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Category: social media

Alternative suggestions for the “power of print” campaign

1 March, 2010 (13:06) | branding, social media, technology | By: Shannon Clark

According to PaidContent a group of five leading print publishers have banded together on a $90M+ campaign called the “power of print” launching with ads in their various publications. PaidContent cites an article by the Wall Street Journal today on the launch of the campaign, an article which is behind the WSJ subscriber-only paywall but in the preview  the first few paragraphs mention that the campaign will include over 1400 print ads scattered across the publications of the five publishers.

This is not how to save print media nor is it the best use of $90 million

Instead the publishers should be rethinking their print publications and using that $90M towards the following.

  • Hiring better writers with more diverse views. I’m a longtime New Yorker subscriber and in the past year I have seen a significant decline in the quality of the writing. Furthermore the lack of diversity of perspectives, especially in the reviews they publish has become really glaring. Even though I have been a subscriber for 20+ years I am thinking about not renewing my subscription when it expires, especially if the current decline in quality continues.
  • Investing in cultivating new advertisers and in adding greater value to current advertisers. For over a decade I have been suggesting that print publications – from monthly magazines to daily newspapers – should have long ago extended their print advertising relationships to the web. Perhaps in the 1990’s and even early in this century many advertisers in print publications did not have related web presences but today it is a rare ad which does not feature a web URL and an even rarer advertiser who does not have a web presence. But even without making every ad a link to the relevant advertiser, print publications have missed out on many great opportunities by not extending ads into the web. Many print publications are bought for the ads as well as the content – in a few cases almost entirely for the ads (see many fashion magazines).
  • Do not retain content sections just because they are traditional. All parts of every publication should be rethought and be up for revision in the light of the changes brought by the web. The New Yorker, for example, should consider editing down the front events pages and remaking them into a highly curated selection of just events, restaurants, art shows and movies which the editors recommend to their readers. Perhaps make the comprehensive listings available as an online extended service (and do not hide this behind a pay wall) but focus the print edition on just what will be lasting, what matters, what are truly don’t miss.
  • Invest in editors. Invest in writers. Invest in photographers. Online there are a seeming infinite number of writers and other content creators, print publications should invest in and cultivate great writing. Don’t publish filler content or throwaway articles, invest instead in great editing that makes content tighter. Invest in great photography that tells a story and captures a look or a moment.
  • Frame the content of the magazine in great design but do not over do it. Wired magazine has, at times, had great articles but the ever present “design” of the magazine often hides the value of the content and makes it harder to read. Furthermore by having a different design for many articles the overall costs go up for little added value to the reader – in fact by having to figure out how to read each article anew the value to most readers goes down.

Most importantly, however, advertising the “power of print” via only ads in other print publications is preaching to a currently shrinking population. Instead the publishers should be looking to ways to engage with the rest of the media landscape – increasingly that means digital – find a value-adding role for each print publication within that ecosystem.

And do not confuse the form with the mission of the publication.

Great publications have a mission which can and should extend well beyond a single physical form. The physical editions however frequent should be a reminder of that mission and serve to further it, but shouldn’t be the only part. The editors and writers and other creative parts of the publication alongside the advertising and commercial relationships should all act together towards a common goal. For a magazine such as Vogue it might be a celebration of fashion, for the New Yorker it might be a celebration of the diversity of New York City (and the inhabitants of that city – culture, politics, business, fashion and more).

Print publications today have many audiences – subscribers, newsstand buyers, readers of shared copies found in doctor’s waiting rooms. But they also are part of some community – whether fashion or a city or an industry. But very rapidly those communities around the globe are finding new means of communicating and magazines which are stuck in the past will and are being left behind.

Why 2010 is a great year for print

30 December, 2009 (19:02) | branding, social media | By: Shannon Clark


2010 is a great year for print.

I have been thinking about print in the age of the web for a long time, earlier this year I thought about (and still may) starting a print publication of my own, tbnl magazine, but three items from the past week really struck me as to why I think 2010 could, contrary to most opinions, be a great year for print.

Item 1: McSweeney’s Panorama.

Item 2: a gift subscription to the amazing cookbook series from The Canal House

Item 3: podcasts from the best new magazine of the decade, Monocle.

Item 4 (bonus): a whole bunch of innovative print examples especially from the comics industry but also from other places  in the past few months – DC Comic’s Wednesday Comics series in broadsheet newsprint among others as is Andrew Sullivan’s recent self-published book of photos from his reader’s windows.

Item 1: McSweeney’s Panorama

Panorama is a huge experiment in what can still be done in the broadsheet, newspaper format. All told it is 320 pages of newsprint (w/two magazine inserts) as well bonus posters and other materials. Approximately 350,000 words, 218 contributors, 10 sections, 120 broadsheet pages, 22 comics, 3 posters went into the publication.

In a very fascinating insert to the publication, McSweeney’s details the overall costs for Panorama. They had a print run of 20,000 copies at a per unit printing cost of $5.57. With just one part-time ad sales person (first time McSweeney’s has taken ads) they sold $61,000 worth of advertising from a combination of local & national advertisers. Their unit costs factoring in editorial & art expenses as well as printing costs were $7.98/unit.

Their payments to contributors was about $40,000.

All told they published Panorama with a total direct capital of about $235,000, most of which they expected to recoup on the first day of selling Panorama (~1500 copies sold at $5/copy, 18,500+ at ~$16/copy)  when they expect to net about $300,000. Along with the $61,000 in ad sales that means a rough expectation of around $170,000 in profits. This is likely a bit high as the few 1000 copies sold in retailers would have some margin for those retailers.

I have not yet finished my copy of Panorama – indeed so far I have just skimmed it, read a few articles and took in the overall design and layout. There are many sections I think are exceptional and many which I think fall a bit short – the magazine background of many of the contributors shows with many pages and sections reading more like an enlarged magazine than a newspaper (specifically they rarely if ever have multiple stories on the same page – a design model common in newspapers but uncommon in magazines)

That said the overall process which McSweeney’s demonstrated with Panorama shows that there are still the mechanical and structural elements capable of publishing an amazing example of newsprint publication (as well as supplemental magazines) including much of the distribution all at costs which could be manageable for a small team to publish on a regular basis – likely with a higher print run than 20,000 copies, fewer pages, fewer special inserts and thus a far lower per unit printing costs (and also editorial costs).

In short McSweeney’s is demonstrating that there could be a future for newsprint if groups of creative people come together to explore it. A future which would probably be far more niche than today’s dailies but less niche than small local neighborhood weekly papers. The Onion is, perhaps, an example of what this future could look like – a niche paper with a mix of national and very local content and so strong of an advertising base that they give the paper away for free.

Item 2: The Canal House cookbook

My sister and brother-in-law (well technically they aren’t married but have been living together for a very long time and just days ago had my niece) gave me a subscription to The Canal House cookbook as a holiday present this year. Eventually the website may be a great resource for foodies, but for the moment the focus is the self-published cookbooks with plans for 3 cookbooks a year.

The books are $19.95 each or you can buy (or gift) a subscription for three issues for $49.95.

The physical design of the books is beautiful, one of the two woman behind The Canal House is a world renowned food photographer and co-founder of Saveur Magazine. Prior to The Canal House her photography had been a part of many other successful cookbooks.

They could have probably sold a traditional cookbook to a traditional publisher. Instead they have decided to self-publish.

So why do I think The Canal House illustrates the future of print?

To start, consider the economics. Every 1000 subscribers they sign up for the three book series represents $50,000 in revenue.

What about the costs?

They print each cookbook in China, so are likely not using a print on demand service, thus they do have to balance inventory and print runs, but here are some rough estimates:

– per book printing costs: $5-7/book ? (I suspect this may actually be on the high side though their book is full color)

– shipping costs $5-10/subscription (my subscription included the first two books shipped in one package for a cost of $3.16 + the shipping envelope)

Say that the total (rough) costs for a three-book subscription are $30 for printing, shipping & packaging. That means $20/subscription profit or $20,000 per 1000 subscribers.

Very few authors get advances which are more than $100,000, in fact very few get advances which are more than $50,000. The Canal House has two co-founders so any advance would have to have been split between them.

Doing it all by themselves if they sell 10,000 subscriptions they will, roughly, net $200,000 in profit or $100,000 per co-founder.

If they sell more than 10,000 (or if my cost estimates are high) they will make far more.

And very likely, given how great the first two cookbooks are, they will see many subscribers renewing for future subscriptions. So instead of negotiating a new book deal each year (very few publishers would have expected to get three books from a set of authors in a given year) they are building a business which will be sustainable for years to come.

I think there are likely dozens (perhaps 100’s) of other food authors as well as active food blogs/communities who could adopt a similar, print driven revenue model. Take the best articles, the best recipes from a given period of time and print them along side of tested recipes and beautiful photography and sell them. Ideally mostly via a subscription model which allows you to very closely estimate the print numbers you need in advance of actual printing (allowing you to negotiate with the printer and take advantage of volume discounts, per unit printing costs go down very quickly with volume).

My sister’s boyfriend, Peter Meehan recently published a major cookbook (Momofuku w/David Chang). They went the more traditional route with a major publisher, a large advance and a well supported and well attended press tour. Their hard work has been rewarded with a cookbook that cracked the top 100 on Amazon (as high as #32) and which will likely sell out the initial print run of at least 50,000 books (for a $40 book – yes that’s $2M at full retail pricing).

However they are by far the exception – a cookbook by a non-TV chef rarely sees numbers anything like what they are seeing.

Most cookbook authors, like the vast majority of authors of any genre, make fairly little from their writing.

Thus in 2010 I would suggest that any food writer thinking about making a cookbook consider strongly the DIY route enhanced by leveraging the web & social media to generate pre-sales (and/or adopt a subscription model such as The Canal House has) and use that to lower production costs while retaining far more revenue than traditionally received under a usual publisher’s contract.

Of course to do this well requires that you have access to great photographers, editors, writer and recipe editors/testers. Many websites, such as the fantastic Serious Eats would seem well positioned to do just that.

Item 3: The Monocle

I have been a huge fan of The Monocle since I discovered it a bit over a year ago. In a year which has seen many magazines close and print publications around the globe scale back their ambitions and international coverage, Monocle consistently creates a compelling if also hard to summarize global mix of coverage with original reporting from across the globe. The mix of a strong focus on design, combined with global coverage of the world including interviews with world leaders, extensive photojournalism and stories which cover the globe in depth and with richness and depth makes Monocle a long, but very compelling read.

It is also a great argument for the power and value of great design and the print format to tell a compelling story all while also demonstrating a very 21st century business model.

The components of the Monocle business model which, I think, are worth noting as components of the future of print in 2010 and beyond are:

  1. A high value (and equally high priced) monthly print magazine. Monocle has a $12 list price in the US and subscriptions in the US are actually a bit more costly (75 pounds sterling) than buying the magazine at retail – depending on the variations of exchange rates
  2. By focusing on a global audience but with a definite luxury and high design focus Monocle attracts global, luxury advertisers whose advertising budgets are less impacted by economic shifts. Additionally these advertisers seek specific audiences over mass reach.
  3. Monocle has a retail component – with actual retail stores in London and LA as well as an international online store. In the store they sell design collaborations with select companies from across the globe as well as limited edition books and prints. These range from postcards to dining room tables to travel bags. Over the summer they had a pop-up store along the Mediterranean coast as well.
  4. A growing range of audio and video podcasts. Supplementing and enhancing the magazine the Monocle’s online audio and video content is of an exceptionally high quality. Their video series are often sponsored by premier sponsors via tasteful (and short) embedded ads while the regular audio series serve primarily to be an audio discussion of the content of the current and future magazine issues.
  5. Regular special reports and inserts into most of the issues of the print magazine. These special reports on Travel, Aviation and many other topics are both great original content and highly targeted publications which attract specific advertisers who might otherwise not advertise in the regular issues of Monocle.

Monocle may not be an easily duplicated model. It is certainly a high cost, high value publication with editors and reporters across the globe and very likely a very high travel and expenses budget along with very high production value. But at a time when many magazines claim hardship and are closing Monocle stands as a reminder that it is still very possible to build a great (and by all appearances successful) magazine even in the 21st century.

Item 4: Examples of innovative print experiments

Though I have always been a geek and was aware of trends in comics growing up it wasn’t until earlier this year that I started to semi-seriously collect comics. What drew me to comics in 2009 was a combination of new media (podcasts/video podcasts such as iFanboy and Major Spoilers) and an interest in looking at how the comics industry has been responding to the challenges of the 21st century.

What I have found in 2009 in looking at the comics industry is a range of lessons which offer, I think, much to be hopeful about the future of Print in the 21st century and especially in 2010. Yes there are fewer big hit comics (though more than you might expect – with some breakout graphic novels especially manga titles making bestseller lists this year as well as many smaller titles selling out and getting reprinted multiple times).

But beyond questions of volume of sales what I am most encouraged by in observing the comics industry is the range of innovations I see there – with companies large and small exploring different mediums, form factors and many different publishing schedules and business models. The physical products come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, at a range of periods (from “one-shots” to bi-weeklies to monthlies to bi-monthlies, quarterlies etc). In addition to the comics sold in any comics store the industry also has branches selling – very successfully – comics in large bookstores (graphic novels and especially manga) as well as at school book sales around the country (Scholastic sells millions of comics books in such book sales every year – the colored editions of Boned for example sell exceptionally well).

And while there are exceptions, for the most part the comics industry creates physical print products which explore the limits of print. This summer, in a prequel of sorts to what McSweeney’s has done with Panorama, DC published a 12 issue weekly series, Wednesday Comics. Each issue was printed on large format newsprint and told 15 different serialized stories each told one large format page per week. Overall it was a celebration of the history of comics – a return to a classic format which predates the comicbook as we know it today.

A few years ago there was a book published which reprinted the Little Nemo comics from the early part of the 20th century in their original, large broadsheet format. Earlier this year the second volume of those Little Nemo reprints was published, Little Nemo in Slumberland: Many More Splendid Sundays, Volume 2 which is also gorgeous.

As 2009 ends there are many other examples of innovation in print happening. One in particular which I have enjoyed observing the process around is a photo book which blogger Andrew Sullivan published this year featuring a collection of photos from his reader’s windows. To launch the book he put out a call to his readers to pre-commit to ordering the book, in turn this allowed him to place an initial print order of 3000 books sold to those who had pre-committed at the lower price allowed by printing so many copies at once. That print run having sold out, the current books are available as print-on-demand from Blurb for a higher per book price.

A last example of where innovation is happening in print – is in the art print business – 20×200 is an innovative gallery in NYC and website which makes art prints available at prices starting at $20 (200 small format prints of each work are typically made available at a $20 price point). When 20×200 launched they would typically have 200 prints of a work at $20 and 2 prints of the work at $2000. In the past year they have expanded the range of price points and print sizes and now for a given work they may have as many as 4 or 5 print sizes, always in limited quantities. Some works could net over $75,000 or more if all of the prints sell out – as they frequently do.

What makes 20×200 work as with many of the examples I have listed is the curation behind each of these projects. As I noted in 2008 and still believe today the future of media is curation.


Building your brand by telling stories

31 August, 2009 (17:20) | branding, food, social media | By: Shannon Clark

cc licensed photo by Richard Soderberg

cc-licensed photo by Robert Soderberg
photo by Ewan Spence

photo by Ewan Spence

I am spending the afternoon at my friend Ross Dawson’s Future of Influence Summit here in San Francisco (it is also running simultanously in Sydney Australia) I will have much more to write about this topic in future posts, but as I walked here this morning I was thinking a great deal about how brands are built today.

Telling great stories is the best way to build great brands

Here in San Franciso in the past year the local food scene has seen dozens of innovative, small scale food related businesses being created. Many of them are broadly speaking food carts, others are chefs who only cook a few nights a week, or other new forms of food and craft driven businesses. At the same time dozens of more traditional food businesses have opened in San Francisco. However I have observed that there are some common traits to the new businesses which are emerging with strong brands compared to those which have only a minimal if any brand recognition.

A great example here in San Francisco, though far from the only one,  is 4505 Meats, which is a local food business started by aclaimed chef Ryan Farr. He is building a fantastic business making a range of locally sourced meat products – Pork Chicarronnes which are available for sale in cafes and specilized markets throughout San Francisco and he is growing in acclaim for his handmade sausages, hot dogs and when he makes them hamburgers. He sells these products directly at the Thursday Ferry Bulding Farmers Market as well as select food festivals around town, but he is also increasingly a supplier of choice for many other small scale, innovative local food businesses.

In the process he is building a great, local brand, one which I suspect will only continue to grow in value in the years to come.

And his blog as well as the design choices he makes, including selling limited edition lithograph prints, all tell his story – that of food products made from very carefully sourced local providers made with care, old faashioned skill and a great sense of taste and quality control. He charges fair prices boh directly to customers at the markets and clearly to the many local businesses who are gladly doing business with him. As a result his business is growing and his brand is growing as well.

Take a look at how he is using twitter – follow him at @chicharrones – he’s using it to promote his events & specials exceptionally well.

And here in the Bay Area he is far from unique, there are some dozen or more similar, small scale, innovative food related businesses who are using Twitter as in many cases their primary form of marketing and advertising to promote their appearances, daily specials and over time to build up their brands – often in no small part by helping to promote each other’s businesses.

A few notable examples – but look at any of their Tweet streams for more are:

@adobohobo – a local food cart that makes Adobo Chicken (and occasionally other dishes), tasty, fairly priced street food.

@eatrealfest – a local, first time Street Food Festival which drew over 60,000 people to Oakland for three days of street food and farmers markets. They promoted the event throughout the Bay Area via posters and postcards but also benefited extensively from the social media usage (especially Twitter) of so many of the businesses who were selling at the festival, many of whom sold 1000’s of dishes in a single day.

@cremebrulecart – a local chef who makes a range of flavors of creme brule which he sells in parks and at events throughout the Bay Area, I’ve yet to see him fail to completely sell out at an appearance, his product is very tasty and fairly priced and not surprisingly quite popular. In addition to using his growing Twitter followers to announce where he will be, he is also using Twitter to get people to come out to help keep a favorite local park clean through volunteer efforts.

@missionstfood – a local Bay Area business which started as a food cart, then moved to their current format where they take over a local Chinese restuarant in the Mission area of San Francisco on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Each evening a different guest chef creates the menu, much of the proceeds of the evening go to a different charity (chosen by that evening’s guest chef). They use Twitter to promote the menu and over the course of the evening to inform people about what they have sold out of at the moment. They draw over 200 people most evenings, many of whom gladly wait over 1 1/2 hours for a table and they almost never have an empty chair from the moment they open until just before they close for the evening (usually having sold every dish they were ready to make). Just a few weeks ago they expanded further to now have a regular daily business, Mission Burger, selling beef & vegetarian hamburgers and occasional specials from within a local Mission market.

All of these small businesses along with dozens of others are using emerging media, such as twitter, as a core part of how they tell the story of their brand, in many ways using these tools to help them build and define a brand as it emerges in partnership with customers. While many of the businesses I have linked to have active online blogs and websites and many are increasingly attracting the attention of the media both online and offline, they are also using tools such as twitter to help them tell their own stories.

Revisiting the Past – Lessons for Social Media – Boy Scouts and Social Games

27 August, 2009 (16:41) | social media | By: Shannon Clark

For SXSWi 2010 I have proposed a talk I have long wanted to give on Revisiting the Past – Lessons for Social Media. This is the first in a series of posts where I will cover portions of what I would cover in that talk, please add your questions and experiences in the comments here. Also, if you think this would be a good talk for SXSWi please go to the Panel Picker and vote for my panel.

So what can the Boy Scouts teach us about Social Games?

A bit of history first – the Boy Scouts were founded in 1907-08 in England by General Robert Baden-Powell (most of my notes here are extracted from the great history of scouting published by Troop 97 on their website) after he noticed boys using his book written for military scouts, he then rewrote his book and started what has become one of the largest global organizations on the planet, with scouting groups in 185 different countries (and in many countries multiple different related groups).  Baden-Powell started Girl Guides around the same time, in the US what grew to become Girl Scouts. Scouting differs slightly from country to country (considerably in many countries), the rest of my discussion will focus mostly on the Boy Scouts of America (and since in many ways the Girl Scouts follow similar patterns lessons from them as well).

I followed my father as a boy scout for many years as a child, starting a cub scout when I was younger, then as a Webelo and finally as a Boy Scout, acheiving all but the final rank of Eagle Scout (which I’m sure was/is a disapointment to my father who was an Eagle Scout and considers it a major achievement of his youth).

As an Atheist I have serious issues with the Boy Scouts historically and currently, the current Boy Scouts of America is heaibly dominated by the Mormon Church whose troops make up some one fifth of BSA membership and their highly conservative influence runs deeply in the structures of the current Boy Scouts.

All that aside, this is a look back at the past of Boy Scouts and at the structures which were in place from nearly the very beginning and what lessons they have for social games of today.

Imagine the following – a group gathers, at first everyone is the same, low rank, following a series of detailed instructions many involving large scale group activities they start to rise in rank. With each rise in rank they recieve tangible rewards and group acclaim. But they are not isolated, from time to time they encounter other groups who have been following the same sets of instructions and in those cases their ranks are respected across groups. Individual activies and events evolve to have special rewards unique to those groups, as well special organizations form within the framework of the larger group which require invitation to join. Over time the achievements evolve adding new achievements as the times change…

That is not a description of the current Social Game, rather it is a description of the earliest days of scouting (and in most respects still is true to this day). What the global scouting movement captured, which is being replicated many times over by social games and social applications across the web, is the power of many small achievements and rewards which can be displayed to others who are participating all in the context of a larger, highly social set of activities, activities which bridge a tight, close social network with a far larger shared social context.

While it may seem that the evoluation of badges, achievements and even the applicaiton of levels is somewhat new in the past few years of online social applications and games it has its origins nearly a century ago with the early days of Scouting. In turn Scouting was adapting lessons about the power of medals and badges to motivate which had been learned within military organizations for many decades dating back at least to Napoleon.

It is important to look at what is working today within social applcations, to learn what makes Mafia Wars and other similar games so successful and engaging but it is useful and important to look beyond just the short term, immediate examples from other online activities and to look further back at pre-Internet examples of similar social activities and movements.

What Scouting shows is that there is a great deal of power and engagement from a large scale standard for achievement coupled with a mostly local and tight knit social group. The Global framework provides standards and contexts as well as rewards in the form of shared respect, respect which can in the case of achieving Eagle Scout status extend long into the future. The large gatherings and the badges and patches which arose from them while not the same as Merit Badges offered another form of incentives and engagement. They also formed the opportunities for cross troop groups to form.

Online games such as FourSquare are starting to learn some of these lessons, they emphasize your circle of friends over the larger game context of a given city, while having achievements (literally badges in this case) which are tied to in most cases a given city). Over time I would guess they will evolve further shared social achievements and rewards.

In future posts I will look at other very early examples of social activities which offer lessons for the social media of today. I will also trace some of the early history of the Internet and the evolution of those early online activities and applications in to the modern, post-Web 2.0 world of today.

Please leave your comments and feedback here!