While many print publication editors are now setting their sights on the new media promised land, The Madison Avenue Journal has been online since its inception.
The brain child of Tim McHale, a self-described "Media Activist", The Madison Avenue Journal touches upon the differences between online and print models as marketing vehicles, particularly on how readers interact with the different media. Tim is a 19-year veteran of traditional marketing, with 7 years spent in interactive marketing, which he pioneered in the very competitive market on Madison Avenue. To date, his work in media planning spans over 150 B2B and B2C brands. Tim is also co-founder and managing partner of Madison Avenue Consultants LLC.
Do you see a difference in not having the print format to contend with?
Tim: There are obvious positive differences -- an improvement in cost, time and labor to produce The Madison Avenue Journal in its e-zine format versus a traditional print publication. It is dramatically lower, which means likely well under 10% of the cost of publishing a hard copy.
There are also other benefits going online -- the ability to optimize resources to reach potential readers, monitor feedback to maintain/improve the relevance of the content on a more timely basis (down from 30 days to 3 days or less) and provide the flexibility to manage the team to maximize the creativity of the editorial product.
There are also challenges in the online format. When reading a print publication, audiences generally spend upwards of 2 minutes with the medium. The physical handling and thumb-through experience contain numerous incentives visually -- be it an ad, a photo, a headline or insert in the magazine. All these sensory stimulations provide reasons to keep reading.
In fact, it has been documented that once the reader has chosen to commit more time to the print medium, the magazine often slows a person’s heart rate down and puts the reader into a more leisurely mode, which adds to the benefit advertisers have compared to a net-based publication.
The more interested a person is in finding specific content, the higher the number of choices online versus a print magazine. At any given time, consumers have between one and three physical magazines “at their fingertips”. When armed with mouse and search engines, they have potentially thousands of e-zines to choose from. So what are the deciding factors for staying on a site vs. another?
Consumers generally decide to stay on a site based on the site design as much as the content. While print magazines have all a basic similarity in format -- rectangular with the logo on the front cover -- each e-zine can be very different in design and layout. In addition to each site having a different design, look and feel, the content on front-page may compete with advertising on the site. An e-zine reader will decide whether to stay or leave based on a cursory view of the main home-page article or story line.
Compare that to the time consumers spend with a print magazine given the variety of choices based on “thumb-through”. A loyal magazine reader will spend up to 45 minutes or more with each issue. Research shows a lengthy time spent on a site can be well under 15 minutes.
All this has presented challenges when wooing advertisers to an e-zine as compared to print, which up until now has been perceived as a legitimate advertising platform.
Everyone is after the same attention pool, which keeps shrinking. Online is fast becoming a very competitive business model -- how do you keep the value from turning into commodity?
Tim: We live in a commoditized society. Online is no different from every other media type or for that matter, item offering some sort or service. Consumers have myriads of choices at their disposal -- be it automobiles, consumer electronics, food, entertainment, health and beauty aid, housing etc… The answer to this question springs eternal. That said, a few basic factors toward creating, sustaining and achieving some sort of success (however you measure it), include:
- Knowing your reader.
- While magazine readership evolves, the one for e-zines leapfrogs. You’re either new or you're through. This requires a constant re-examination of your editorial product, based on a built-in insight into the fickleness of consumer expectations of the medium.
- Understanding the choices she/he has within your editorial category.
- A dynamic team of dedicated professionals.
- Challenging yourself to offer a distinct difference.
How do you keep things relevant and sustainable at your publication? What is your definition of success?
Tim: In addition to what I listed above, our definition of success is fairly standard. Quantitatively, we measure it by the rate of subscriber size and growth, repeat users, maintaining low "unsubscribe" ratios, click through's, time-spent, RSS audience, links on other sites, mentions, “send to a friend” etc… as well as advertising.
Qualitatively, we look at the amount of email feedback, the number of article submissions, and a gut feeling of how truthful people are at cocktail parties when they say, “Oh, I love it. I’m a big fan.” And depending on how many cocktails you’ve had, doing a real-time focus group recall research and inquiring what was the last thing they read will either elicit mutual joy or disappoint.
Secondarily, how people look at you if walk by. If they stare, that’s good. If they ignore you that’s not good. This last factor of qualitative measurement is based on the P.T.Barnum school of thought summed up as, “I don’t care what they say about me, as long as they say something.”
What is your strategy for inviting contributors? Do you employ freelance contributors?
Tim: Our strategy is standard to any of the established e-zines in their category. These are found on the online version of traditional media vehicles and online reporters of consequence. We do not invite bloggers. But we do invite writers who happen to blog. Depending on the situation, we are particularly vocal, or do not respond via email to people who are known to “rant” online.
Do popularity and voice play a larger role in your selection than your publications' focus?
Tim: Yes, in the following order:
- Our editorial mission is as follows: The Madison Avenue Journal is edited for VP, Marketing to CXO-level industry leaders who are interested in understanding how contemporary culture intersects with Madison Avenue and the impact new media has on integrated marketing today.
- At the same time, we ferociously try to not take ourselves too seriously. We leave that up to our readers and competitors. Metaphorically, knowing what to wear is important when you're planning to have dinner with friends, colleagues or clients. Formal, casual or laid back, you want to get it right. The Madison Avenue Journal is your Mad Ave "ad-dress" guide! Get it? Ad-dress guide? Oh forget it.
Where do you draw inspiration? Do you read other online publications? Which ones? How are you influenced by them?
Tim: I read traditional magazines such as The New Yorker and "more often than not" any universally legitimate media property online and in print that accepts and/or requires an expository analysis to explore deeper (subjective) issues on Madison Avenue.
Do you feel threatened by the idea of user created media? How is what you do different from user created content? Is there still a place for traditional editors in the 21st century?
Tim: User-created media always threatens us. The more threatening, the more attracted we are to them. We are user-generated content and we cover it. One of our columns is called “Commercial Worthy”, which is written by various writers of ours who spot a video on some community site that they believe would make an excellent commercial. We review it, explain why we think it would work, identify the marketer(s) we think it would work for and then invite readers to vote if they agree or not. Written feedback is optional. We define traditional editors as those with discriminating tastes and know-how to throw a good party. Are we in the 21st century yet? I thought this was 2007.
Thank you, Tim. This was a good overview of the main differences in engagement between online and print publications. I do spend a lot more time with a magazine; that might be because the ones I receive are paid subscriptions.
Yet we are seeing how online publications that have traditionally charged for premium content are now opening up their content. This past week The New York Times did it, and now The Wall Street Journal is thinking about it.
What do you think? If content is king, will the advertising revenue keep these publications alive? Do you engage with it? What have you found effective?