Thursday, June 30, 2011

I admit it – I used Napster back in the day. Downloading music was so easy, fast and painless compared with travelling to the store to buy a CD that you might not end up liking. Being able to listen to an endless mix – rather than investing in and organizing a big CD-changer (remember those?) or (gasp!) listening to one disc at a time – was liberating. It wasn’t just free that Napster was giving us, though that was certainly part of it. It was a brand-new model of media consumption, part of the overall shift from information scarcity to information abundance. Before, when I was in high school, new CDs (and cassettes!) were treasured, shared, listened to over and over again. Then, all of a sudden, we shifted to having too much to listen to, to downloading something and forgetting about it. For better or for worse.

Then Napster was shut down, and other sharing tools after it, and while it’s still not exactly difficult to download (illegally!) just about anything, between jumping through hoops and ISPs throttling bandwidth, it’s a lot more work than it was in those early years. And frankly, I can’t be bothered.

Apple, of course, was the company who really paid attention to the new consumption ideal – not free so much as simple and convenient. The iTunes store has changed the industry, and offers the entire package of browsing, previewing, buying and consuming, all from wherever you happen to be. I can buy an album on my iPhone from the bus (I did it just the other week), listen to it immediately, and then, next time I sync my phone, it magically appears on my computer as well, as well as on other devices I choose to sync. Apple’s genius lies in making it easy for customers to give them money no matter where they are – or when. Store hours and location are no longer a limiting factor, and impulse buys are easier than ever. Apple makes the whole experience of buying music so easy and pleasurable that I haven’t stolen music in a very long time, nor have I bought a physical CD in at least five years, though probably closer to 10.

What does this have to do with magazines, you ask? Well, magazines have always been more about the experience and the packaging than the product. People subscribe to be part of a group, to have something to talk about and to have the magazine on their coffee tables as much as to read the articles. And newsstand purchases are the ultimate impulse buy.

Our digital strategies, I think, need to catch up quickly. The web is often denigrated as a “snacking” means of content consumption – people looking for quick tips to pass away their lunch hour rather than long, immersive stories that educate and challenge. And this has been quite true, because (to repeat myself yet again) most people’s computer-reading environments just haven’t been as conducive to proper reading as a magazine is. Uncomfortable chairs; small, flickering monitors; interrupting coworkers… you get my point.

But this is changing fast. The shift to a living-room computing environment means internet readers are more open to immersion. The iPad was intended first and foremost as a consumption device. And whether it’s through iTunes, Amazon or elsewhere, consumers are now well trained in spending money online with one click or tap.

The time has come to find the best way to present magazine content to consumers in the Apple model. Make it easy and pleasurable. Focus on the packaging and the experience. Appeal to both the bored in-transit smartphone user and the lying-on-the-couch evening reader. Give them something good enough that they want to pay, and to subscribe.

Will this happen through Apple’s upcoming Newsstand app, or tricked-out digital editions à la Condé Nast, or National Geographic-style repackaging? Will it come through web apps that work on multiple platforms and are managed internally by the magazine? I don’t know – I’m really not the best focus group. But they’re all worth a try – above all, we need real numbers, not just imaginary and untrustworthy research of intent. And I do think Newsstand is worth pursuing. A 30% cut to Apple might seem like a lot, but they’re the ones bringing people into the ecosystem, and ready to spend, and auto-renew. If your magazine isn’t there, consumers will find something else to read.

But above all? Make it easy and make it pleasurable. And if the magazine is worth reading, the readers will come.

Thursday, June 30, 2011
Earlier this month I spoke at Magazines West in Vancouver on various ways Canadian media brands are using social media well. Thanks to the Magazine Association of BC for inviting me and to everyone who joined the session and asked such excellent questions. View the slides below or click through to Slideshare to download the presentation.

Monday, June 20, 2011
June 16

Meg Pickard‘s afternoon session at MagNet was “Building a Business Case for Blogs”. Below are my tweets from the session.

Don’t let mistakes online tarnish your existing brand value.

Blogs are excellent to reinforce authenticity and transparency.

Blogs can: Build engagement and get people emotionally invested in what you’re doing.

Blogs are really good at putting a personal face on your organization.

@megpickard‘s background is in anthropology. Looks at structures of community and social in media world. Perspective.

The Guardian has a site section where readers can pitch ideas that they want to read.

Blogs are very good at gaining the love of search engines.

Existing, off-the-shelf blog platforms like WordPress are already SEO-optimised. Makes things easy.

Be creative with blogs. @megpickard recommends blogging for cricket matches (they last for days…)

Blog vocab: “above the line” (journalism space), “below the line” (commenting space). Pay attention to both.

Blogs a good place to experiment. The Guardian used Google Translate to put Egypt live-blog into Arabic on the fly (refined later)

Andrew Sparrow: “If journalism is the first draft of history, live-blogging is the first draft of journalism”

Clay Shirky: “The problem isn’t information overload. It’s filter failure.” [Opportunity for editors and magazines.]

news stories answer questions, tie loose ends. Blogs ask questions, unpick things.

Build a blog for your actual audience, not the audience you wish you had.

Zuckerberg: “Communities already exist… think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do.”

With blogs, readers are part of the entire publishing process, not just reading the end result.

If someone comments, they’ll probably come back to comment again. Engagement begets engagement.

Commenters on your blog will add keywords, too. Good for SEO.

Blogging is a long-term engagement and hard work, but builds engagement with readers and matures over time. Not a quick fix.

When you set up blogs/topics, ask: “What are we going to write about when nothing is happening?” You have to have an answer.

Team blogs need to have similar tone, feel from each writer. Shouldn’t feel like disparate voices.

Get creative with blog pay models, beyond per post/word/PV. Compensate for engagement (comments), inbound links, social buzz.

Commissioned blog pieces that go into editors’ picks get paid more.

Measure everything you can. The more information you have, the better picture you can draw for your organization.

There’s no magic formula for blog metrics. Every blog has its own needs/goals.

Don’t just stick with CPM. Consider sponsorships. Guardian music blog: Orange for three months’ sponsorship.

Find the right sponsor that wants your particular audience = higher $ value.

Good Q: What metrics do you make available to sponsors? A: metrics they need for proper picture of what they’re buying.

What to do when blog doesn’t work? @megpickard’s blog post on end of Guardian Local

Give readers notice if you’re shutting something down.

When killing a blog, let the writers wind it down too. Don’t just end things abruptly.

Shocking! “Social media doesn’t need to be sociable” – value in lurking and using social info (eg tripadvisor) without engaging.

Very cool – Guardian Zeitgeist – “what is most interesting on our site at the moment”

Friday, June 17, 2011
At MagNet last week I was honoured to be the official host and introducer for Meg Pickard of the Guardian, who presented two sessions on blogging, both of which I live-tweeted. The first was called “Building Readership for your Blog” and my barely edited tweets from the session are below.

Waiting to introduce @megpickard in her first of two blogging sessions today.

We can’t just do Twitter because we have to do Twitter, says @megpickard. Don’t do things because your rivals are.

Always think about how social helps you extend and amplify your editorial.

Only 1/3 of the Guardian’s web traffic is from the UK. 1/3 from Canada/US, 1/3 from rest of world.

The Guardian has 54 blogs, plus blog networks.

What makes a blog? Timeliness, hosted by an individual, display, plus interactivity – makes it diff from just publishing on web

Narrowly focused blogs can be good for SEO because of higher targeted keyword density, says @megpickard.

Downside of narrowly focused blogs: can be hard to find topics without being repetitive.

Advantage of broad topics on blogs: easy to write, encourages casual discovery and experimentation.

Downside of broad blog themes: hard to explain to readers, content may never find its audience or stride.

Broadly themed blogs can also be more challenging for SEO – less keyword density, less focus.

What kind of blog to avoid? Narrow focus, infrequent posts.

Bloggers don’t have to be famous, they have to be engaged and have personality, ability to be consistent.

At its heart, a blog is a conversation, a way of developing interactions with readers.

Good bloggers need to be engaged + knowledgeable about, interested in, aware of their subject matter. Discussion is key.

Bloggers have to be aware of the wider context of coverage and discussion online and curate/link/highlight as needed.

Andrew Sullivan: Blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics…. it is, in many ways, writing out loud.

Common ingredients of a great blog post: good, SEO-friendly head; illustration/image/video; clear, descriptive blurb…

…good metadata (keywords, location, byline); engaging intro; external and internal links

The longer the blog post, the more you need to break it up with something pretty to look at. (images, etc.)

Short blog posts: <250 words, links, roundups, quotes, at least daily. Little and often.

Make use of services like Delicious that will auto-post links to your blog. Easy updates.

Long blog posts: 500-800+ words. “Think pieces”, perspective/analysis, reflection, live blogs, reports/write-ups.

If you do longer blog posts, make the words count.

Sometimes a blog post is a snack, sometimes a full meal.

More keys to great blog posts: human tone; encourage engagement by appealing for expertise or insight; ask questions; participate

“Don’t light a fire and then walk away” – make sure to participate in comments early.

RT @halifaxmagazine If you bury readers in links, they won’t click any; give them a few good ones.

@megpickard showing as example of magazine using Tumblr as a blogging platform.

Tumblr a good option for teasing the print edition. Less useful for writing longer posts. – in addition to their blog. Tumblr and blogging are different strategies.

Another example – Note: no commenting on Tumblr. You can favourite or reblog.

@megpickard is live-tumbling as a demo to the crowd. – personal collection of stuff. Good example of playing with new/fun tools.

@megpickard started by saying everyone in room would have blog by 5 pm. I think everyone will have a Tumblr.

RT @sftcurls_blog: @kattancock there are some Tumblr themes that allow you to add Disqus for comments.

This is important: “Be of the web, not on the web”

Hoping people will arrive at your site and never leave – not a good web strategy.

Blogs are good for engagement, and advertisers these days want engagement.

@megpickard quotes @jeffjarvis: “Do what you do best and link to the rest”

Audience question on choosing between blogs, twitter, tumblr, etc. @megpickard: why not do them all?

Another great @jeffjarvis quote: “If you can’t imagine anyone linking to what you’re about to write, don’t write it.”

RT @sparksheet By not linking you’re getting in the way of the user’s web experience (invokes @jeffjarvis)

Don’t try to be the last point on people’s web journey. Be the first.

RT @sparksheet When people click your outgoing links, it means they’re trusting you to send them on a journey -@megpickard (great metric!)

Community keywords: interacting, regularly, context

Make engagement better by nurturing conversations you start. Lowers need for moderation.

Commenters are like children – give them positive reinforcement, don’t reward disruptive behaviour.

Very important online: be transparent about affiliations, perspectives or previous coverage of a topic or individual.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
June 14

My big dilemma at MagNet this year was whether to live-tweet or take proper notes. Live-tweeting was requested so I did that, the result being that my notes are… tweets. With that in mind, below is a barely edited transcript of my tweets in Ian Adelman’s session on making a better magazine website, with a focus on design. It was a great session, except that it wasn’t long enough. Next year!

Everyone in @ianadelman‘s session is energetic. I haven’t had my coffee yet. Session about to start.

@ianadelman has recently moved to @nytimes but talk is focused on @newyorkmag, where he spent 5 years.

As you’d expect/hope, nicely designed slides. Theme of talk is “Unbound”. Wants us all to unbind ourselves from roles.

Online, unbinding the magazine brings endless opportunities.

Focus on product experience. (product design + user experience)

@ianadelman plays to the hometown crowd – as a kid, lives on Charles St W.

Most important thing about being a designer – learning how to see things that you see, not what you believe you see.

“Setup is everything.” Analogy of a complicated-looking machine – you can’t just approach it haphazardly.

@ianadelman’s first editorial experience – launching @slate. Classic designs – 15 years ago.

Lesson from @ianadelman: keep a good visual archive of your work for future presentations.

@newyorkmag went from simply a print magazine to multiplatform publishing “thing”.

Homepage isn’t the most important page – article page is. (Can’t show us – it’s a work in progress.)

Use navigation to define web identity of the brand and improve “findability” in UE.

Think of existing and new users’ usage patterns when designing navigation.

Other thoughts for redesigns: SEO, subs/circ, number and usefulness of links in top-of-page area, revenue opportunities

Make navigation an expression of what your brand is about.

Anticipate what people want when designing navigations. Don’t assume.

Job as a designer: negotiating with advertising to make change in ad units for better design.

Redesign a good opportunity to redefine how you think about your web content.

Home page redesign goals: improve organization, better window into site content, lower bounce rate

In digital, watch for patterns instead of fixed collections. Home page: what’s new more important than where it came from.

Great visual of old and new @newyorkmag home pages with overlay of content updated daily/2-3 times a day/hourly

Old design: Home page only showed daily-updated content. New: pushed hourly content to top.

People look to left of webpage when scanning – good place for newest content.

A good homepage finds the right balance of automation and curation.

Striking aspect of @newyorkmag home page: big box and mag promo relatively low down. Makes for better design.

The more links on a home page, the more people will click through. Trick is to avoid making it look overwhelming.

Navigation on @newyorkmag 15% shorter on article pages than home page – more space for content.

Design is highly templated but allows for visual variety, editorial decisions.

Always think about what your user is actually going to come to you for.

@newyorkmag automated all its newsletters – less work, increased click-throughs.

Can we bring @ianadelman back for a day-long design session? Easily going to run out of time here.

Oh, oops. New York magazine owns @newyorkmag but tweets from @nymag.

Referencing @nymag’s The Cut iPad app, which is well worth playing with, for those of you with iPads.

“What do we do well, and how can we do it better?” How @nymag ended up with The Cut iPad app. Stripped-down fashion app.

The Cut’s iPad app from idea to app store in just over 2 months. “Insane.”

Shot of @ianadelman’s design team at @nymag. I count 14. We laugh in envy.

“Question all assumptions early.”

“Get better at seeing what’s there.”

“Stay focused on logical design as long as you can.” Don’t focus on the details/what’s superfluous until you’re ready. Low-fi 1st.

“Require inclusive design.” Everybody has useful input on defining what a product can be. Important for people to have ownership.

Be aware of your product, your capabilities, your contributors, your audience.

@ianadelman comments on similarities between @nymag and @toronto_life home pages. He should be flattered…

Only a small number of site visitors will ever convert to subscribe. Won’t be because they see sub offers all over the place

Look at how you take advantage of experience and action over time to find opportunities to promote subs and newsletters.

Balance “is stuff annoying” with sales potential for design of promos. Efficacy is reduced by piling on offers.

@ianadelman hates current @huffpo design, calls it “hostile”. Thinks they have huge opportunity.

Focus on how someone experiences site over time. Make “stuff” around content change, glimpses here and there.

No one cares that your site has x brand name. Self-publishing bloggers can outperform food magazine sites (& do all the time.)

Designers/web staff should help define UE based on ad buys. Work together for best experience + revenue.

Increasing acceptance of idea that people scroll. Ads above the fold less of an issue.

@nymag’s Vulture blog example of designing around ads. 600×300 in right-hand column.

Aim for bigger, fewer ads. Better UE, better design, good for advertisers.

Vulture page automated. Check out URL – SEO-optimized (entertainment not vulture)

Aim for multiple entry points when designing. Use automation to your advantage.

@nymag uses multiple CMS’s. @ianadelman would not wish it on anyone. Recommends choosing based on importance to you.

CMS considerations: metadata, custom fields, ease of implementation. @nymag – movable type.

Get good at making stuff before you build a business around it. Be careful of leaping into video.

@KMachado notes absence of social media promo on @nymag designs. @ianadelman: seeing random tweet on HP is waste of space.

Article page template where you get most of your views. Most important chance to say what you’re about, promote products.

Note Vulture’s “hot topics” secondary nav. Good place to put fresh, popular topics.

Design website from the perspective of mag design rather than following print’s lead.

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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