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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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May 04 2010

14:00

Moderating declines: Parsing the NAA’s spin on newspaper circ data

Newspapers could borrow a line from a recent Dilbert comic strip: “We’ve been doing great since we redefined success as a slowing of failure.” Or perhaps it was the other way around, and Dilbert creator Scott Adams was inspired to write that line in a recent strip by the inventive terminology of newspaper executives describing “sequential improvement” and “moderating declines” in their revenue trends despite continuing losses in the double digit range.

Currently, the industry is reporting first-quarter earnings, and last week the Audit Bureau of Circulations released unaudited “publisher’s statements” reporting paid circulation for the six months ending March 31. The numbers are down, but the spin is up.

On the circulation front, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that circulation fell 8.7 percent on weekdays and 6.5 percent on Sundays, among newspapers filing publisher’s statements. This compares with drops of 10.6 percent weekdays and 7.6 percent Sundays for the prior six-month period, enough of an improvement for Newspaper Association of America CEO John Sturm to declare that “the data indicates the declines are moderating.”

Actually, it’s hard to discern real moderation in the rate of decline. The losses in the most recent period are indeed a bit less severe than those in the prior (Sept. 30) period, but they are worse than the drop in the period before that, or in any previous period. If we ignore the Sept. 30 data as an outlier, we actually have a trend that’s been worsening steadily for the last six years:

Nothing about that final uptick indicates that it’s a reversal of the trend — it would take two or three periods of “improvement” in the form of “moderating declines” to make that a valid conclusion. In fact, both of the upticks in the trendline disappear if we take the statistically reasonable step of averaging spring and fall six-month circulation changes into annual figures and graphing those:

Moreover, viewed in long-term context, this latest minor slowdown in the rate of decline disappears entirely when newspaper circulation is viewed in the context of population: Since 1945, the number of papers sold per 100 households has dropped steadily, declining in 61 of the last 64 years.

(The circulation numbers on which this chart is based come from Editor & Publisher via NAA; E&P hasn’t released its Yearbook with a 2009 figure, so 2009 is my estimate based on the last two ABC cycles and estimated census households.)

It’s also quite possible that the uptick is entirely the result of some of the new options newspapers have in counting their circulation. Some of the declines of the past few years have come from ditching distribution in unprofitable outlying areas, and cutting back on “third-party” programs in which advertisers were persuaded to pay for bulk distribution, free to recipients, at community events or door-to-door in targeted areas. The value of this circulation was always questionable, but now ABC rules are permitting substitution of new forms of questionable circulation.

Take, for instance, the Bend (Ore.) Bulletin, where weekday circulation grew 34.3 percent. How? Since Jan. 1, with ABC approval, the paper has been counting e-subscriptions sold to current print subscribers for an extra 50 cents per month. As long as the subscriber can choose to opt in or out of the added digital subscription, the e-subscription counts as one paid subscription in addition to the printed one, even if the customer never accesses it. Applying this stratagem for only three months of six-month reporting period, the Bulletin tacked 12,462 weekday e-subs to its “core” print circulation of 29,072 (which is actually down by more than 1,000 from 30,155 a year ago). And next time around, counting the e-subs for six full months, it expects to report circulation of about 54,000.

How much of that is going on, and to what extent is it responsible for that uptick? I haven’t delved into the data, but Paid Content did, and reported that e-edition circulation was up significantly: the digital editions of the top 25 newspaper e-editions rose 40 percent, from to 1,363,212, versus 973,721 a year earlier.

There’s are other questionable figures being circulated, as well. In his statement on the ABC data, Sturm also cited readers-per-copy data that appears, at first glance, to mitigate the downward trend in copies sold: “Newspaper print products are also finding their way into more people’s hands, with readers-per-copy increasing by 7.5 percent in just the last three years to 3.3 adults on average, according to a recent analysis from Scarborough Research and Newspaper National Network LLP.” Here’s the graph:

Missing from this statement is the important qualifying statement that the Scarborough study applies to 25 selected “top markets,” not to all newspapers.

For its report (PDF download), Scarborough chose the 25 largest newspapers omitting “national” newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today), as well as omitting papers in the midst of major circulation pattern transitions (Denver Post, Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Jose Mercury-News, Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

In response to email inquiries, NAA’s research director Jim Conaghan and communications chief Jeff Sigmund defended Sturm’s statement. “He correctly cites the Scarborough research,” Conaghan wrote. “John Sturm’s statement references research conducted by Scarborough which was based on an analysis of the top 25 markets,” Sigmund wrote. But Sturm’s statement leaves out the important qualifier of the 25 markets. Conaghan also wrote to me: “You need to carefully read what is contained in the Scarborough report. Large markets/papers, survey data. The old NAA estimates were derived by a different method, and would represent total U.S.” By “old NAA estimates” he meant a 2007 report available at the NAA site that found 2.128 readers per copy weekdays and 2.477 on Sunday. (That study, in a footnote, discounts the validity of the Sunday number, stating: “Projection relatively unstable for Sunday RPC. Use with caution.”

Now, as that quote suggests, readers-per-copy (a.k.a. the “pass-along rate”) is a notoriously difficult thing to measure. But it has been tracked by Scarborough and others for a very long time and has been pretty consistently cited (and drilled into the heads of newspaper advertising representatives) as being around 2.3, plus or minus a point or two. This allowed salespeople for a 30,000-circulation newspaper to tell retailers that readership was actually about 75,000. The readers-per-copy factoid was included for years in NAA’s own “Facts About Newspapers,” a vest-pocket sized booklet of data distributed annually to advertisers and publishers. In 2000, Facts About Newspapers claimed 2.1 readers per copy, and 2.2 on Sundays. In 2004, it was 2.3 on weekdays, 2.4 on Sundays. In 2007, as cited above, it was 2.1 weekdays and (with a grain of salt in the NAA footnote) 2.5 on Sundays. When I started in the business, in the late 1970s, I recall that it was 2.6. In 1983, Scarborough and Simmons both came up with about 2.7, but that was noted as seeming to be on the high side. The average U.S. household is about 2.57 people, another reason why any reader-per-copy finding above that level is questionable. I think Conaghan is right on the money to say that Sturm’s claim of 3.3 can not be applied to any markets outside the those selected 25 and that reality is still in range of 2.2 to 2.5 as it has been for 50 years.

Sturm also pointed to the online newspaper audience, stating: “The latest Nielsen Online data found that newspaper websites attracted a record 74.4 million unique visitors per month on average in the first quarter of 2010 — more than one-third (37 percent) of all Internet users.” Left unsaid: the monthly UV average for this quarter was probably boosted in February by traffic related to the Olympics. The February UV count was 76.1 million, an all-time high. In March, with 10 percent more days than February, UV’s were 5 percent lower at 72.1 million.

But everyone knows by now that UVs are not a very good indicator, and “time spent on site” is what counts, at least if you’re trying to sell advertising. By that score, Q1 did not shape up very well for newspapers: in January, the average visitor spent 33:09 minutes at newspaper sites, in February, 29:06 minutes, and in March 32.21 minutes. These are three of the four shortest attention spans recorded by Nielsen Online for NAA since January 2004 (with the caveat that data before June 2009, which showed significantly higher times spent, was based on a different survey sample and can’t be compared with later stats).

Here’s the trend line for attention, or time spent, at newspaper websites since the June 2009 methodology change.

When that trend starts to demonstrate clear and strong “sequential improvement,” newspapers will have something to shout from the rooftops.

March 30 2010

08:47

paidContent:UK: iPad plans from Spectator and FT

paidContent:UK looks at plans from two UK publishers readying their iPad editions ahead of the device’s US launch this weekend.

Digital editions provider Exact Editions is involved with The Spectator’s iPad launch, which will adopt a freemium model, Exact’s co-founder told pC:UK.

Elsewhere the Financial Times is preparing a sponsored FT iPad app. Launch sponsor Hublot will subsidise a two-month free access period. After this, the app will revert to the same model as the FT’s iPhone app, which is feel to download, but charges for access to more than 10 articles.

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January 06 2010

09:20

December 10 2009

09:23

Organ Grinder: Against the odds Tindle’s model for paid content is working

As local UK newspaper group Tindle Newspapers announced plans yesterday to introduce pay walls to around 40 of its websites, an experiment trialling the charging system on six of its titles was hailed a success by the publisher.

The system uses digital edition software PageSuite and interestingly enough charges the same price for the e-edition online as the print edition of a title.

“That runs counter to the conventional wisdom that reader expectations and the lower distribution costs of the internet mean online charging should represent a hefty discount on the price of the print product,” notes Chris Tryhorn.

Amongst the trial papers, 350-400 paying online readers signed up on the Tavistock Times’ site, compared with a circulation of 14,000, reports Tryhorn.

Against conventional wisdom, deceptively simple, but perhaps more in line with what readers are willing to pay for when it comes to local news?

Full post at this link…

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