How Print Can Add Value Online

There is a right time and place for everything, and the time to read content in long form should only exist inside the glossy walls of heavily stocked covers. Consumers pick up a magazine because they have the time to slow down, which is why time spent is an endorsed badge of reader commitment in print. But consumers go online to speed things up. So time spent on your magazine's Web site is not nearly the lay-up this metric makes in print.

Feature articles thrive in a print environment; they don't translate well online. If online users wanted to engage with full-length, feature-sized articles, they would read a magazine. Instead, they come to Web sites with the intention to spend as little time as possible to get what they came for. Content offered online needs to fit inside these shorter attention spans.

I am not sure traditional publishers have come to terms with this factor. So they keep pushing their core competency from one platform onto another with the hopes that time spent with the consumer will accrue. "Mr. Magazine," Samir Husni, mirrors these concerns in an article written by Mark Glaser. Husni, the expert in magazine publishing, says he "believes one of the biggest mistakes being made in the magazine industry is shoveling print content onto the Web." Husni further notes, "an editor of Newsweek was telling his students that 500 words is the max that people are willing to read on the Internet. He said if there are eight pages [of a story] on the Internet, 80% of readers don't even read page 2."

So what if your goal for your Web site was to minimize time spent, not increase it? What would you do differently? How would you go about building equity in your brand online at the same time you are trying to diminish time spent?

Remember a magazine titled Yahoo! Internet Life? Publishing powerhouse Ziff-Davis launched it to help readers find stuff on the Internet. It was a search engine without the engine running. It ran out of gas in July of 2002, just as online search engines began their rapid ascension to serving the very purpose this Ziff publishing venture was meant to -- guide consumers to their desired destinations on the Web.

Back then, the Web was smaller and publishers of Web sites knew far less about how to manipulate search results. Their primary focus was their relationship with their newfound users. But as search became a more dominant faucet for audience attention, the primary concern of online publishers shifted from the user relationship to the relationship their content had with a search query.

Over time, this shift has polluted search results with an air of manipulation. The reasons why sites show up within organic search results don't feel as organic as they used to. That's where print magazine brands can step in and really add value online -- Ziff Davis had it right.

Print brands have greater credibility than online-only brands. They just do. It's for a number of reasons, but none simpler than the adage "If it's in print, it must be true." Additionally, magazines are vertical beings. They cater to a specific topic and attempt to own it. Entrepreneur owns the entrepreneur, Vogue owns fashion, and Rolling Stone owns music, for example.

Moving forward, magazines should take a page out of Yahoo! Internet Life and prominently feature a list of Web sites other than their own as credible sources of content relative to their content corner of the world. They should act as a filter of credibility, passing on only those Web sites to their readers that pass the rigorous editorial standards of their own publications. Then these sites should be easily cross-linked on a magazine's Web site. For example, at the end of an online piece editors should always direct readers to chosen sites for more insight on the topic of the article.

The Web is the world's largest highway, and providing credible direction ensures your readers will return, not disappear. What you lose in potential page views and time spent on your site you will gain in reader confidence and trust in your brand.

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