Tag Archives: print magazines

Proprietary e-readers are doomed


Image: Engadget.com

Few tech gadgets these days inspire more wonder and press buzz than e-readers.  While Amazon didn’t pioneer the e-reader space, they did popularize it with their bookworm-friendly Kindle.  The Kindle, while rather feature-poor as a device, is great for pure book reading, and the passion shown by its users has apparently inspired many other companies to follow suit by developing their own e-readers.

Building an e-reader makes sense for a lot of companies, e.g. Amazon, HP, Dell or Amazon, companies that focus on hardware and developing platforms for which others can develop software or content.

However, we’re now seeing other companies jump into the game who have no business making their own e-readers, specifically content publishers.  Time recently gave a preview of their e-reader, showing off its capabilities with content from Sports Illustrated.  It looks pretty cool honestly, but what if I want to to read Road and Track on it?  No such luck.  It’s built for Time Inc. magazines – People, SI, Fortune, TIME, etc.

So no Road and Track, but what if I want to read PC World or Popular Science?  There’s an e-reader for that.  Bonnier, IDG, and MIT have teamed up with Plastic Logic to create an e-reader for their lineup of technology-oriented magazines.

So now, when I’m sitting on my throne and want something to read, I don’t flip through my magazine rack, I flip through my e-reader rack until I find the e-reader with the magazine I want to read.  Awesome.

This must stop. Now.  We, the users, are trying to simplify our lives with e-readers, not complicate them.  I should be able to have a single reader with all my magazines on it, not a half-dozen different e-readers with different interfaces and control schemes.  Any publisher making their own e-reader for their own content is doomed, and needs to be stopped before they hurt themselves.

What would happen if NBC, CBS, and ABC broadcast their shows so they could only be seen on proprietary devices?  “Let me turn on my other TV so I can watch NBC.”  Yeah, that’d fly.  These guys rely on the TV and HDTV standards that make their entire business models possible.

We have seen format battles in the past like VHS vs. Betamax or Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD, but ultimately those are open formats – available for all content producers to use.  This is analogous to the battle between the Kindle, the Sony e-reader, and the rumored Apple iTablet or whatever it ends up being called.  But for a content producer to make hardware that solely services their content is just insane.  Stop now, guys, and leave hardware to the professionals (as Condé Nast is doing) before you bankrupt yourselves trying to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Mr. Magazine: Cater to your customers

On the newstand

On the newstand

For subscribers

For subscribers

In a recent post on his blog Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni discusses the recent trend of magazines producing a single issue with two different covers, one cover for placement in newsstands, and a different cover for their subscribers.  It seems that for distribution on newsstands, the covers were more sensational and sexy, with  more lists (8 reasons your diet isn’t working) and more lascivious content (“The Sex of your Dreams (& Hers.)”)  Notable magazines using this technique are Men’s Health, US Weekly, and Bazaar.

What surprised me about the article was Husni’s dramatic objection to the practice:

I do not believe that the single copy cover should be any different than that of the subscriber, if we are in the business of customers who count and not just counting customers. Subscribers do visit the newsstands and what they see their should match what is on their coffee table.

Husni doesn’t seem to give any reasoning for his assertions; he just thinks this is the way it “should” be.  The way I see it, if you’re not just “counting customers” and you actually think your customers count, why not give them an experience they want?  If you know that most people in a certain segment have a certain preference and you have the ability to cater to that preference, why wouldn’t you?  Naturally, newsstand issues need to be more marketing oriented, so the headlines should be more attention-grabbing.  If someone wants to put a magazine on their coffee table, they many not want lewd headlines about sex tips all over it.  So why wouldn’t you give your readers what they want?

I applaud the magazine industry for this step in the right direction.  Websites have been delivering customized experiences for years, so it’s about time that magazines took a page from our…book?

How to fix online advertising

The internet publishing industry did itself a serious disservice when first designing ads for the web.  Rather than learning from the newspaper and magazine industries, they reinvented the wheel by designing ads that were as unobtrusive as possible, and they’ve been paying for it ever since.

Remember the first standardized ad size?  It was 468×60, an amazingly small ad unit by today’s standards.  You just can’t fit a meaningful message on an ad this size (especially with today’s larger screen resolutions), and to compensate ad sizes have been creeping upwards over time…from the original 468×60 and 125×125 to
250×250 to

120×600 to

728×90 to

300×250 to

160×600 to

336×280 to

300×600 to

flyovers, pull-outs, interstitials, and a whole new set of big ad sizes.

I say it’s about time we started showing huge ads.  We online publishers have been limiting our success for years, ever since that first tiny ad size was standardized.

To see why this is the case, look at print magazines.  Those guys have huge ads.  One of the most common units they sell is a full page!  They sell full pages, half pages, quarter pages with the smaller eighth- and sixteenth-page ads getting either shoved to the back of the magazine or spanning several pages so they can tell a story.   Certainly it is true that the print mag industry is hurting these days, but that pain is because of rising printing and distribution costs and an oversaturated market, not because of their advertising model.

TechCrunch AdsOnly now are we online publishers finally seeing ad standards that are competitive with the print mag standards (One could argue that interstitials are full page ads, but most don’t take up anywhere near the whole page.)  TechCrunch whines childishly about these big ads having a poor user experience, but I posit that TechCrunch’s alternative of a superabundance of small ads create an even worse user experience than one or two large ads would.  TC shows ELEVEN ads before you even get below the fold, 10 of which are deprecated 125×125’s that allow for virtually no design, messaging or branding benefits, and they make the whole page look messy and cluttered.

Large ads are simply better because:

  1. There is more room for compelling design
  2. There is more room for compelling messaging
  3. Page layout is easier – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen page designs compromised by trying to fit a 300×250 ad.  Interstitials and full page-wide ads are actually easier to design around
When will ads on the web be this cool?  When they're large enough

When will web ads be this cool? When they're big enough

Print mags have much larger ads than websites, so do they have a poor user experience?  Of course not.  In many magazines the ads are so cool that they’re almost considered content.  Magazine readers realize that you need to see ads to get cheap/free content, and website readers only whine about big ads on websites because:

  1. We have conditioned them to see small ads
  2. Online ad creative is often poorly designed (not visually appealing, message isn’t compelling, etc.), and
  3. Online ads are often poorly targeted

We have been trying to fix the Problem 1 for 15 years, and once we do fix it, the advertising folks will fix Problem 2 for us because they’ll have much more space to work with, as they do in print mags.  As for targeting (Problem 3), AdSense was the biggest quantum leap in this space, with behavioral targeting being the next wave; there is plenty of work going on in this area.

As soon as online publishers and advertisers can fix these problems, user experience will improve, ad rates will improve, and we will finally see the maturing of the online advertising model.