What must the successful business model contain for today and tomorrow?
Is there room here for a Parallel Universe? (Print and electrons)
In a word: compelling content. Okay, that's two words, but you get my point. In the past, as publishers we tended to think in duals: editorial and advertising, print and digital.
However, there is only one mandatory asset for a successful publishing model: content that people want to read (or look at, or watch, or listen to). And for it to be a successful business model, it also must be compelling in a way that brings you back for the next installment.
As for a Parallel Universe, I think there are actually dozens of parallel universes. If we think only in terms of print vs. digital, we're missing the point.
Content is essentially the experience of the consumer. The delivery system can both alter and enhance that experience.
At August Home, we push content through a delivery sieve to get dozens of streams. Magazines, SIP's, books, (the print we're accustomed to) as well as web sites, email, blogs, apps, videos, live events, webcasts, TV shows.
The domain of publishing is vast - because there is not just one big group of consumers. There are many. Hence, many ways to reach them in a way they want to be reached.
At August Home we call it "surrounding our customers with service." It's not one customer, or one group of customers. There are many groups. Our job is to provide content the way each group of customers wants to receive it (each group's preferred delivery system).
When you look at the magazine, TV program, web presence and even a retail store, that your company has, what worries you the most about moving forward as an institution and a brand?
In the 1990's Tom Peters wrote a book titled, Thriving on Chaos. Those three words have stuck in my mind for 20 years.
Publishing today, especially at August Home, is learning to be successful in a chaotic world of delivery methods. The tough part is to allow enough freedom for the creative process, yet maintain a sense of brand.
It's too easy to get caught up in all the cool things you can do creatively, and loose track of brand image. So, it gets down to fundamentals. We provide step-by-step information in a friendly manner. So whether it's a magazine article, a TV program, an email tip, a blog, a video, or a retail sales experience, it has to do that.
What worries me? If our brand image is not consistent, then customers become confused as they move from one product (delivery experience) to another. For an editor, an art director, a store manager or a TV show director, brand image is their reason for being.
What is your fastest-growing revenue segment?
The easy answer: digital. I'd like to say that's because we're really smart and talented, and we get this new digital world, dude, so we produce exactly what customers want. The truth is, we keep trying new things, and customers decide.
More and more, they are choosing digital products. And not necessarily the cool new stuff. Much of our growth is coming in old-school digital. For example, we're building substantial email subscriber products - concise bits of content in the form of eTips and eNotes that are delivered via email. And we're able to monetize them to an extent that's beginning to rival a print magazine. With the success of email, I've started to shift my thinking back to the future: web sites rather than apps.
What is the biggest challenge facing your company right now? How are you planning to address it?
Probably every publisher's challenge is digital dollars. I fell in love with the iPad. But I hate digital replicas of magazines. Regrettably, that combination is the only thing that makes much financial sense right now. But I'm determined to figure out a new digital model that's financially successful. We're not there yet, but we're working on it. Ask me again in three years.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for media brands/companies right now?
We're a small company, but we try to think big. Media companies need to think in terms of three major platforms: print (magazines, SIP's, books), digital (websites, email, social) and TV (both broadcast and webcast).
We have seen the most success with one of our brands, Woodsmith, that has all three platforms. It started as a magazine (albeit with no advertising). Next, it added SIP's and books. Then it transitioned to email and the web selling "disaggregated" content. And finally, it expanded even more through a national TV program (on public TV).
It works, I think, because we've maintained the brand image across all three platforms. So, we're able to attract new customers in one area (TV, for example) and convert them to web (email) and print (magazine) very quickly.
What is something new and/or unique that your company is doing or exploring that you feel you can share?
We have developed the software for our digital future. We call it Demizine ® (sort of an acronym for Digital Edition Multi-media Interactive magazine)
It started out as an in-house solution for tablet app development. But it's expanded to the web (75% of our digital customers are on computers, not tablets). Our challenge was to design software so we could produce once, distribute to tablet, as well as the web (computer) with the same set of interactive features.
I should add that the Demizine ® concept is not just the software. We wanted a way to produce a new form of digital magazine. Print magazines have a form that's convenient for its printing/distribution factors. Aggregate articles into a magazine, print and mail it monthly. Convenient. Economical. Digital changes all that. Now we can produce and distribute weekly, daily, even hourly.
Our Demizine ® takes the content of a print magazine, enhances it with interactivity and video, and distributes it weekly, even daily. It's a big undertaking for us. And we're just about there. It's very exciting.
Can you discuss the cost and the effort that your company must now go through to be competitive in the new world order of publishing?
We're fortunate that August Home is a privately held company. That allows us to invest our earnings in future growth. We have an eMedia staff to develop the Demizine® software and web sites. We built our own TV studio and staff it to produce our own show.
The upfront investment in these types of ventures hits the bottom line, and would raise eyebrows in a "quarterly earnings" environment. We embrace it.
If you could start your operation over again from the start, what would you change or what mistakes would you prefer to avoid?
That's an interesting question. I've made plenty of mistakes. But an essential part of our culture is to "turn a problem into a friend." Without the mistakes, we wouldn't have had the successes.
For example, when we launched Cuisine magazine (back in 1996), it lost money for five years. I was told, "It's a mistake. You have to make the tough decision and kill it." I made the harder decision and worked to turn it around. It's now our most profitable magazine.
As part of your strategy for staying ahead, do you attend any trade shows or conventions? If so, why? Would you recommend any of these to other publishers?
I've learned the most from other small, independent publishers at the annual IMAG Conference. The MPA supports IMAG (Independent Magazine Group). (Full disclosure: I've had the privilege to serve a chair of that group for the past thee years.)
Every year we hold a conference with about 100 of some of the brightest people in publishing. We share our successes, take ideas back to our own companies, and put our own spin on them. Then repeat the process the next year. It's amazing to see the evolution of the creativity and innovative spirit of these companies.
If you could give a young person entering our business one piece of advice, what would it be?
Publishing is evolving in a complex array of media. Customers expect all of it. My advice would be for those at both ends of their careers.
Although it's hard to teach an old (print) dog new (digital) tricks, it's equally difficult to teach a young dog old tricks. The best media professionals will be the ones who learn both. That's the real Parallel Universe.