Launched in March, Magazine Exchange hasn't yet lit a fire under its target audience. But Sandbox execs believe this has more to do with a lack of awareness about the product than anything else. Bolstering the company's case is early support from industry giants on both the agency (Carat, OMD and Hill Holliday) and publisher (Forbes, National Geographic) sides of the table, all of whom contributed to the product's evolution.
"Certainly they gave us credibility right from the outset," says Sandbox co-founder and chief executive officer Tim McGuire Jr., a Microsoft veteran. "One of the launch partners told us they felt like they were getting in on the ground floor of an industry initiative."
Magazine Exchange springs from a simple premise: magazine planners are spending too much time dealing with administrative tasks. Although the number of publications has grown exponentially over the years, few new tools have sprung up to help planners manage their day-to-day business. While Magazine Exchange is not the first player to attempt the development of an online print media planning portal - MediaPassage.com tried and went belly up - it's the first to attempt to do so since some of those high-profile failures.
For agencies, Magazine Exchange is designed to replace outdated spreadsheets, which McGuire describes as "stupid. They don't know a media plan from a fantasy football roster." Magazine Exchange software organizes all relevant information and recalculates dollar amounts as, say, rates are tweaked. It is designed to accommodate four stages of the magazine buying process (pre-planning, negotiations, plan creation and plan stewardship). Information is stored in a single database, which can be accessed by as many users as the agency desires. The software is priced at $480 per user per year, though Sandbox is offering the expected volume discounts.
Of course, this service wouldn't be worth a whole lot without publisher participation. For publishers, Magazine Exchange provides a direct link to their agency peers. Via the Internet, they can enter the usual information found in a media kit (closing dates, rates, etc.). Premium users can also enter four-pronged "news brief" with information about the magazine's audience, editorial, circulation and special opportunities. The premium 12-month subscription costs $5,000, though publishers can provide some basic data for free (around 100 have already done so). "This will help us get the service off the ground and make [Magazine Exchange] useful to planners right away," McGuire explains.
The benefits for both parties seem readily apparent. Agencies can devote less time to administrative tasks and more to client interaction, while publishers can spare themselves the expense of advertising in media trade publications and/or constant messengering of media kits across the globe. "Agencies and publishers are under so much more pressure than they used to be," McGuire explains. "For agencies, without tools to help them be more productive, the quality of the work they do is inevitably going to slip. And do you have any idea how much money publishers are spending marketing themselves to agencies?"
He adds that Sandbox's relative newness as a company serves to benefit early adopters of Magazine Exchange. "Being new and small, we can be responsive," he notes. Translated: the company is willing to tweak the software to accommodate specific requests from clients.
Carat vice president, director of print Robin Steinberg, for one, is enthusiastic about Magazine Exchange. "[Magazine planners] spend so much time working with numbers," she says. "So far, this system seems to cut down on that. It's freed us up to do more creative and impactful things with our time." Her one minor concern is potential publisher response. "I'm hoping they jump on board. If we do this as an industry, it's going to make everybody's life easier."
McGuire's best case scenario for the immediate future is "landing a few big agency accounts each quarter, while the publishers roll in." For now, though, he and his partners are focusing their attention on raising awareness of Magazine Exchange. When asked whether the software might be adapted to accommodate other mediums, he is noncommittal. "Each medium is planned and bought a little different - cable TV, for example, is done almost exactly the opposite way as magazines. We've talked about possibly extending it to cover newspapers, but that's a project for down the road."