What Print Publishers Can't See

If eyes are the windows into our souls, I need mine washed. Getting older certainly has something to do with this residue, but I am not that old. And yet, at the end of a busy workday, I struggle reading a menu -- even with my glasses on.

Brightly lit screens of various sizes drain our eyes all day and well into the evening. Is it possible our eyes were stronger before these fluorescent screens became part of our daily work regime?

As reported in David Verklin's book ("Watch This, Listen Up, Click Here"), most magazine reading takes place during the work week. But after reading and sending emails all day, our collective eyes are pooped. And is it me or have the font sizes in magazines been reduced over the years? Is it possible tired eyes, combined with the inability to dynamically adjust the font size, are negatively affecting the popularity of magazine-reading?

Whether you agree with this theory or not, there is no denying magazines are in real danger. Obtaining new circulation from a youthful pool of contestants with no interest in playing the print game, while maintaining the attention of an audience whose eyes may be aging faster then their bodies, seems like an insurmountable task, does it not?

There are just so many rational reasons piling up why print advertising has a bigger battle on its hands then many in the fight care to recognize. Those in the industry will tell you there will always be a need for print advertising. But never has there been a more pressing need for print-centric publishers to evolve beyond their offerings on paper.

To do so, they have to stop looking at those who still read their magazines as readers, and treat them more like customers cruising through their brand's aisle. Then they need to figure out what they can put on the shelf so this pool of prospects doesn't leave their franchise even if they grow tired of reading their magazine.

One answer is a "killer Web application." I am not talking about providing their content in the form of a widget or allowing readers to post comments to stories they read online. It's bigger then that. Jamy Nigri, a reader of this and I am sure many trade outlets, once suggested to me that "functionality" will unseat content as king online. I think he is right.



Does your Web site offer a compelling application that naturally extends your brand's core values, while providing a functionality that makes your readers' lives easier? I suspect for many print publishers the answer is no, which is why figuring out what application to invest in and develop should be their primary goal in 2008.

For example, features (video or written words) on celebrities may not be enough; but ways to communicate directly with your favorite stars could be. Reading how to redo your kitchen is OK, but the ability to search for the most reliable contractor in your zip code along with pricing comparisons and customer reviews is a killer functionality that a magazine serving the home category should develop. Magazine-based travel sites offer nice reviews and advice, but how nice would it be to go to and book your second honeymoon without ever leaving the site. CNNMoney, Fast Company and Businessweek have great sites that deliver business news and analysis very well. But if one of those companies had created a professional networking application like Linkedin, their place in line for ad dollars and in the lives of their audience of professionals would be greatly secured. Had (or for that matter) developed an application like before the folks at Pandora had, their future would be solid gold.

Even if a small percentage of your online visitors make use of this "killer application," it will still result in a steady supply of monetizable page views, and your brand will sustain its place in the lives of your core and most loyal readers. Publishers who fail to develop this "killer application" will watch their audience continue to disappear, right before their eyes.

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