Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Like many of us, I’m off from the 24th until Jan 4th for some much-needed R&R. I leave you with some items on my to-read list that you might be interested in, too.

5 website tips to keep your brand image fresh
Another tablet experiment
12 best free online resources for learning SEO
Condé Nast, Hachette magazines push into iPhone apps
The fall and rise of media
Shedding your identity in the digital age

Thursday, December 17, 2009
A quick thought that those of us who work at magazines tend to forget: our readers really aren’t as familiar with our product as we are. Authors’ and editors’ names, section titles and how the magazine and website are organized may seem perfectly obvious to us, but to our readers, they can be confusing and unclear.

Every now and then, try to step back and imagine what your website would look like if you were visiting for the first time. Would it be easy to find what you’re looking for? (And what would you be looking for?) Does the navigation make sense? Can you easily tell what the content is about? Is the page you’re on (and it may not be the home page) interesting and attractive enough that you want to stay? Is the text readable? And is it obvious that this is the website of a magazine? (Maybe too obvious?)

Too hard a task? Find a friend that a) doesn’t work in the industry and b) doesn’t read your magazine and ask them to assess your site. Or, if you have a new staff member or intern on board, ask them to give you some honest feedback on the site before they get too used to its look and feel. You might be surprised at what they tell you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Magazine Publishing program at Ryerson has a whole set of classes available in the Winter semester. Consider signing up for one to upgrade your skills and hire-ability in the new year. Remember that space is limited, so early enrollment is encouraged.

42-hour courses (January – April)
The Business of Magazine Publishing, Mondays (instructor: D.B. Scott)
Magazine Editing, Mondays (instructor: Penny Caldwell)
Introduction to Magazine Design, Tuesdays (instructor: Jayne Finn)
Magazine Writing, Wednesdays (instructor: Margaret Webb)
Advanced Magazine Writing, Thursdays (instructor: David Hayes)
Magazine Copy Editing, Wednesdays (instructor: Bernadette Kuncevicius)

21-hour courses (January-February)
Magazine Marketing and Circulation, Tuesdays (instructor: Darlene Storey)
Creating Website Editorial, Thursdays (instructor: Kat Tancock)

Already working at a magazine? Contact Anne Grady (416.979.5180) or Charles Oberdorf (416.480.2750) to obtain a counselling slip, required for your first enrollment in the program.

Not working at a magazine? Go to ryerson.ca/ce/magazine for more information.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Today we have a guest post from Rachel Singh, formerly a web editor at Venture Publishing’s web properties and now a graduate student in digital anthropology in London. (The one across the pond.) She could use your help with a project she’s working on about “the shifting landscape of magazines.” Enjoy!

In 2006, as some of you may recall, TIME magazine named its Person of the Year as you. The magazine’s accompanying feature described the digital landscape of the World Wide Web as a revolution and Web 2.0 as a ‘massive social experiment’, stating:

“Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion? The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.”

The article in its entirety is worth a read, but what caught my attention were the words “global media”. At the time of reading (2008) I was a magazine web editor responsible for overseeing more than a few websites – smack dab in the middle of the revolution, attempting to navigate magazines online (often blindly).  More than once I had the feeling that the story didn’t end with You “beating the pros at their own game.” After all, if it was true that we (as in You) were seizing the reins of the global media to found and frame a new digital democracy, then weren’t we (as in magazines, as in part of the global media) at the same time founding and framing a new global medium? What about that?

It’s a question I’m exploring as part of my research as a digital anthropologist-in-training, through a study that investigates the shifting landscape of magazines. While it asks questions like “Do you think print is dying?”, these are not meant to reinforce doom and gloom missives of the death of print, but aimed at identifying the current trends/patterns of how magazines are navigating the ‘digital age’.

The TIME feature closed with:

“There is no road map for how an organism that’s not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion.* But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It’s a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who’s out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you’re not just a little bit curious.”

A rewrite of this applicable for magazines might read something like this: There is no road map for how an organism that’s not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 1 billion. But the first decade of the new century gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of global medium, not print to print, web to web, but magazine to magazine, person to person. It’s a chance for us (as in magazines) to look at ourselves and really, genuinely wonder what’s next. And, how to get there from here.

If you want to join that conversation, one step might be participating in the study. If you’re interested, here’s how.

* A correction worth noting: only 1.6 billion of the world’s 6 billion people are currently online. That is, four-fifths of the world’s population does not use the Internet….yet. (Source: Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)

Monday, December 07, 2009
You may have seen the news that Time Inc. has launched a video of a potential digital edition for Sports Illustrated, for the tablet (laptop/iPhone hybrid) Apple is rumoured to be developing.

I, of course, am skeptical. When I’m online, I have no attention span and don’t want to browse through just one site/product. When I’m not online, I like to pick up paper magazines. That being said, it’s nice to see someone doing something innovative and exploring new formats.

I also have a few questions – feel free to pipe in with the answers:
• Given that the financial problems in the industry are due to declining ad revenue, and given that it’s unlikely that paid digital versions will increase a magazine’s subscriber base, how will developing a paid model for digital versions help the bottom line? Will the presumed reduction in printing and distribution costs really make that much of a difference?

• The same question, put a different way: this kind of product, especially for a weekly magazine, will involve a lot more complex work than ink on paper, and even than on a website – therefore more staff. How will that affect budgets?

• When you cut back on the words and fill in the blanks with videos of bikini-clad models, at what point is your product no longer a magazine?
But what I really find interesting here is that I pulled this from an Apple rumours site, macrumors.com, whose audience is quite different from the media types we’re all used to hearing from (although admittedly there’s probably a bit of overlap). So I recommend reading the comments, just to get a sense of what non-magazine people (but admittedly gadget geeks) think about the idea. Some highlights:

“It’s a decent mockup, but I don’t quite get the point of these digitized magazines. How are they any different from a well-designed website like Espn.com or NYT.com? Why would I pay another $30 a year for something I get free everyday RIGHT NOW?”

“The problem is people are use to getting stuff for free online already.. Magazines are gonna have to really up it to stay afloat. Interactive stuff with games could be the next thing. Live chat with friends, football pools. etc”

“Reading a magazine is hugely different from reading a website. Magazines generally have artistic full-color layouts, with incredibly designed content mixed in with gorgeous high-resolution photos. A website is a bit more of a cheap consumable that doesn’t have that sort of effort put into it. I’ve known for a long time that I would much prefer to read Wired on a device like this than I do trying to browse the same content on the Wired website.”

“This all looks very nice, but wait until they futz it all up with distracting pop-ads that you can’t skip through. We’ll be running back to paper…”

“These devices are not paper and it is critical that the reader has the ability to alter the layout to enlarge the text and reduce the size of the photos (or eliminate them). This will be hard for the magazines’ art directors to accept. The video (from the YouTube link) shows how the people responsible for creating it don’t yet have a clue about how to do this successfully.”

“Theoretically, the issues could be completely free of charge. If you look at most magazine subscriptions – e.g., Wired, at $10 per year(!) – that cost wouldn’t even handle the costs to print the issues, let alone deliver them to your home. Magazines make all their money on advertisements in the issue. If you remove the printing and delivery costs completely, we could see a library of every major magazine for free on iTunes. Personally I’d love this device in more ways than one. I’ve always much preferred reading magazines than having to see web banners or pop-up ads on a website. A magazine has lovely full page ads and I totally don’t mind them. In fact, I rather quite enjoy ads in magazines. If they keep the same ad system as in magazines (which I think they will), reading a magazine on a tablet will be much more enjoyable than websites.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Community is a big buzzword these days in the media world – everyone wants to be a part of it. In the Canadian magazine landscape, one of the best examples of building community around a magazine brand is Spacing – not at all surprising, since in reality they were a community before they were a magazine. Nonetheless, they’ve done a great job building up their community in Toronto and across the country.

Matthew Blackett of Spacing was kind enough to speak to my class at Ryerson last night about the different community efforts Spacing is a part of. Here are some of the key points I took out of his talk.

There are four elements of community-building at Spacing:
• events
• merchandise
• social media
• opinion and advocacy

All of these contribute to building reader loyalty, increasing readership, making a name for the brand and creating alternative revenue streams.

Events
• Spacing has been holding/sponsoring a variety of events since its first launch party
• In the beginning, events were a source of revenue (mainly through charging admission)
• Events are also a way for fans and staff to socialize with each other
• Beyond launch parties (for magazine issues and also for their regional blogs), Spacing hosts different events such as Toronto the Good and its editors and writers participate in various events and forums
• In 2006, Spacing hosted a mayor’s debate in Toronto that, in addition to their Spacing Votes blog, triggered quite a bit of attention from outside media

Merchandise
• One of Spacing’s great successes is the subway buttons they sell, which have apparently been a great source of revenue. They’ve followed them up with similar ideas such as neighbourhood buttons and streetcar T-shirts. Note that most of these don’t actually advertise the Spacing brand, but a cause/idea that Spacing believes in. They’re good for the brand even without saying Spacing on them.
• Most magazines push gift subs around Christmas. Spacing took the idea one step further and created “gift packages”: that year’s magazine issues (there are usually three) wrapped in a TTC map and packaged with additional items such as postcards. A great revenue stream, good way to introduce new readers to the magazine, plus a way to monetize leftover back issues.

Social media
• Spacing makes use of Twitter and Facebook to promote stories and the magazine as well as engage their audience
• Special subscription drives on Facebook and Twitter (e.g., special sub price for three days only) have done well
• Recently, Blackett has been promoting the cover of the new issue (it’s currently at the printer) on Twitter and Flickr – it’s had over 1,500 views and means people will be watching for it on newsstands and know what to look for. [I don't know about you, but I often have a hard time finding the specific magazine I'm looking for because I have no idea what colour that month's cover will be. This often happens with Bon Appetit.]
• Spacing also makes good use of Flickr for creating a community of photographers and photo bloggers by letting them share photos with their group and by sharing their own.

Advocacy/opinion
• Spacing doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a magazine with an opinion and an agenda. I think this is key in community-building: it’s hard to build a community around the idea of being inoffensive.
• One example is their ideas around the TTC: they’ve been involved in a number of debates and focus on the constructive, for example the Toronto streetcar map they’ve proposed to the TTC.
• Most recently, Spacing is involved in the debate over a local billboard tax.

Overall, I think the key here is to know who you are and stick to that idea when creating ideas for community-building. Spacing has a strong sense of identity and it’s serving them well.

About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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