Thursday, March 7, 2013

Publishers, desperate to find solutions, prove easy marks

Caution: this is a rant. Proceed at your own risk.

For maybe a minute or two I got really excited about a story tweeted by about the "partnership" between Microsoft and Stonewash which ultimately led off my own Morning Brief. As I rushed to get the details I wrote a headline that read "Microsoft gets serious about attracting publishers" – or something along those lines. But any promotion that makes you rush to a decision (in this case publishers get a couple of weeks to apply) and for a limited time (one year) is not a major initiative.

So why is it that Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are not rushing to offer publishers free services? After all, wouldn't it be of benefit to them to have their mobile platforms be the standard platform for future digital publishing?

Sure, but the big tech companies know us all too well. We're easy marks. Push overs for the latest gimmick, easy to sell, and in endless supply.

Most publishers I talk to all say they want to be on as many devices as they can possibly port their print publications to. Everyone wants an iPad app, then an Android app. Oops, better be on the Kindle, and what about Windows? I swear, if Donald Trump launched a tablet publishers would be rushing to build for "The Donald".

I spoke to a company yesterday that is offering a service that is supposed to help print readers get more information about products that appear in ads in the magazine – maybe you saw the story in a major ad trade magazine. My big question to the vendor was "who ends up buying this?" though I already knew the answer. The publisher buys the service. Naturally, we're the ones that always say "yes".

Readers do not like Flash flipbooks studies show, but one vendor recently announced that they had hit the 10 million mark and The Next Web was there to mindlessly plug the milestone. Jeez, big deal, if you can't sell a publisher, who can you sell?

Readers. Well, those are hard sells. They are tight with their money and actually think about things before they buy. They read websites, and newspapers, and yes, magazines, before making a buying decision (except when at Walmart). But publishers? Just come on it and tell me what you have to offer.

I get angry, does it show? Why is it that we get treated this way, and why are we such easy marks? Is it fear? Ignorance?

One of the first things I noticed about the magazine business when I migrated over from newspapers was how publishers were less open about things that actually were very much public – like rate cards. In the newspaper business, at least in the old days, when I entered a new market the first thing I did was say hello to my counterpart at the competition, maybe even invite him or her out for a drink. We'd exchange rate cards and audits because we both knew that if we refused that it would be easy enough to get - simply call a rep and pretend to be an advertising prospect.

But in the magazine world most titles make you fill out a form on the website in order to get a media kit – they promise that a rep will call and only then will you receive your media kit. The only people this stops, of course, are prospective advertisers. Do you think I won't go through the motions to get that kit? Damn right I will.

We publishers pretend to talk to each other about things but really it is a show. Attend any industry event given by the MPA or ABM and listen to the publishers: you would think that many of these attendees are there to celebrate another record year. Only occasionally does someone stand up and tell it like it is.

I remember one event where a publishing executive stood up and started by saying he'd just been fired, that morning. What followed was the first bits of honesty I'd heard at an industry event in a long time. It took being thrown out of the business to finally get the guy to open up.

We need, as an industry, to start being honest about things and start talking. We've tried before.

A few years back Folio: launched a Ning site for publishing professionals - I thought it was a brilliant idea and signed up immediately – hundreds of others did, as well. I used to check out the site to see who had joined and Folio: would post the pictures of publishing pros that had just signed up on the home page, right at the top.

That Ning site got stale pretty quickly, and the same pictures started getting stuck in place on the home page. There were few conversations that took place there and finally Folio: announced that it would shutter it. The excuse was that boards on LinkedIn and other places had made the need for such a site redundant.

Nonsense. I'm a member of many of those media communities on LinkedIn and I find them rarely informative. Many were started by publications or organizations more interested in promoting their own brands, and that's OK, that's marketing and am all for it. But the conversations are dominated not by media pros but by vendors selling their wares. Especially flipbooks and replica editions.

Yep,  another replica edition
Apple launched iBooks Author because they wanted interactive books to be the norm on their platform, let Amazon have all the ePub books, they wanted the cool stuff. Apple needed to counteract Amazon's commercials that said reading on the iPad was not as good an experience as on a Kindle, you remember those beach ads where the guys can't read anything on his iPad, but the girl had no trouble on her Kindle. iBooks Author is not an iOS book publishing system, it is for the iPad only. Apple doesn't have a book problem on the iPhone so didn't need to do anything.

And Apple doesn't have a magazine problem, either. The Newsstand has been flooded with magazine titles, with a dozen or more released every single day. Most are terrible: replica editions that come from not from publishers committed to developing digital editions, but from vendors who sold the publishers on a cheap and easy way to get into the Newsstand.

Universal Magazine Pty, an Australian publisher released nine of these just in the past week or so. They are using MagazineCloner and the apps are impossible to read replicas that one day will have to be replaced once the company either gets serious about digital publisher... or sells off their titles. Sorry, that's the way it is. You'll hear it here, but never at an industry event, or on a LinkedIn board.

If we as an industry want to stop being a victim and start taking control we need to start talking and stop buying. We need to respect our titles, our employees and our readers and advertisers, and start being a bit skeptical of the latest gimmick that will save our businesses. You want to make profit in the magazine business? Start worrying about the revenue coming in, and start making expense cuts with those outside the office, not inside it.


Zubcho said...

Ha Microsoft want a share of the publishers pie. Good luck Microsoft. Always last

Anonymous said...

No problem with companies trying to sell me, the problem I have is that they really are not offering me anything I couldn't do myself if I just adopted the new techniques of our industry.

Making an app, for some, is seen as outside their area of expertise. But my God what is "our area of expertise" today? Shouldn't it be apps, and everything else digital?