Friday, February 27, 2009

Indigo just released Shortcovers, a digital distribution tool for print media – primarily books, but they say they’ll also be offering magazines and newspapers. It’s available for BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and over the web, and the idea seems to be that you can get some content for free, such as sample chapters, but you have to pay for most of it, like any ebook.

I downloaded it today for my iPhone and tried it out – at first glance it seems to work well, no major glitches (although I had issues logging on at first). I have a feeling that it’s going to do well – one reason I’ve been skeptical about ebook readers like the Kindle is that the last thing I need in my life is another device (I’m trying to get down to just two, my phone and my computer, and I’m almost there).

But here’s a question for all of you – have you heard anything about how Indigo is going to work with publishers to get magazines available through Shortcovers? Do you know if your publication will be available, and who’s going to be doing the digitizing? Please share any information you have in the comments.

(Oh, and naturally, you can follow Shortcovers on Twitter.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back in September, I wrote about Twitter and whether magazines should be using it. Since then, Twitter’s popularity has exploded and it’s become the latest on the list of must-haves for media properties – even if they don’t know what to do with it. The result? Instead of using Twitter to converse and build community, many are just updating with links to their sites – which seems to miss the point entirely.

Phillip Smith blogged the other day about how The Walrus has started using Twitter – and is doing it right. (You can follow them at

Their approach? Simple. Witty, upbeat, and personal. Fun banter with other publications on Twitter, like @thismagazine, @spacing, and @blogto. Engaging with the community, not broadcasting.

And Melanie McBride blogged on a similar topic today (and opened a discussion on Twitter). Her question: is it okay for magazines (or other publications) to publish RSS feeds through Twitter (i.e., automated updates)? Her conclusion is that conversational, human-powered Twitter posts are the ideal, but given many publications’ limited resources, RSS updates are a good interim solution. “While an RSS only feed is FAR from ideal,” she says, “it may function as a temporary means for publications to share their content in a new space while figuring out a strategy for more personalised feed management.” (Melanie has posted a poll on the subject – make sure to vote and share your opinion.)

My thoughts? Twitter is wonderful, and I’m having great fun (and some success) using it at work. It’s entirely powered by me, and while I do share some links to my site, I also share links to other sites that I think are relevant – but my primary goal is to have conversations with my target audience, and to hear what they have to say. I think Twitter’s especially useful for new magazines like Best Health, who are still focused on brand-building and getting their publication’s name out there.

However, just because Twitter is the cool tool on the block doesn’t mean you have to have a presence there. If you don’t think you have the time to use Twitter regularly – and it is a bit of a time suck – then you’re probably better off not doing it at all. I’ve said it before: the web is infinite, and there’s no way anyone can do everything. Spreading yourself too thin is the surest way to burn out and to fail. Choose the engagement strategies that work with your brand, your budget and your site goals, and do them well. If one of them isn’t working, cut it out of your schedule completely and try something else. Doing everything often turns out to mean doing nothing.

And if you do want to try Twitter, remember that it’s about sharing and communicating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who refuses to follow people or publications that do nothing but post links to their own site. I have an RSS reader for that – Twitter serves another purpose for me.

But tell me, what do you think? Have you tried Twitter for your brand? What are you doing, and how is it working? And Twitter users, do you follow Twitter accounts that are nothing but link feeds?

Monday, February 23, 2009

If you’ve ever been through a website relaunch, you know that it’s an overwhelmingly huge process. From approving designs and structure to creating the new site, moving over old content and making sure it actually works the way it should, you’re looking at many, many people devoting many, many hours to making your site look fresh.

Todd Zeigler at the Bivings Report has another suggestion: iterative site design. Instead of treating redesigns as a finished product, done only every few years, he suggests thinking of your design as a continual work in progress, open for tweaks and updates based on design trends and user feedback and behaviour. Benefits, he says, include the ability to evolve quickly and easily incorporate reader feedback, and the fact that you won’t need to ask staff to devote their lives to one big project.

An iterative approach can save pain by giving providing a sustainable methodology with which to attack site improvements.   Instead of working on your website intensely every three or four years, try making a manageable improvement once a month.  I think you’ll find you have a better website.

Next time you’re faced with refreshing or redesigning your site, look at design models (front and back end) that include modular components and design elements that can be easily modified and updated without major investment in design or development. Then, when you’re ready to update further, the process will be easier and quicker for everyone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fashion PR Addict is a local blog I subscribe to that’s generally off-topic for this blog, but she posted today on finding information by clicking on a Google ad that I think is good evidence of how these ads can work when display ads won’t. Why? They’re targeted to the content on the page.

Yes, you can target display ads to specific content – Kraft, for instance, probably prefers to advertise on food-related pages and sites – but only with contextual ads can you really home in on specific topics that the reader is looking for. For now, at least. I’m just throwing the idea out there, but could we work harder on targeting display ads to more keyword-focused topics? Linked to tags, perhaps? Get the best of both worlds?

Advertising isn’t my specialty, so please share your thoughts if it’s yours.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It’s a question I’m sure all of us in the media industry have asked ourselves at some point: why are we doing this?

Despite common opinion, I don’t believe that making money should be the primary goal when publishing; really, you’d have better luck (and dividends) packaging food or (perhaps until recently) giving out mortgages. For most of us on the editorial side, I’d say, it’s the connection with readers that gets us up in the morning. Whether it’s providing them with entertainment, food for thought or essential information, creating quality editorial is the primary goal.

Online, more often than in print, this goal sometimes gets pushed aside for other goals, such as building traffic and selling ads. “Increase pages per visitor!” is something we often hear. “Ad sales has oversold – we need to boost impressions!”

I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t be trying to make some money – I’m as fond of my paycheque as the next person – but I always try to keep one simple rule in mind when working on my site, above and beyond the two goals of creating good editorial and increasing traffic. That rule? Don’t annoy your readers. Keep it in mind while you work on your site (cross-stitch it on a pillow if you have to), just don’t forget it, whether you’re building slideshows for pageviews or selling and integrating vokens.

About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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