Apple has announced its new subscription model and print magazine publishers are all upset. We’re hearing for mobile many of the same false arguments which they made a decade ago about the web. Here I refute a few of the most common arguments.
1. We need to “own the customer”
You've never owned the customer. Our relationship consisted of my sending a check, then you starting to send me “renew now” notices about 3 months in. Let’s face it, if you had built a deep bond with the customer, you wouldn’t have to use those annoying insert cards that fall out of your magazine.
No, what you mean when you say you want to “own the customer” is that you want to monetize my contact information by selling mailing lists, cross-selling me other products and more. I really didn’t want you to do that in the past and I’ll be happy if you can’t do that in the new model.
2. Pass-along readership
The magazine industry touts that for every copy printed, five to seven people read it. Really?
Like your circulation figures, I think you’ve simply made that up.
I can see consumer magazines getting a modest pass-along readership in the same household, but when was the last time you physically shared a magazine with someone outsider your home? No, I can’t remember either.
Do you want to know what gets shared? Digital links. Embrace the sharing world of Twitter and Facebook and you'll get pass-along readership that blows away even your imaginary print figures. No, the ad rates won't match print, but that ship has long sailed.
Or, is the industry referring to dentist office copies? Yes, that copy of Time (Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, etc) has been flipped through by a bunch of people. After all, it’s been sitting on that table for seven months now. But are you really looking to build your business on a captive audience in waiting rooms? And take a look around the waiting room. Everyone there under the age of 40 is staring at their mobile device. It’s mostly the blue-haired crowd that’s still reading print in the waiting room. Better tell the ad sales reps to go pitch to Buick, Depends and Life Alert.
3. I can cross-sell more effectively in print
This is nonsense. If cross-selling consists solely of sending me offers to buy other stuff from you, maybe that’s the case. But with digital media you can do so much more. You can easily bundle up special editions, including content from your various brands, into a digital product. You can embed all kinds of cool things to make my experience compelling, while showcasing your other brands. You’re not being limited by the platform or the business model, but rather by your limited imagination.
4. Our content is unique and our readers have a strong devotion to our brand
Remember those blue-haired ladies from the dentist office? They really are brand loyal. They’ve got a 15 year archive of Consumer Reports filed away in boxes and read each AARP magazine cover to cover. But their grandkids? Oh, they read something earlier today on their phone – it came from a friend on Facebook. But they have no idea who actually published it.
In some ways, I feel badly for magazine publishers trying to navigate this new mobile landscape. At the same time, I’m amazed at how so few of them have worked to leverage their brand in the digital environment. There are a handful of brands that have done so, but most of them are nontraditional media companies like the Onion. Magazines have had 15 years to become indispensable on the web and have failed to do so. So now we enter a period where brands are diminished and where the platform is more important than the content.
To a great extent, I think what magazine publishers fear is that the period of truthiness is rapidly ending. Make the statement that the average issue has seven pass-along readers enough times and it becomes an accepted fact. As they've learned on the web, it's all too apparent which advertising works and which doesn't. The farce of pass-along readership will be similarly exposed.
Magazine brands are going to have to reinvent themselves if they’re going to survive.