Moving To The Digital World
While some publishers are achieving success with their digital properties, there are many publishers who are simply not giving their digital assets the best chance to succeed. The U.S. magazine market as we know it will continue to be in flux into the foreseeable future. Circulation, production and distribution costs continue to rise and print advertising budgets are at best staying flat with most major publishers showing declines through the first 4 months of 2008.
The pie is no longer growing and your slice of ad revenues will continue to diminish.
A surprising fact is that many publishers are not looking at their digital operations from a "long-term perspective" and are thinking about a "right now" strategy.
I am not sure if I have ever heard of a magazine launch that achieved profitability in less than five years, so why do so many publishers expect such a fast return via their web properties? Developing a robust and profitable site is a process that takes time, testing and many mistakes. It is not unlike the evolutionary process of launching a magazine.
When you start a magazine, it costs tens of millions of dollars. While you may not need to spend that kind of money to launch a digital strategy, it is time to dedicate the necessary resources to make your online activities a measurable success. The initial benchmark should be a one-to-one ratio of paid circulation to unique visitors. Sounds simple, but shockingly most magazines are achieving only 1/3 of their paid circulation base.
The first step to succeeding with your digital operation is to truly treat it as a separate business and dedicate the right staff and resources to give it a chance for success. If you try and use your print personnel to launch and run your digital assets, your success will be modest at best. Content is written differently, technology options change weekly, ad sales inventory moves faster and traffic is built via partnerships.
It is not so much that the business is holistically different than print, the problem lies in media executives not approaching it with these understandings. You are entering the software business, which requires constant evolution and velocity by rotating applications with a focus on constantly bringing value to your readers.
Step two is to develop a "thoughtful" digital strategy that will marry technology with your core value proposition and ultimately mature into a valued and profitable business. Think before transitioning your business online and make certain that your site's intent is aligned with your economic engine.
Additionally, while your brand equity and years of content present value and should be leveraged, this is not enough. If you do not create velocity by identifying and testing applications you will have modest growth among consumers and advertisers. Accept the fact that if you do not take the time to build an appropriate strategy that leverages your brand and the web you are severely handicapping your chance for long-term success.
The future is here. Those that will succeed are the ones that accept the reality, step back and develop a long-term digital publishing strategy today.