mentioned above, is just one way that sensor data might alter magazine content. As Esposito puts it, our phones are, in reality, sensors that we carry everywhere we go. Users of sensor-equipped mobile devices could serve as passive authors of projects that gather, analyze and present data from these sensors. Esposito calls this "sensor publishing" to distinguish it from crowdsourcing because it doesn't require participants' active involvement.

Digital magazines and other media applications could collect sensor data -- such as location, temperature, ambient light or other readings -- and find ways to incorporate the data into stories, or to make them stories in themselves.

"We become carriers or hosts, collecting data passively all the time," Esposito said. "It's different from how we like to think about our phones, but there's also passive use of the phone, when it picks up temperature or humidity. When you're collecting information from 350 million phones, now it's starting to get meaningful. Those little data aggregation points start to mean something."

Esposito noted that all types of sensors -- anything scientists use in laboratories, including spectroscopes or Geiger counters -- could eventually be incorporated into mobile devices, making all kinds of data-gathering opportunities possible for the creation or enhancement of digital magazine content and other media.

Sensing Health Information

Sensors might also mean the end of cheating on magazines' health quizzes, along with new ways of experiencing health-related content. A range of health sensors are already available and, as their cost falls, media companies could distribute them so that the data users gather about themselves as part of daily life could be integrated into various types of content.

Carré Technologies is a Montreal-based company developing health sensors that can be integrated into clothing. The sensors will interact with mobile devices to collect and analyze health information, and could have intriguing media-related uses.

"People in general are taking more responsibility for managing their own health," said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, president of Carré Technologies. "It's going to help preventive health [care] ... A lot of this monitoring can be done remotely now because of the Internet."

Fournier said health sensors like his company's are useful for a variety of fitness and health applications, such as games, biofeedback, and health observation.

"The sensors we make are meant to be worn 24/7, so there's a huge amount of data created by just one person," he said. "There are a lot of creative ways to show that data, to make it useful for the users."

One way to experience that data might be to have it integrated with media content. For example, a digital magazine application that collected health data from a reader using these sensors could then offer customized diet or exercise recommendations within the context of the magazine, as well as pool data from users anonymously to produce sensor publishing projects. Articles could describe the activity patterns of the publication's audience, contextualizing the individual reader's activity level within that broader picture, and then offering suggestions for improvement.

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This approach to providing personally relevant health information might be an opportunity for health-related magazines and other media seeking to capitalize on demographic trends in their mobile applications.

"One of the megatrends here is our aging population," Chavez said. "As our baby boomers reach their mid-60s now, many of them are very tech aware, and looking for telehealth solutions, whether that's out of personal interest or clinically driven."

Naturally, there are privacy concerns related to the collection of health and other personal data. "I'm not sure how much people want the media company to have access to their physical data," Fournier said. "Media companies already collect a lot of data on people. I'm not sure how far people will be able to go before they start to react."

It seems inevitable, though, that we'll see more integration of varied sensors into our mobile devices, and more creative applications for them in magazine and media applications, for both editorial content and advertising. What we've seen so far are just the earliest stages of sensors' uses in the media world.

"We [just passed] the fourth anniversary of the iPhone, and it's been transformative. The first app for reading books on a phone came in July 2008," Esposito said, offering a reminder of how recently these digital possibilities have evolved. "All this world we're talking about here is so preciously new. But it's difficult to imagine turning back the clock."


Maps and graphs image by Courtney Bolton on Flickr

Smartphone photo by Gesa Henselmans on Flickr.

Google Earth image by Miki Yoshihito on Flickr.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Linfield College. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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April 29 2011

17:40

February 16 2011

18:36

How the Kindle Made Single-Story Sales a Reality for Magazines

I've never seen a "Not for Individual Sale" label on a magazine story. So why can't I buy most individual magazine articles in digital form just yet?

Selling stand-alone stories has seemed like a potential business model for magazines and other journalism organizations since the rise of iTunes. Observers hyped an incipient micropayment business model for journalism. But few companies have tried this model, instead offering complete digital editions and, whenever possible, digital subscriptions. The advantages of that approach are clear: packaging more into the product justifies a higher price, and loyal subscribers attract advertisers. Yet with the growth of e-reading on tablets and mobile devices, as well as new options for processing small payments for content (e.g., PayPal, Facebook, Apple's App Store), marketing individual stories may soon gain fresh appeal.

Magazines exploring this option would have to maintain their brand reputation and their editorial voice by carefully selecting stories to sell and ensuring that they respect their relationship with existing readers. Recent experiments with selling individual stories show, however, that it can be done successfully. The only cloud on the horizon could be Apple's new subscription service for iOS, which demands that the company gets 30% of all subscription sales.

Relying on Brand Strength

Well-known magazine The Atlantic ended its monthly publishing of short fiction in 2005, and now offers a single fiction issue yearly. However, the magazine, founded in 1857, wanted to explore other ways to continue its legacy of publishing fiction, and so recently finished a year-long experiment that made two short stories per month available exclusively on the Kindle. These were labeled on Amazon as Atlantic Fiction for Kindle.

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"We wanted to recommit last year to being a purveyor of great fiction," said Scott Havens, Atlantic Media's vice president for digital strategy and operations. "It was an opportunistic play to further our entrance in the fiction market and to test out a new platform."

The Atlantic's access to established writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Theroux, was a significant part of its success. Havens said the popularity of each individual story correlated to the prior popularity and "salability" of their writers. When Amazon customers searched for those authors' work, The Atlantic stories also came up in the results.

Overall, Havens said, Atlantic Kindle for Fiction "was a worthwhile effort, and it was a successful financial venture for us." The Atlantic is now working on new ventures for other digital platforms, and the complete magazine remains a top seller on the Kindle.

Success of 'One Story'

Clearly, The Atlantic's pre-existing brand strength and its ability to involve recognized authors factored into its achievement. However, smaller ventures can also establish a reputation for quality. One Story is a non-profit that publishes one story every three weeks in print format, and also publishes them on the Kindle, where One Story is ranked 19th among bestselling magazines.

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Maribeth Batcha, publisher and co-founder of One Story, said that after just a year of availability, readership on the Kindle was as high as the print edition's readership after four years of publication. Kindle and print readers receive a new story every three weeks, representing varied styles and genres.

"There is not a 'type' of story we publish," said Batcha. "We'll really publish anything, but it has to feel pretty meaty and hold its own. It needs to feel like you've gotten a whole artistic experience."

The magazine will only publish an author once, and yet it still has a recognizable character as a publication.

"Over time, people develop a relationship with a magazine....It's not between the reader and the individual story," Batcha said. "There has to be some way you define your curatorial voice. People want choice, but not too much choice."

For mainstream, established magazines, this may be a major challenge in attempting single-story sales. Can a lone story express enough of an editorial identity to appeal to readers on its own? Editors must select stories strong enough to stand alone not only for their quality and timelessness, but also for their ability to effectively communicate to readers the magazine's distinctive larger brand and "curatorial" identity.

Building a Passionate Audience

One Story also counts on the audience's passion for writing itself. The magazine's readers, Batcha said, are "serious." The non-profit magazine seeks donations and is partly grant-funded. It has also organized writing workshops and encourages educational uses of the magazine to promote the short story to young audiences.

A new project that sells individual stories is also hoping that readers' support for substantial, long-form writing and its writers will lead to success. The Atavist, which launched January 26, publishes stand-alone, in-depth non-fiction articles that are longer than most magazine pieces, especially given today's ever-shorter features. The articles, priced at $2.99, are available through the publication's iPad/iPhone apps, as well as on the Kindle and Nook e-readers. Income from the stories is shared between The Atavist and the authors.

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"People don't think readers want [long stories]...but we thought there was an opportunity on the [smart]phone to give people this kind of story that they couldn't get anywhere else," said Evan Ratliff, editor of The Atavist and an award-winning magazine writer. "I do think there's a group of readers who'd like to support writers and creative people in general. If you say a lot of this money is going to the writers, [readers] know who made it and know where the money is going."

Ratliff describes The Atavist's approach as a "hybrid" between magazines and books. "We take some elements from one model and some from others. We're taking our editorial approach from magazines. We have fact-checkers just like at a major weekly or monthly magazine," he said. "We're taking a book approach in the way the story is told. It can have a nice arc to it, and it can have chapters more substantial than magazine sections."

The Atavist is not affiliated with a print magazine, though its founders are interested in partnering with both established and startup book and magazine publishers. There may also be advertising possibilities, though their style may depend on readers' preferences.

"Magazine readers are really amenable to advertising, but book readers are not. It's acceptable in one place, but not in the other," Ratliff said.

The Atavist is also part of a new Amazon venture called Kindle Singles, which Amazon says "allow a single killer idea -- well researched, well argued and well illustrated -- to be expressed at its natural length," generally from 5,000 to 30,000 words. In addition to the two non-fiction stories published as Singles by The Atavist, Amazon also has published short story collections and novellas as Singles, as well as non-fiction pieces based on TED talks. Amazon is taking submissions for Singles not just from the public, but also from publishers, making it possible that magazines and other established publications could sell individual long-form stories as Singles.

Choosing and Packaging Stories to Sell

One reason most journalism organizations haven't attempted a pay-per-story model, even in the form of micropayments, is that breaking news is available in so many places for free. However, these experiments show that readers may be willing to pay for timeless content that offers an immersive experience, as do long-form non-fiction storytelling and short fiction.

"You can't just take a type of article or a piece of work that is very similar to other things you can find for free on the web and ask people to pay for it," said Ratliff. "That's when people get mad. 'Why are you charging me $1.99 for this news?' We're offering a different proposition that offers something unique, that reads to you almost like fiction, except it's true."

The Atavist includes substantial multimedia in its stories -- such as photos, videos, maps, timelines, audio, and slideshows -- which smoothly integrate with the articles' text. One Story is also considering developing short videos -- such as author interviews -- to accompany its fiction. Right now, established print magazines have little incentive to create multimedia to supplement their stories, since most print readers won't go online to check out associated multimedia after they finish reading. However, adding multimedia enhancements for particular stories could make selling them singly more intriguing to readers and more profitable.

If magazine publishers can identify stories that provide rich, deep reading experiences, and then add engaging multimedia to develop that experience even further, they may be able to leverage their brands and editorial authority to market individual stories successfully. Other possibilities might include packaging stories on one topic together in one download, or combining stories from different magazines in a collaborative product. Individual stories or packages of stories can be sold through apps, websites, and vendors like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

However, the iPad and iPhone might become more difficult platforms for single-serve content if Apple keeps a large percentage of the subscription price. It announced a 30% cut for all subscriptions sold in-app, which has brought an avalanche of bad press for Apple. We'll see if that deal holds, or whether competing subscription services, such as Google One Pass pressure Apple to loosen restrictions.

Given the relative ease of repurposing digital content and the limitless possibilities offered by multimedia, magazine publishers may have an opportunity to reach a bigger audience on multiple platforms. If these ventures flourish, it will be simply because readers love to lose themselves in a good story.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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December 23 2010

17:47

iPads, Print-on-Demand Slowly Transform Magazines in 2010

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This revolution is going to take its time.

It's been a year of high expectations but little fulfillment for those who thought 2010 might forever change the way we read magazines. We've seen that disappointing uses of new tools, limited audience interest, and small initial financial returns are going to result in a gradual shift, not a sudden transformation.

The iPad certainly hasn't made print magazines extinct, and in fact some of the early iPad efforts may even have discouraged readers a bit. Other developments in the magazine world -- such as the Cooks Source incident and the growing power of social media -- also suggest still more challenges and opportunities in the year to come.

The Challenges of Innovation for the iPad

The number of print magazines stayed steady in 2010, with 193 launches and 176 closures -- a great improvement over 2009's remarkable 596 casualties, as reported by Folio. In the meantime, readers began experimenting with digital magazines on the iPad following the device's April release. Zinio, a digital magazine provider, had its app in the App Store on the iPad's release day, meaning the digital replica-style magazines Zinio offered could immediately be read on the iPad.

Multiple magazines soon released their own dedicated apps for the iPad, such as Wired's much-touted app, which in June 2010 sold 105,000 copies, exceeding that month's newsstand sales. However, Wired's app didn't repeat that feat in later months, with sales dropping to 32,000 copies by September. Other magazines, such as People and Men's Health, have only achieved 1 to 2 percent of their newsstand sales with their iPad apps, according to Ad Age.

But how happy have users been with these digital magazines, and how rewarding have they been for publishers? A recent study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that users rated their reading experience only "somewhat better or about the same" than their use of print media or computers for reading. The users also said they would be most likely to buy news-related apps if the prices were lower than those for print subscriptions -- not the same or higher, as the prices generally now are for magazine apps.

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Users of iPad magazines have also criticized what they see as a lack of creativity and technological savvy in designing usable, intriguing magazine apps for the iPad. Today's magazine apps tend to be dull, clunky replicas of print magazine pages that don't let readers share content via social media or even email. Despite being designed only for the iPad, even Project, the much-anticipated iPad-only magazine from Richard Branson's Virgin Digital Publishing, was disliked by some readers for its awkward interface and its insistence on re-creating the print page experience.

Perhaps some of the reluctance to experiment with new interface designs and multimedia integration comes from a fear of alienating iPad users who might expect a magazine-like experience, including the feel of "turning pages." However, with the iPad still in its early-adopter phase, this seems like the perfect time for experiments that demonstrate to readers that a digital magazine app can offer more than the printed page -- and that the experience can be worth a premium price.

Ads and Subscriptions on the iPad

Advertisers have seemed quite interested in buying space in digital magazines, and publishers are experimenting with new formats for ads. Though window-shopping is usually free, simulating the experience in a new iPad ad included in the forthcoming Cosmopolitan app will cost advertisers $50,000, according to Mediaweek. In the meantime, Apple has launched iAd for the iPad, building upon its use of the advertising tool on the iPhone. It plans to broaden the use of iAd in 2011. The first iAd on the iPad -- for Disney's movie "Tron: Legacy" -- will run in the TV Guide iPad app, among others. More magazine publishers could become involved in the iAd platform as well.

Finally, one of the biggest obstacles to activating and maintaining reader interest in digital magazines is the difficulty of locating an app for a favorite magazine and then somehow getting a subscription to it. So far, Apple charges its standard 30 percent commission on magazine app sales, and requires the use of external subscription management software, according to Folio.

Until Apple develops a more user- and publisher-friendly newsstand, digital magazine app subscriptions will likely be limited. In the meantime, five major publishers -- Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time -- are taking matters into their own hands and developing their own alternative in the form of Next Issue Media, which promises to provide "open standards for a new digital storefront" that will sell magazines and newspapers for a variety of e-reading tools, not just the iPad.

In addition to existing competition from the Kindle, Nook, and Android devices, those e-reading tools might include new tablet devices that run Windows 7. If Apple wants to maintain the loyalty of its early adopters, including many avid e-readers, offering easy access to high-quality magazine content will be important in the coming year.

Magazine Credibility Under Fire

The iPad is obviously the biggest story of the year in the magazine world, but other issues are playing out on the web and behind the scenes. Magazines are reshaping their content and strategies for the digital world, and this is causing a reconsideration of ethical issues that underly the production of content.

The Cooks Source incident this fall underscored the difficulty of maintaining authors' rights to their work in the digital age. The small magazine "for food lovers of Western New England" took a writer's piece on apple pie and reprinted it without her permission. When the blogger complained, the editor claimed that "the web is considered public domain and you should be happy we just didn't 'lift' your whole article and put someone else's name on it."

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Soon after this incident, another small magazine, Dairy Goat Journal, was exposed for using a blogger's photo without permission or payment, or even her name. The bad publicity resulting from these ethical failures creates doubt among the public and even among fellow journalists about the credibility of journalistic content when everything in digital form seems -- but most definitely isn't -- free for the taking.

Likewise, new advertising techniques in both digital form and in print have raised concerns about ethics. Forbes' use of paid blogs from advertisers as part of its online redesign (described here on MediaShift) is just one of many efforts to develop sponsored content for magazines' digital formats. As financial pressures increase, and deals for advertorial and sponsored content online and in print become more appealing, magazines will have to be vigilant to maintain a clear line between editorial and advertising content.

Redefining Magazines

As these experiments continue -- on the iPad, other e-readers, the web, and in print -- magazines new and old continue to challenge the traditional definition of their medium. Juan Senor of Innovation Media Consulting, interviewed earlier this year here at MediaShift, described magazines today as "content propositions": Concepts that lead to collections of multimedia content, rather than strictly to the creation of bundles of paper. Even the Magazine Publishers of America, first established in 1919, acknowledged the changing industry by renaming itself this year to "MPA - The Association of Magazine Media."

Some exciting variations on "magazine media" that we've seen this year include the socially curated, customizable digital magazine and the rise of print-on-demand and web-based options for one-off and independently published magazines.

Flipboard, the iPad app that draws together customized content from a user's social streams and from various major providers, now also includes a few traditional print magazines through its new Flipboard Pages. Unlike most dedicated magazine iPad apps, Flipboard presents articles alongside relevant social media commentary and allows easy social sharing of content, making the content more engaging and participatory. The Flipboard Pages streams are presented first like any other Flipboard article, but then can be opened in a more magazine-like layout, including full-page ads.

Flipboard's combination of the social experience with the magazine experience is compelling, as demonstrated by its early struggles to keep its servers functional to meet demand. Its design suggests a possible path for the development of other magazine-related apps. Clearly, this approach exemplifies the "content proposition" model of magazine publishing.

In the coming year, we'll probably also see more experimentation with tools that are making magazine publishing more accessible to the public, such as print-on-demand and web-based digital magazines. The success of the crowdsourced, print-on-demand magazines 48 HR (now renamed Longshot) and Stranded, as well as the availability of HTML5 web distribution platforms like NoLayout, targeted to indie magazines and accessible on mobile devices, show that with ingenuity and the right tech, crafting and distributing a new magazine is entirely possible, even with limited time and money.

Although 2010 might not have yet delivered on the revolution in magazines that some hoped for and was disappointing in some ways, it certainly demonstrated that publishers big and small are creating innovations that -- slowly but surely -- will remake the industry.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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November 17 2010

23:48

Are Magazine iPad Apps Profitable in the Long Haul?

Magazine editors and publishers are excited about tablet devices like the iPad.

In them, they see a chance to give consumers the best that digital media can offer -- and to be able to charge them for the content.

But does the profit from the apps justify the expense of building and marketing them?

Conde Nast, Meredith, Hearst and other leading magazine publishers have all been experimenting with the iPad. They are touting their successes, while acknowledging it's too soon to tell what the ultimate business will be.

"Our tablet strategy," said John Loughlin, executive vice president and general manager of Hearst Magazines, at the recent Ad:Tech conference in New York, "is to learn by doing." To determine what's sustainable, what's a fad, and what's "a significant new component to our business model."

Here Come the Apps

Conde's Wired magazine in June released a $4.99 iPad app that sold 100,000 copies of that month's issue, more than the 73,000 newsstand copies typically sold at the same price, according to WWD.

Earlier this month Conde's fashion flagship Vogue announced the release of an app as well, adding to a growing stable of magazine apps from the publisher.

It's easy to see why the editors are excited. After watching print subscriptions, newsstand sales and advertising drop sharply, and unable to make up the difference on the web, they now see a way to regain the ability to not only charge consumers but also make advertisers pay a premium to reach them.

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Loughlin ticked off some encouraging figures: Popular Mechanics sold 54,000 single copies in its first six to seven weeks; there will be eight magazines on the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader by the end of the month; most titles will also be on the iPhone, PC, Mac and Android devices, which compete with the iPad and iPhone. Users were using Hearst magazine apps "well beyond the issue expiration date," which presumably gives Hearst a way to continue to reach them for more sales and advertising.

Lauren Weiner, who oversees Meredith publications' digital and emerging media business, said at Ad:Tech that the company was working to transform itself "from a print publishing entity into a multimedia powerhouse," and that apps were a part of that strategy.

Loughlin noted how his company was moving beyond simply putting magazines with complementary video and interactivity into apps and was instead gearing experiences for the devices themselves. He mentioned Cosmopolitan magazine's version of the Kama Sutra which was revamped in an app called "Sex Position of the Day" and sold more than 100,000 copies for the iPad. A version has also been released for Android.

Weiner talked of popular for-pay recipe apps that lived separately from the many popular home-oriented titles Meredith publishes such as Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, and Ladies Home Journal.

Is There a Profit?

Still, despite the froth, it's difficult to make a case for apps as a savior for the magazine industry.

Weiner noted it can cost $75,000 to $300,000 to produce a paid app worthy of her magazines' brands.

Even assuming a generous 50 percent margin on each app sale, that means a magazine would have to sell 30,000 to 120,000 copies at $4.99 before it breaks even (assuming they aren't selling iPad-specific ads). That doesn't include added costs such as reconfiguring the app for other platforms and marketing it to consumers.

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And users can be notoriously fickle in buying single-issue copies. Wired's iPad app sales were reported to have plunged to 31,000 in July and 28,000 in August.

The market for apps is much more limited than for magazines. Consumers with iPads, other tablets and e-readers are a fraction of the media-consuming public, and those who would buy magazine apps are a fraction of those. Even if a subscription model comes to all the devices, revenues in the near- or even medium-term are not likely to match print.

Magazines like Wired and Popular Mechanics have a natural appeal to the technically adept who are using tablet devices. Many magazines, though, sell only in the low thousands for their apps.

Not a Savior

"Will the tablet save the magazine industry? No," said noted magazine and digital media designer Roger Black, who is a partner in a new e-reader platform venture called Tree Saver. "Will they get a percentage of the market? Sure."

The paid magazine apps, which tend to range in price from $2.99 to $4.99 for single issues, also compete with free ones, like Conde Nast's Epicurious recipe app and their one for Style.com.

Commenters in the iTunes store, meanwhile, show their ire, complaining about the pricing, and in some cases, the technology. "Boycott full price mags," wrote one, adding, "Digital magazines are fantastic but we should be able to buy a year's subscription for close to the price of a paper subscription." It was a call repeated by many others.

"Would give five stars [as a rating], but paying that much for a magazine is ridiculous," wrote a user ID'd as William Shelton on the Popular Science page, where the app, which had been $2.99, now lists for $4.99. He gave one star.

To justify the cost of producing apps, magazines have to amortize them over time. But "what happens in the year 2012 when Steve Jobs announces that, 'We've upgraded,' and your app suddenly no longer works?" Black asks.

Magazines are also competing on the iPads for attention from social networks like Twitter and Facebook; apps for TV shows; movies and music; mashup applications like Flipboard that combines social networks and media; games and more.

True, development costs are coming down as more programmers learn the tablet programming languages. Plus companies like AppMobi are helping web developers write programs in JavaScript that can then be ported over to mobile devices. HTML5, which allows new kinds of functionality and interactivity in a browser, could also prove to be a solution.

The technology is improving, and there will be economies of scale, as well. As Loughlin noted, this is an experimental period, when magazines are learning what they can offer and how much they can charge. Some apps will be breakout hits. A combination of web, apps, mobile and print sales may bolster magazines and give them new life and sustained profitability.

But the excitement over apps has some difficult realities to confront until that day is reached.

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil has devised and executed marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.

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November 15 2010

19:07

City Magazines Expand Audience and Revenues with Web, Apps

Even back in 1888, King Kalakaua of Hawaii recognized the power of city and regional magazines. His royal charter led to the creation of the magazine Paradise of the Pacific, whose goal was to display the civilization of the islands and to draw tourists and business.

Kalakaua would be amazed by the transformation of the publication now called Honolulu Magazine. Today, the king could follow the magazine on Twitter, watch its web videos, receive email newsletters and read it in print or multiple digital formats.

Though not every city or regional magazine has such a long history, many of them are today drawing on their established credibility and brand recognition to support new digital experiments. Many have crafted sophisticated websites, creative mobile apps, and innovative advertising strategies. These experiments may help the magazines remain definitive resources for information about their places, even as they are challenged by new, online local media outlets.

Reaching Readers Often

Like other magazines, city and regional publications have had to find ways to provide timely, interesting web content that can draw audiences between print issues. One method has been to create locally oriented blogs on their sites, sometimes maintained by existing editorial staff and sometimes by paid part- or full-time bloggers. The magazines have also linked to external local blogs to curate quality content.

Honolulu Magazine has an online real estate column updated almost every weekday, in addition to new online posts on other topics and web-exclusive content.

"A monthly magazine has traditionally lived in its own time zone, a month or two removed from what's going on in our community," says A. Kam Napier, the magazine's editor. "It's fun to react to news and what's going on around town."

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Opt-in email newsletters about dining, shopping and local events have been valuable for local magazines. Many of the local magazines owned by Today Media have associated e-newsletters, including Delaware Today and Westchester Magazine.

Chris Calloway, digital media project manager for Today, said both advertisers and readers like the e-newsletters. In all the digital formats the magazine uses, Calloway said, the ability to analyze readers' interests has helped the magazine and its advertisers.

"It's a very important tool to find out what interests the consumers," he said. "We're sifting through the data to find ways to organically make changes."

Readers Near and Far

For city and regional magazines, there are unique advantages to offering digital editions and mobile apps.

Thanks to the immediate delivery and easy accessibility of digital editions, local magazines no longer have to rely solely on distributing print editions nearby. Apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android are increasingly making these magazines available wherever interested readers might be -- even far away.

"I've noticed an increase in international sales," says Calloway of Today Media. "The digital edition has reached a whole new audience overseas, including people who used to live in the area and want to learn about it."

Local audiences also enjoy the benefits of mobile apps. New York Magazine has a truly nationwide audience, but it's also providing the local audience a variety of focused apps. It bought the website MenuPages two years ago and now offers an iPhone app that provides menus and reader reviews for 30,000 restaurants in eight market areas. There's also an Android app for reading the magazine's blogs.

"There are some other kinds of category-specific mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone, and Android that we're working on," said Michael Silberman, general manager for digital media at the magazine's parent company New York Media. These will probably include a fashion app and an app for Vulture, the magazine's highly successful entertainment and culture blog. Eventually, Silberman hopes to develop a variety of apps to help users "navigate New York."


h2. New Revenue Streams

New York has also found new revenue opportunities through its mobile and web presences. For example, in the MenuPages app and in the magazine website's restaurant listings, users can click through to make a restaurant reservation using the OpenTable service. Some restaurants also permit online ordering through SeamlessWeb.

"We have some little experiments going with click-to-buy theater tickets or movie tickets, or stuff from Amazon or iTunes," Silberman said. "The stuff that's really firmly in our wheelhouse like restaurant reservations and online ordering -- that's pretty interesting from a revenue point of view."

Other types of retail connections have not yet been as profitable. "People don't come to a news site to download music or buy DVDs or books. They may read about it on our site, but they're unlikely to do it there," he said.

New York magazine has also worked with Foursquare, the popular location-based social app, to offer restaurant, bar and shopping information and deals to its followers on that site.

"We're still one of the top 15 media brands on Foursquare as far as the number of followers, and we update that every week with new tips," Silberman said. This type of location-based activity seems like a promising growth area for other local magazines as well, offering opportunities for brand development, advertising and coupons.

The Challenge of Being Local

One of the challenges for city and regional magazines -- those much smaller than New York -- is that they typically don't draw enough of an online audience for advertisers to be interested in making online buys.

"We have a real hard time in our meetings bringing in any national expert on anything electronic. It doesn't translate," said Jim Dowden, executive director of the City and Regional Magazine Association. "You can't get millions of hits in Des Moines when you're writing about Des Moines. You're not going to generate money from hits on a website about Des Moines if what you're relying on is pennies per hit."

A new enterprise called the Community Magazine Network, launching later this month, is trying to unify these smaller publishers to help them generate additional ad revenue and develop their online offerings. Brian Ostrovsky, CMN's founder and CEO, compares his company to a national television network that provides assistance with ad sales, technology and best practices, with the goal of getting smaller publishers -- especially those in suburban and rural areas -- into the digital game.

"Community magazines have struggled online because they're simply not staffed to have fresh content, and to provide the kinds of web content people expect for a compelling experience," said Ostrovsky.

CMN aims to build upon participating magazines' community relationships and existing content by integrating curated and social content online, while also helping construct print and online advertising deals with regional and national advertisers who might not otherwise be interested in smaller publications.

City and regional magazines, no matter the size, are doing fairly well in maintaining their print circulation, said Dowden, because there are few quality local media left in many areas -- especially as newspapers downsize and lose local content. However, local magazines have to diversify their revenue sources and begin moving into digital while maintaining the integrity of their existing product.

With all of these new opportunities, publishers will have to get used to making money not just from print, but also to "getting money back in 10 different pots, instead of just the Internet or just the website," according to Dowden.

Maintaining Identity and Credibility

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Wherever the money comes from, city and regional magazines' greatest asset appears to be their brand recognition and editorial integrity. Though it might seem that sites that offer user-generated, local restaurant and shopping information, such as Yelp, might challenge these publications, the magazines I talked to unanimously argued that their recognized credibility on such topics will sustain readers' loyalty. Sites like Yelp are also less useful in smaller communities.

"Where we stand apart has been in offering expertise, analysis, historical perspective, and editing," said Napier of Honolulu Magazine. "We narrow down their options to things we know they'd like because we know our audience. We focus on trying to bring that expertise."

For example, the magazines emphasize that they use critics who visit restaurants repeatedly and then write quality reviews, overriding the widely varying quality and tastes of users at crowdsourced websites.

The magazines are, however, interested in integrating user-generated content with their sites. New York uses reader reviews in its restaurant section of its website and on MenuPages. Calloway of Today Media said, "These could be ways to engage with the consumer about the types of restaurants they like to go to. We can do polls of our readers about the best places to eat and shop and include those on the Today websites."

Though the city and regional magazines' formats may change, their continuing goal is to engage area readers in unique ways that other local media can't offer.

"Magazines are uniquely positioned to make local lifestyle content compelling and relevant," said Ostrovsky. "These magazines have established relationships. They are a part of the community."

The experiments in new ways of developing, delivering, and selling advertisers on the power of that content are just beginning.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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November 12 2010

21:18

4 Minute Roundup: Newsweek-Daily Beast Merger; Slate Hurting?

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast, I discuss the recent merger announcement between Newsweek magazine and online publication The Daily Beast. The deal becoming finalized was first reported by Nick Summers, a former Newsweek reporter now at the New York Observer. I talked with Summers about the challenges Newsweek has faced, and his back-and-forth online with Slate's Jacob Weisberg about the current state of Slate.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio111210.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Nick Summers:

summers final.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Observer Exclusive - Newsweek and Daily Beast to Merge at NY Observer

New Details Emerge on Newsweek-Beast Merger at NY Observer

Daily Beast, Newsweek to Wed! at Daily Beast

Newsweek, The Daily Beast Combine at Newsweek

Jacob Weisberg Was a Web Pioneer. But He Doesn't Much Care for What Works on the Web Now. Can Slate Recover? at NY Observer

Press Clips - The New York Observer's New Disclosure Problems at the Village Voice

Weisberg - NYO wrong; Slate's going gangbusters in memo at Romenesko

Slate's Traffic Is Gangbusters, Except When It's Not at NY Observer

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about who you think is the winner in the Daily Beast-Newsweek merger:




Who will come out the winner in the Daily Beast-Newsweek merger?customer surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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October 13 2010

17:30

Revamped Forbes Pushes Advertorials, Social Media, Conflict

Earlier this year Kevin Gentzel, the chief revenue officer of Forbes, took a look at what the chief marketing officers in the Forbes CMO Network were doing with their companies. He realized they were becoming content creators -- and that this had big implications for his magazine and other traditional media.

Gentzel said this underscored the massive shift that was taking place in media and publishing.

"It was almost a monologue that existed in media up until five or six years ago," Gentzel said. Now, after helping make some major changes at Forbes, he says his organization is "embracing that and not running from it."

Gentzel said his realization led him and his Forbes colleagues to start paying close attention to True/Slant, a website Forbes alum Lewis DVorkin started that featured "entrepreneurial journalism," in which writers received part of the ad revenue their pages produced. It also offered a product called "AdSlant," which offered marketers a paid blogging platform.

In a much talked about purchase, Forbes bought out True/Slant earlier this year. DVorkin, whose journalistic pedigree includes the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the New York Times, AOL and TMZ, re-joined Forbes as chief product officer, responsible for all editorial areas of the company including the print publications and Forbes.com.

Advoice Crossing the Line?

Now Forbes has an offering called Advoice, which, like AdSlant, offers paid blog space to advertisers. "In this case the marketer or advertiser is part of the Forbes environment, the news environment," DVorkin told Ad Age. "Marketers need to reach the audience. This is where publishing is headed."

Some marketers praised the idea, but many journalists did not. Mathew Ingram of GigaOm questioned whether Forbes was selling its journalistic soul.

Advertorials -- special advertising sections in print publications that evoke an editorial tone and design -- remain a source of controversy, said Rick Edmonds, the Poynter Institute's media business analyst and leader of news transformation. Reporters, he said, don't want readers to confuse objective reporting with advertising.

"As a reader of [Forbes.com] I would have a reasonable comfort level if it's labeled as advertising but not so much if it isn't," he said. He also noted that many blogs and websites currently fail to disclose when content is sponsored or produced in exchange for free products.

Gentzel said advertisers will hold no sway over Forbes' writers. And if the Advoice bloggers need coaching or help, assistance would come from the business, not editorial, side.

"We are not out to ever try to confuse a reader or user," Gentzel said. "It's the exact opposite of that. This will only work -- and will work -- by the clear and transparent labeling of the voices. The last thing we'd ever do is confuse a reader about what they're reading."

lewis-dvorkin.jpgDVorkin has written that Forbes wants to provide opportunities for the voices of content creators, the audience and marketers to all engage in print and online.

"The bold steps that Forbes is taking to evolve its products will help lead journalism to its future," he wrote. "Our goal is clear: to put news and the journalist at the center of social media. If we can accomplish that, we will go a long way to providing our audiences with the information they want -- and enabling the three vital voices of the media business to be active participants in the larger conversation."

Gentzel said that while there's no firm launch date, the "larger conversation" could start very soon.

"As a content creator who's listening to marketing partners, we think marketing partners can provide amazing expertise to our readers and users," Gentzel said.

Tempest Over Obama Critique

At the same time Forbes is pursuing its new Advoice product and strategy, it's also investing heavily in social media. DVorkin has said this is part of a process of "opening up" Forbes.

Active Twitter accounts include @forbes, @ForbesWoman, @ForbesLife and @ForbesAsia. Reporters and editors regularly interact with readers online. In August Forbes.com launched new blogs written by both staffers and outside contributors. (Disclosure: I offered to become a blogger for Forbes and sometimes pitch stories about clients to Forbes.) In September, a new web platform for the Forbes 400 debuted, letting readers "follow" the richest Americans, receive email alerts and converse about them.

"I've been impressed with their aggressive rethinking of what qualifies as content," said consultant and CNN veteran David Clinch, president of Clinch Media Consultancy. He's helping Forbes utilize high definition Skype cameras to conduct instant video interviews with newsmakers and contributors. "They have moved far beyond just the idea of an article and a picture and byline and moved to real-time content, and they've done a good job of coordinating that and getting writers and contributors familiar with social media."

how-obama-thinks.jpgBloggers write what they like, even criticizing Forbes itself. Dinesh D'Souza's Sept. 27 cover story opened with the unattributed statement that "Barack Obama is the most anti-business president in a generation, perhaps in American history." The former Reagan policy analyst's essay suggests that people should examine the views of Obama's Kenyan father to understand the president's "hostility to private enterprise."

In response, Forbes' Craig Silver wrote: "I hope that the powers that be at Forbes will see that promoting such offal can't help but damage the brand, keeping serious journalists from wanting to appear in our pages and maybe even advertisers." Columnist "Shikha Dalmia:http://blogs.forbes.com/shikhadalmia/, a senior analyst at Reason Foundation, described D'Souza's story as a pathetic rant of unsubstantiated ideological accusations.

Dalmia told PBS MediaShift that Forbes insiders responded positively to her comments. "On the whole, I think they were fair in how they handled my response," she wrote in an email. "[They] didn't try and water it down or in any way soften my criticism of D'Souza or Forbes, which is unusual to say the least."

The Poynter Institute's Edmonds said such public disagreements can be healthy. "I'm a bit more disturbed by publications taking the party line or essentially sticking to a business agenda," he said.

Staff Changes

While several journalists, including editors Paul Maidment and Carl Lavin have indeed left, others have recently jumped to Forbes Media. They include AOL DailyFinance.com media reporter Jeff Bercovici, who covered Dalmia and Silver's criticisms of the controversial cover. (His article noted that DVorkin encouraged public conflict at True/Slant, where Bercovici was a paid contributor.)

Other recent additions include Kashmir Hill, an editor at the irreverent online legal blog Above the Law, Huffington Post world editor Nicholas Sabloff, and Halah Touryalai, who covered Wall Street for Registered Rep. Former staffer Zack O'Malley Greenburg returned after taking time off to write a book about rapper and businessman Jay-Z.

Long-time Forbes reader Michael Shmarak, a principal with Sidney Maxwell Public Relations, says Forbes' re-do "is like putting some Dolce & Gabanna clothes in a closet full of Brooks Brothers power suits.

"Forbes now has to treat itself just like many of the companies it has covered," he said. "All of these policies won't mean anything unless the staff believes in it, and readers embrace the change."

Terri Thornton, a former investigative reporter and TV news producer, owns Thornton Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm. She is also a freelance editor for Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly.

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October 04 2010

19:09

Narrative Magazine Takes the Literary World Digital

Poetry on your iPhone. Short stories on your Kindle. Or, if you're not yet into e-reading, how about a complete print-on-demand literary magazine? However you like your literature, Narrative Magazine has you covered.

Literary magazines aren't exactly known yet for their digital expertise. This genre of magazines has moved slowly into the online realm, mainly publishing limited web content. But Narrative Magazine, a non-profit, innovative publisher, has fearlessly experimented with just about every method of digitally distributing its high-quality content, which has included writers like Saul Bellow, Amy Tan, and Jane Smiley. The magazine's diverse array of creative approaches has established a variety of revenue sources and publicity strategies for the magazine and its writers.

Advocating for Literature in a Digital World

Narrative Magazine is a primarily online literary magazine founded in 2003 by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, who are also its co-editors. At the time, Jenks said, there were few publishers providing high-quality literary work online.

"We had been concerned for some time that writers and good writing were going to be marginalized on the Internet," Jenks said. "We were attracted to the fact that the Internet was free and it was open. We wanted to perpetuate that sense with literary material."

The editors sent requests to six writers they knew, asking for material to use on the web. Within a week, they had six manuscripts in hand, and published the first issue of Narrative online. They emailed about 1,200 contacts about the new magazine. Soon, the magazine was up to three issues per year and, according to Jenks, it is now likely to reach a consistent audience of 100,000 readers by the end of 2010.

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Narrative is a non-profit and has received consistent support from a "fairly small group of dedicated donors," Jenks said. According to its 2008 IRS filing, the magazine received just over $410,000 in donations that year, a remarkable amount during difficult economic times. Jenks said there was even a slight increase in 2009. One challenge in finding new donors, though, has been in convincing individuals and grantors about the value of a digital literary magazine.

"When people think of funding the arts, they usually think locally," Jenks said. "As soon as you say it's a digital publication, people kind of say, 'Huh?' "

Narrative also received $10,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts this year after "quite a few years of conversation with them," Jenks said. "They gradually came to see what we were doing. Two years ago, people had very little sense of what digital book publishing meant, and now everyone's scrambling ...You have to have a little faith and keep moving forward."

Strangely enough, designing a good website and having other digital features have at times worked against Narrative's fundraising. "A lot of people look at Narrative and they don't see it as the struggling non-profit that it is because it looks pretty slick online," Jenks said.

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Narrative also charges writers fees for submitting unsolicited manuscripts. Writers pay $20 for prose submissions and $15 for up to five poems, unless they submit during an annual free period held the first two weeks of April.

Though the practice is not uncommon, some writers feel that submission fees at literary magazines are unnecessary, and that these fees are a burden for new writers. According to Narrative, the fees help cover the administrative expenses related to handling submissions and also support the free digital distribution of the non-profit magazine, as well as fund the annual $5,000 Narrative Prize. All paid submissions are entered into the prize competition. Additionally, published authors are paid relatively well for their work, which is also somewhat unusual in the literary magazine world.

Incentives for Readers

Narrative has gone beyond standard social media to develop participatory opportunities for readers, one of which is tied to donations. The magazine's primary goal is to support literature and its digital format means the editors have great flexibility to publish both long and short works. However, they acknowledge that other kinds of content helps attract readers, so they also now include puzzles, audio/visual content, cartoons, and graphic stories in the magazine.

The Narrative site, apps, and email blasts offer easy access to all of the magazine's content. More participatory options are also in the works. "Before too long, you'll also see us do something else -- not social networking, but something to give our readers an opportunity to customize Narrative for themselves," Jenks said. "They can see things they most want to have immediate contact with, and connect with other people on the site."

Another strategy for increasing readers' involvement with the magazine is Narrative's Backstage section. Donations of $50 or more are rewarded with a "Backstage Pass," which allows these donors to view special content early, before it's made accessible to all readers. Jenks said this approach has been a "modest success."

"We wanted to create an encouragement for anyone who might want to give a small amount of money to have occasion to do that," he said.

Print-on-demand copies of the magazine are another revenue source, though smaller. Much of Narrative's content is downloadable as PDFs, and until recently, every issue could be ordered in a fully designed print format. The demand for the print-on-demand edition is diminishing, however, and so now just one issue a year will be available in this format, according to Jenks. The magazine has found new opportunities, though, through mobile apps.

Making Literature Mobile

Narrative currently offers free apps for the iPhone and iPad that offer access to most of the magazine's web content, and they might develop an Android app as well. The magazine was also one of the first literary publications available on the Amazon Kindle, currently selling at $3.49 an issue. Jenks said the apps bring in about 30 new readers per day, and though the Kindle audience is not as large and is not growing quickly, he says it is "meaningful to the writers to be there."

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Narrative's effort to keep up with changing technology is partly designed to help writers transition into the digital era.

"It will probably be a decade or so before there's a clearly recognized model for literary publishing the way there used to be. Conventional publishers in New York are just now catching on to things," Jenks said. "In the meantime, there's a whole lot of anxiety and despair, especially among writers."

For Narrative, another major reason for making its content digital and mobile is to attract new readers at a time when there seems to be diminishing interest in reading literature.

"We wanted to attract younger readers who might not otherwise be catching on to literary work," Jenks said. "We wanted to create something -- without diluting what we think of as quality -- that would have the potential to attract readers who might be interested if we could just get them to see it."

The magazine is also exploring possibilities for reaching out into schools to get students more involved with literature. When younger readers get excited about reading literature electronically, Narrative will be ready for them.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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August 09 2010

16:20

Gourmet Live, Quilting eMag Rethink Magazines in Digital Form

In an earlier age, we learned new skills as apprentices to master craftspeople, absorbing expertise by working side by side. Today, though, you might be more likely to learn a new craft or skill from a website or through a social media buddy -- or even from a digital magazine.

Traditional print magazines that teach hands-on skills are extending their content and brands into new digital applications that make developing your abilities more like working alongside a pro instead of a static, one-way experience. These digital products present text, audio, video, slideshows and social components of these skills in ways print can't. Yet as these magazines experiment with new products, they also demonstrate all the challenges magazines face as they develop complex multimedia products that are more than just digital copies of print content.

Virtually Hands-On

Interweave Press, publisher of a variety of art and crafting magazines, launched what it calls an "eMag" in June. The eMag, affiliated with its magazine Quilting Arts, is titled Quilting Arts in Stitches, and covers advanced quilting techniques. The eMag is actually a 320-megabyte application that the user downloads and installs. The download costs $14.97, while a print copy of a typical issue of Quilting Arts is $7.99 on the newsstand.

Once installed, the application runs on the Adobe AIR platform. The clean, colorful design, created with Flash and InDesign, offers multiple ways of navigating and viewing the eMag's content.

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Significantly, this product is not a digital replica of the Quilting Arts magazine. Instead, it combines a custom-designed interface with some magazine-like features, such as a "cover," an editor's letter, a table of contents in a sidebar, and numbered articles instead of page numbers. Inside the stories, however, embedded audio, video and slideshows bring the topics to life and give users a close-up view of the quilting skills described.

"When someone is working at their sewing machine, they can have the magazine there, but it's still a little bit static," said Pokey Bolton, editorial director of Quilting Arts magazine and for the eMag. "They can't see hands moving, or their sewing machine working,"

With digital, though, the boundaries are diminished, according to Bolton. "You get this intimate hands-on experience watching someone work in their studio, a master quilter at work."

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In developing the eMag, Bolton says the staff first considered which topics would be the best fit for more "kinesthetic" multimedia presentations. "As an editor, I had to think about it differently," she said. "This is the deliverable. How am I going to tailor the editorial accordingly? We really wanted to use all the tools, not just make something that was showy just for the sake of having it in digital."

The quilting techniques covered in the eMag are both technical and artistic, and not easily communicated in print, Bolton explained. In print, the story "would have just been a static experience -- some exercises with a caption. But with a video, you see it as a whole. There are certain things you can explore as an editor in a digital format that go above and beyond a printed format."

The eMag also includes a social component, though it's not integrated with the usual online social networks. Instead, it provides instructions for a small project that readers are encouraged to make and then trade with other quilters through a "swap" run through the Quilting Arts office. Bolton said this project created "a sense of community" among eMag readers.

Planning for the Future

Though advertising wasn't included in the first issue, Interweave will offer sponsorship and advertising opportunities in future eMags, and plans to encourage advertisers to create ads that use the unique advantages of the eMag format. The positive feedback on the eMag from the magazine's existing audience will likely help bring in those advertisers. The print magazine has a circulation of about 80,000, and the eMag sold "a few thousand" downloads in its first few weeks on sale, according to Interweave. However, Bolton reported that, along with the magazine industry, the audience is also trying to adapt to new digital formats.

"Our audience too is trying to wrap their heads around a digital product such as this," she said. "People love the print magazine, and they love the eMag, and they want to be able to print aspects of the eMag."

Printing isn't an option in this eMag, though project materials lists can be saved as PDFs and then printed.

The eMag may also relieve some quilters' frustrations by offering a nearly hands-on experience of their craft. "If you go to a quilt show, you're so tempted to touch a quilt, but it's kind of a rule to keep your hands off," Bolton said. "But you want to feel that texture. We can replicate that experience and [let users] see that stitch up close."

Interweave plans to release eMags associated with some of its other print products in the coming year.

Gourmet Live(s)

Another magazine brand to take on a new digital form is Gourmet. Last incarnated in print in November 2009, the legendary magazine will be reborn in fall 2010 as Gourmet Live, an interactive HTML5 application that will offer food-related multimedia with added social features. (I covered the death of the print magazine in a previous MediaShift story.)

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Though the Gourmet Live demo video on the web shows the application on an iPad and demonstrates its touch-based interface, the application will work on other platforms as well, according to Juliana Stock, creative marketing director for Condé Nast Consumer Marketing. "We intentionally developed it so we'd be able to proliferate it as quickly as we can across a variety of platforms," Stock said.

The application will include the same kinds of content that Gourmet did in print, including articles and recipes, but will also feature video and photo slideshows. Like the Interweave eMag, the application doesn't resemble a magazine with "pages" that turn, but instead allows the user to touch and swipe photos and icons to operate the application. Some content will be drawn from Gourmet's archives, complemented by new content developed for the application.

The application will use readers' individual food and cooking interests to shape their experience. A novel component of Gourmet Live will be its "gameplay" approach of selecting and pushing content to the user. The application features real-time curation, meaning that it will constantly modify its content in response to the user's preferences, information, current location, past experience in the application, and so on.

"Based on a variety of variables, we can serve the user a different experience every time," said Stock, noting that this makes the application feel more game-like to its users, rather than simply a fixed document.

Another unique aspect of Gourmet Live will be its social features, Stock said, which will permit users to share content with their existing networks. Users will sign on using Facebook or Twitter. This social component, according to Stock, is intended to "parallel the social aspects of a meal."

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Gourmet Live is also planning to incorporate sponsored content from advertisers into the application that ideally will feel like "part of the experience," Stock said.

Parallel Projects, Same Challenges

Craft and cooking magazines seem to be perfect genres for experimenting with shaping formerly print content into compelling, useful digital products. The Interweave eMag and Gourmet Live projects reveal some of the difficult decisions magazine publishers are having to make as they create innovative digital products.

Those challenges include the choice of platform (for example, Adobe versus HTML5), the selection of the best content for the chosen format, the integration of dynamic and interesting advertising, and the development of social features to maximize readers' desire to interact around the magazine's content. Because there isn't an established path to success in any of these areas yet, publishers have to stay flexible and explore alternative routes.

"I come from a print background, and I'm learning alongside every other editor and publisher in this business who's adjusting to this digital age - to the iPad, to having all kinds of readers, to what people want," said Bolton of Quilting Arts. "It's a paradigm shift in thinking, to really understanding all the things you can do in digital. We're trying to articulate something that really hasn't been done yet."

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July 10 2010

00:45

4 Minute Roundup: Time.com Restricts Access to Print Stories

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast I look at the move by Time.com to restrict access to its print stories online. Rather than set up a pay wall, Time shows abridged versions of print stories and asks you to subscribe to the print magazine or get its $5 iPad app edition instead. That has critics howling. I also talked with PaidContent co-editor Staci Kramer, who considers Time's strategy a "condom" between online visitors and the print magazine.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio7910.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Staci Kramer:

kramer full.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Time's big new paywall at Reuters

Time Magazine putting up a paywall to protect print? at Nieman Lab

Time Magazine Dons An Online Condom at PaidContent

Time magazine remains free online, but offers less content at SFNBlog

Time Takes a Step Away From Free Web Content at NY Times Media Decoder

In Which Time Inc. Rides on the Wall of Death One More Time at Newsweek

Time Magazine Walls Off Its Web Site: Will You Pay Up? at MediaMemo

Time Inc.'s Web Paywall, Explained at MediaMemo

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about which pay walls you think will succeed (if any):




Which pay wall has the best chance to succeed?survey software

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

news21 small.jpg

4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

June 25 2010

20:22

Magazine Writers Are Slow to Take Up Multimedia

An ideal pitch for a magazine story today would seem to require great possibilities for text and for multimedia. Freelance magazine writers, one would think, would be honing their multimedia skills so they could pitch well-rounded stories to editors who could feature them in print, on the web and on an iPad or mobile device.

Surprisingly, though, freelance magazine writers don't seem to be encountering those demands, at least not yet -- even as their work becomes more critical to a stripped-down, minimally staffed magazine industry.

The fact that magazines are relying more heavily on freelancers but aren't engaging them in discussions of how their work could best be used online might raise concerns about the slow adaptation of the industry to the digital age. Or, it might reflect a reasonable and gradual movement toward online formats that is appropriate for magazines' audiences today. In the meantime, even the text of freelancers' work may also be changing in more subtle ways that most readers might not detect.

Multimedia Not Financially Rewarding

The freelancers I interviewed all said that they had only rarely been asked to provide multimedia components, or even ideas for them, alongside their stories. Their conversations with editors rarely involved the development of multimedia concepts with the story.

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"On the level of thinking through a story and planning it from the beginning, I've never had anyone say, let's think about the web, let's think about handheld. We're not there yet," said John Bowe, a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and author of the book "Us: Americans Talk About Love."

For most magazines, "text remains the vehicle that pays for everything else, in the kind of journalism that I do," said Michael Fitzgerald, who has written for the Economist, Fast Company, the New York Times, and other publications. "Doing multimedia stuff isn't a priority at a lot of places ... I just finished a story that would have been perfect for that kind of thing, and it never came up. I'm speculating that complete lack of margin is driving that lack of interest, or editors don't have time to think of that kind of thing."

The data support Fitzgerald's conclusion. Magazines aren't making much money from online or multimedia. The 2010 State of the News Media report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that only 3.1 percent of consumer magazines' revenue in 2009 came from online and mobile outlets. That number is projected to grow to only 6.9 percent by 2013.

Given what may be a small and slow return on investment in multimedia, perhaps magazines are simply delaying their involvement of freelancers in multimedia projects.

"I don't think that position from the mainstream magazines is entirely slow," said Bowe. "The audience is a mix of older and younger people, and older people are still reading the paper edition. When the preponderant weight of the audience is wanting [multimedia], they'll get it. It's a little early in the game to get all of that."

For the freelancers I interviewed, this situation is just fine. They feel most comfortable working with text, not multimedia, and so they are happy to focus on reporting and writing and not seek additional multimedia skills. They also note that multimedia production for their magazine projects would be time-consuming and not especially financially rewarding for them, either.

Elizabeth Royte, a freelance writer who covers science and the environment for national publications and is the author of two books, said that although she's had magazine editors ask her to "keep an eye out" for good multimedia opportunities or additional web content while reporting, she hasn't been asked to produce or contribute to these projects herself.

royte2.jpg"Well-established magazines like the New York Times [Magazine] have tons of people" on staff who specifically work on multimedia, she said, so freelancers aren't really asked to get involved.

Storytelling Still Critical, But Changing

At the core of their work, these freelancers believe, is still their ability to tell a good story with words. Text alone still communicates powerfully without a lot of additional multimedia.

"People want to be guided by a good storyteller. They don't want to work hard" by exploring complex multimedia, Bowe said. "There's no one so smart that sometimes they don't want to just sit there and watch the dumb Hollywood movie. Sometimes they just want the basic experience without all these goddamn widgets."


However, working primarily with text doesn't mean these writers are unaffected by the fact that their work will probably end up on the web at some point.

Bowe said he feels writing destined for online formats needs "a different tone -- hotter, quirkier, more intense," in order to grab readers' attention within what he calls "the essential boringness of the medium."

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Steve Silberman, a longtime contributor to Wired and other national magazines, argued that the changes over time in magazine feature writing go beyond tone, in part because of the web.

"The standard of magazine feature writing used to be New Yorker features," he said. "However, New Yorker features used to be much longer than they are now. And for many younger people, that kind of feature writing -- that delayed nut graph until the second page of the story -- it's hard to pull off in a web-based environment. People want to know what the story's going to be about in the first paragraph, and they decide if they're going to tweet it before they even finish reading it."

These changes in the audience's reading habits, Silberman said, have combined with a cultural shift -- spurred in part by cable news and talk radio -- to push feature writing toward a "quicker payoff, less nuance, and more controversy."

"People want easy polarities and dichotomies to choose between," he said. "I have felt pressure to make my stories more simplistic, to come down hard on one side of a question or the other."

Is It Time to Innovate Yet?

Today's magazine freelancers don't yet seem to feel the need to bring multimedia into their skill set and workflow. Editors aren't demanding it -- yet -- as magazines focus primarily on recovering from the economic blows they've suffered and less on innovating for the future. Whether this focus will be shortsighted in the long run remains to be seen.

Should magazines move away from print and into digital more aggressively, however, freelancers may find themselves increasingly called upon to be involved in multimedia development. For now, though, the focus is still on text.

"Text is the least bandwidth-intensive way to communicate complex experiences to the reader," says Silberman. "Text is always going to be with us because it's highly efficient. It employs the reader's own multimedia capabilities."

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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