Despite the significant economic pressure they are under, it’s all too rare to see a print magazine let go of tradition and embrace a new model. So I was delighted to find that at least one Time Inc. magazine is doing just that.
Stephanie Clifford’s article about People StyleWatch in the New York Times last week shows what happens when offline executives adopt a digital mindset. Clifford points to a number of things that Susan Kaufman, People StyleWatch’s editor, is doing well, and notes the results: 8.6% circulation growth in the second half of 2009 and 130% growth in ad pages in the first quarter, easily besting a shrinking industry.
Although I wouldn’t call it top-tier journalism (does “Find Your Perfect T-Shirt Bra!” really merit an exclamation point?), People StyleWatch replaces an elitist, artistic view of its subject with a pragmatic appreciation of what their audience likes. It’s a habit learned online and applied offline.
Here are five lessons from online media that the publication is successfully bringing to print:
- The text is brief. Photo-heavy pages with short captions work. They make for easy scanning, moreover it’s a fashion shopping magazine; ultimately readers care more about the products than a writer’s description of them. Ironically, although the content is brief, it is resulting in 93 minutes average engagement, with each easily consumable section leading to the next.
- The content is advertiser-friendly. Any web site that is ad-sponsored knows how important it is to create “context” and targeting for advertisers in order to add value and charge higher rates. Shopping is one of those brilliant subject choices where advertising is content and vice-versa. It is analogous to paid search online: because searchers are often looking for businesses, their click throughs and effective CPMs are far above internet average. Moreover, People StyleWatch is open to creating pseudo-editorial sections with featured retailers (such as the recently announced JCPenney partnership).
- They offer exclusive discounts. Consumers love to get a deal, and coupon / discount web services (including the recently hyped group-coupon genre) are very popular with women online. People StyleWatch goes beyond the celebrity watching and fashion trends to become part of their readers’ lives, changing the value proposition from just entertainment to a great way to get more for less. In so doing, they are enhancing the reader’s experience.
- There is a clear call to action. Most of the products include not only pricing information, but web sites, 800 numbers, and in some cases, text messaging options for buying information. This is beneficial for both readers and advertisers.
- Content costs are low. Some of the most successful online properties such as Facebook, YouTube, and Yelp rely primarily on user-generated content. Successful online publications like The Huffington Post regularly feature guest bloggers. Traditional high-cost content is increasingly difficult to support profitably with advertising given the fragmentation of media consumption in recent years. People StyleWatch features lower cost content, with research consisting of quick calls to publicists or product marketers, and images from paparazzi or retailers rather than expensive celebrity photo shoots.
This is more than just flexing editorial styles to meet the expectations of web-addicted younger readers. The magazine is embracing a new business model with lower costs and more attractive content for advertisers that allows it to grow in an otherwise contracting space. They are hitting on one of the key success factors for Publishing 2.0, namely an adaptive business model. Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore, who has led the People brand for more than a decade in various roles, no doubt is taking notice.
Regardless of your personal opinions of the content, the results – in both readership and profitability – are hard to dispute.