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Magazines: If you’re not doing these 5 things, you risk failing at digital publishing

By: Doug Plant | September 20, 2017 | Business solutions, Web solutions, and Native Advertising

Publishing is something of a calling and has often been described as a labour of love. It is also a key business practice whose importance has spread well beyond the boundaries of ‘traditional’ publishers. These days everyone from the basement blogger to the sophisticated brand is using content to capture audiences and drive sales.

Many factors have come together to drive the need for content, but nearly everyone understands the importance: according to the Content Marketing Institute, 92 percent of marketers said their organization views content as an important business asset.

Of course, this is nothing new for magazines, which have proved the value of quality content for hundreds of years. But the internet -- and content management systems -- have changed the way content is created, marketed, distributed, and consumed, and many magazines have been slow to adapt, sticking with inefficient systems to publish content, slogging through time consuming processes for managing data, and doing things the way they’ve always been done -- slowly and manually.

These magazines are missing the bigger picture on the evolution of digital publishing. It’s not enough to simply port your print content and processes over to your digital media. Maximizing editorial efforts and leveraging content in a variety of new ways through smart technical solutions give magazines the ability to captivate their audiences, and serve their online advertisers and subscribers more efficiently.

Here are five opportunities your magazine should be pursuing (or at least thinking about), in order to succeed in today’s digital publishing environment.

1. Understand how people are accessing your content

More often than not your readers are accessing your content from their mobile device. That is, if you’ve made it easy for them to do so. A 2017 Nieman Lab study showed that 85 percent of Americans now get news on their mobile devices, and, of those who access news on both mobile and desktop or laptops, 65 percent prefer using their mobile.

Further, TechCrunch reports that Americans are spending five hours a day on their mobile devices, admittedly an unlikely number, but the point remains. The report suggests that more than half of that time is in social media, messaging, and media and entertainment applications.

No mobile site? You’re not only losing out on readers, you’re also compromising your search results, as Google gives preference to responsive pages.

It’s also important to note that audiences aren’t reading digital content the way they read print content. In fact, they may not be “reading” at all. Content consumers often favour visual content. According to an Animoto survey, “four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.”

And even when they are reading, they’re often really scanning -- looking for key page elements (headings, subheadings, lists) to give them the main idea without having to spend more than a few seconds on the page. Which leads us to the next point.

2. Make use of the full complement of digital content formats

Traditional magazine stories are typically feature-length articles that take weeks or months to produce. But digital media offers so many other ways to tell stories: video, slideshows, infographics, social media, etc.

It can be tough to change your mindset about how to produce a story, especially when it’s always been done a certain way, but the web demands a broader definition of content -- and a quicker timeline for getting it published.

For example, you might not bother to do a feature story on that event you attended last weekend because it’s not feature material, but if it’s something your audience is interested in, why not snap a few photos, write a few captions, and post it quickly as a slideshow? It’s easy to generate appealing content your audience expects. And it’s absolutely critical to supplement your monthly magazine’s feature content with frequent updates and multimedia stories.

3. Automate your subscriptions

There is no excuse anymore for running manual processes in circulation fulfillment. Your magazine’s content management system can do it all for you -- from allowing subscribers to purchase and renew online, to integrating with third-party fulfillment companies.

You can automate at least 90 percent of your circulation process and manually deal with any problems that arise. In fact, you should only have one central data storage system for all of your subscriber information, web user profiles, and e-mail lists, meaning there’s only one place where you need to make updates. And you can shift most of that responsibility onto your users and subscribers, enabling them to self-manage their subscriptions and personal info.

4. Maximize editorial efficiencies and repurpose content

Magazine processes are often filled with redundancies. A writer creates an article in Word. A web editor puts it online. A marketer writes and posts a Tweet, and writes teaser content for a newsletter.

It’s time to stop recreating the wheel every time you need to repurpose your content. Give your writers access to create their stories right in the CMS. Then, publish your content and let the CMS do the rest. You can sync your content management system with your social media channels, e-newsletter tools, and syndication channels so that you only need to create the content once, and the CMS sends it out to your other channels.

The same principle applies to web page management. Stop wrestling with feature placement or sidebars and let your CMS take care of leveraging your content in all the right places. All you need to do is select the story and the placement, and your content management system can ensure it shows up in feature spots, landing pages, sidebars, or anywhere else you choose.

5. Experiment with revenue generation tactics

Ads have been magazines’ main bread and butter since the beginning of time, but simple implementations of online ads haven’t delivered the dollars. With some exceptions (like Google’s Adwords platform), straight up display advertising simply hasn’t worked to generate the kind of revenue most magazines require.

But digital platforms have enabled many new options for revenue generation: targetted (and retargetted) ads, native content, sponsored features, sponsored sections, syndicated content, e-mail marketing (yes, it still works!), not to mention content monetization in the form of paid archive access, micro subscriptions, and porous paywalls.

If you haven’t broken out of your ad revenue comfort zone, now is the time. The options are almost unlimited.

While some magazines have struggled to find their place online, many of our clients have realized that smart digital solutions create opportunities for efficiencies, revenue generation, and growth. Digital publishing is enabling magazines to do more with less, and, with the right partner and a solid platform, it’s not too late to make digital a stronger part of your business.