The State of Magazine Publishing Today—A definitive answer…more or less

What is the state of magazine publishing today? It appears to be a multiple choice question. And the answer is, “All of the above.”

An article in last week’s The Economist print edition stated that magazine publishing has been infused with a new sense of optimism. Magazines are still attractive to advertisers and there is strong reader loyalty, the author states. Moreover, magazines have learned to harness digital technology in innovative ways. And, for the second year in a row, more magazines were launched in 2011 than closed.

Meanwhile, the opposite point of view is argued in a blog post on the Economist Group’s Lean Back 2.0 blog, in which the author Rishad Tabaccowala states that “tablets will hasten the demise of magazines and not save them.” Tablets put magazine content on the same level as games and social media, he says. And the iPad disrupts magazine publishers’ tight control over distribution and damages their ability to bundle content together. In short, Tabaccowala describes the state of the magazine industry as a “headache.”

Then, there’s the Huffington Post, a well-known blog which this week launched an iPad magazine called “Huffington.” The weekly publication will offer longer pieces than on its blog, with photo essays and and data visualizations. Subscribers will pay by the issue, month, or year.

So, what is the state of magazine publishing? Disastrous or encouraging? Growing or heading for oblivion? Is the iPad the new frontier in magazine publishing or will it deal the final blow to the industry?  And the answer is….Yes.

The art of the interview–10 guidelines for a successful interview

Unless all your magazine and newspaper articles are written in the first person, at some point you will need to interview someone. Can you guarantee that every interview you attempt will be be successful? Probably not. But, there are some guidelines you can follow that will make it far more likely your interview will yield exactly the information you need for a successful article.

1. Be prepared. Define your purpose; know exactly what you hope to gain from the interview. Research the person to be interviewed and the topic. If you don’t prepare well, how will you know what questions to ask in order to elicit the information you need?

2. Prepare your key questions in advance and write them down. You will want to explore new directions and interesting possibilities during the interview, but prepared questions ensure that you will not forget the important things you want to ask.

3. Make an appointment if possible and establish a time limit. Don’t just try to catch your interviewee in a free moment. You will have a better, more relaxed interview if your interviewee has set aside the time to talk with you.

4. Select the right interview location. Be aware that interviews in the interviewee’s office may be interrupted by the telephone and interviews of mothers in their homes may be interrupted by the demands of children. Try to find a private place where you won’t be interrupted.

5. Set the tone of the interview. Break the ice right at the beginning; set a friendly, non-threatening tone and explain what you want to accomplish with your interview.

6. Even if you must ask some tough, sensitive questions during the interview, start with the easy, non-threatening questions to get the interviewee comfortable with the interview and used to talking.

7. Ask the right questions. Don’t assume anything; even ask questions with an “obvious” answer. You may be surprised by a response you could never have predicted. Don’t ask “leading” questions that assume a certain answer and don’t ask a question every time the interviewee pauses for breath. Ask concrete questions to elicit details that will make your article more interesting.

8. Guide the interview. Don’t interrupt a helpful train of thought; write down questions to follow up. But, don’t let the interviewee take off on an unhelpful tangent.

9. Avoid debating with the interviewee. Your interviewee may express opinions with which you don’t agree. Avoid the temptation to turn the interview into either a conversation or a debate. You’re there to get the information you need, not to have a discussion. Set aside your own opinions until the end of the interview and then if you wish to get into it with the interviewee, feel free to wade in.

10. Ask for final thoughts. You may discover important information you hadn’t thought to ask about.

For more information on the Art of the Interview, you may download a free ebook from Magazine Training International.

China’s changing face of journalism

Social media is transforming Chinese journalism, according to the International Center for Journalism, whose representative attended a recent conference on international journalism sponsored by Tsinghua University. At the conference, Qu Yingpu, deputy editor-in-chief of the state-controlled China Daily, said that social media was spreading news so rapidly that it was no longer possible to control the flow of information.

Shi Anbin of Tsinghua University urged journalists to learn from the example of Andy Calvin’s one-man newsroom which covered the Middle East during the Arab Spring in 2011 for National Public Radio by relying on numerous local activists, bloggers, and reporters using social media like Twitter.

Li Liangrong, professor of journalism at Fudan University, said the standard for news presented on the Web should be open, fair, equitable, extensive, and intensive.

In fact, many Chinese count on the Internet for fast and possibly more accurate news reporting than they can get in the daily papers. The proliferation of cell phones, now well over 1 billion, make it possible for ordinary citizens to become instant “journalists” with far-reaching impact.  Just ask the Russian cellist who was fired after someone used his cell phone to film an altercation and posted it on the Internet.

Cell phones are a key element driving the instant news phenomenon.  The nation’s on-line mobile phone users total 370 million, about 70 percent of the total Internet users. Access to the Internet for them is instant and available just about anywhere.

China still tries to control and “cleanse” information disseminated on the Web. However, the fast access offered by mobile phones and the proliferation of social media make the job increasingly difficult.

Extend your magazine’s brand for more impact

Brand extension is a key to continued and enhanced success for magazines, according to publishers like Rupert Turnbull of Wired magazine, who asserts that education is the “next big thing” in brand extension. In the last two years, Wired, a popular print magazine, has launched an online magazine, mobile and tablet editions, a podcast, an events business, and a consulting arm. Print is still key for Condé Nast, publisher of Wired magazine. Over the last eight years, Condé Nast has launched some 60 magazines and is ready to launch another four in the next four months.

However, the publishing giant is looking at ways to extend its brands and its leaders see educational strategies like its newly launched College of Fashion and Design or recent London tech conference as key, along with events like Glamour Women of the Year or the Vogue Festival.

In fact, some Christian magazines have been using events and educational strategies successfully for decades. Christian magazines have sponsored weekend writing conferences, correspondence courses, learning tourism, and camps and classes of all kinds. Events have been high on the list for magazines which have sponsored music festivals, conferences, retreats, and contests.

In this day when so many “experts” are talking about the need to go digital, mobile, and interactive, print magazines can trade on their names to extend their brand in other ways. Certainly it is important to see how technology is changing the way your readers prefer to consume your product. But technology is not the only way to get your message out there. Even super-wired magazines like Wired, with online, mobile, and tablet editions, are looking at other low-tech ways of extending their brand and increasing their reach.

Northwestern College students plan Christian magazine

Northwestern College English professor Richard Sowienski decided to do more than teach about magazine publishing. He decided to put his teaching to the test of the real world by encouraging his publishing class to launch a national magazine for Christian college students.

Titled Cardboard, the magazine’s mission is to explore culture and faith from a creative Christian perspective. According to a recent article in the Beacon, the college newspaper, the name “Cardboard,” refers to cardboard as a container, representing the belief that humans need to be filled by God. The name also reflects the impermanence of life on earth.

“For now,” says the Beacon, “Cardboard is written entirely by Sowienski’s class. However, the magazine’s future will include freelance articles by college students across the country.”

“We want to be a national magazine,” says Sowienski. “When the first group of students developed the mission statement, I was so amazed and touched. I was moved by their passion for this magazine with its Christian mission.”

Because of the magazine’s potential, the publishing course was offered a second time and a new team of students are working to launch it. In order to achieve a more professional standard, the publishing class has partnered with Journey Group, a Virginia firm specializing in high-quality magazine publishing.

The publishing course will continue permanently in two formats, an introductory class and an advanced one.

“[The] publishing [class] started out as a one-time offering,” says Sowienski. “But the more the students worked on the magazine, the more excited they got, and the more excited I got as well.” Students who pass both courses will be able to continue to work on Cardboard as editors and advisors, possibly in paid work-study positions.

“Magazines are in my blood,” says Sowienski, who worked for 20 years in publishing before entering academia. Previously, he served as parenting and education editor of Better Homes and Gardens, senior editor of Successful Farming, and managing editor of The Missouri Review, a lliterary magazine.

To read Cardboard, visit cardboardmagazine.wordpress.com.

What is a magazine? This criteria may surprise you

At least, that is the assertion of the writer of a Mequoda Group white paper on digital magazine publishing. He (or she) asks why the magazine medium has survived the challenge of radio and television for the reader’s time and attention. Perhaps it’s because of what differentiates a magazine from any other written content, whether books or Web site. He says the reason the magazine medium has survived and will survive is because of the difference in user experience. He says it is these attributes which define the user experience and make it distinct.

1. Magazines are linear, meant to be read from front to back, but not necessarily in their entirety. Hyperlinking is not linear. Any medium which makes it possible for the reader to skip around among hundreds or thousands of articles is not linear.

2. Magazines are finite, unlike Internet Web sites. He says the reader can say “I have finished the magazine. Now I’m looking for the next issue.”

3. Magazines are periodic, whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly. They have an established frequency and do not come out more or less often.

4. Magazines are cohesive, edited, curated, and culled to produce the most interesting and relevant content for the reader. The editorial content is connected and the whole is greater than a sum of its parts

5. Magazines are portable and can be taken to a beach, the toilet, or anywhere else. As tablet computers become more versatile they may serve the function of the paper versions, perhaps even kick starting a resurgence of magazine reading.

6. Magazines are textual. Text is the king and photographs are ancillary, serving only to illustrate the text.

7. Magazines are collectible. People like to own and save magazines. At a magazine Web site, users must be able to download an issue of the magazine, says the Mequoda Group writer. If that’s not possible, it’s not a magazine Web site. In fact, according to an article on Adweek.com, tablet users are creating digital archives of their favorite magazines, spurring a boom in back issue sales.

For more useful information from the Mequoda Group, visit http://www.MequodaFree.com

You can hold posters accountable for what they say on your site

Posted by Pd: “How can [insert name] say he is a Christian? He is going to hell and is taking anyone stupid enough to believe what he says with him.” Would Pd be expressing himself (or herself) so viciously if his name was attached to his comments? How helpful is this comment, anyway? Those are questions being asked by some editors about the comments attached to the articles they publish on line. While they want to encourage feedback, they feel some comments serve only to infuriate later posters and lead to futile arguments. Is there a way to get posters to stand openly behind the comments they make?

Some publications have discovered a way to do just that. It is now possible to convert your commenting system to Facebook. As a result, readers who wish to comment must do so through their Facebook account. One big advantage to publications is that Facebook requires users to use their real names. Those names show up in the comments section on your Website. This should encourage better quality, more thoughtful comments. It is also easier for Facebook users to share articles and comments with their own contacts. And for those who “live” in Facebook, the system seems natural and comfortable.

The disadvantage, of course, is that your readers must be logged into Facebook in order to make a comment. While this isn’t a problem for those who stay logged in all the time, amazing as it may seem, there are those who rarely use Facebook or (gasp!) don’t even have a Facebook account. Those readers who aren’t on Facebook must either get an account or hold their peace.

The best Christian magazines in America

Christianity Today leads About.com’s list of the top 10 Christian magazines in America. The list includes both print and online publications with “inspiring stories, Christian world perspectives, helpful, biblical advice for shopping, parenting, cooking, and just about anything related to living your life as a Christian,” says About.com author Mary Fairchild.

Fairchild calls Christianity Today one of the leading Christian magazines in both online and print, with “practical advice on every aspect of Christian life from entertainment to shopping, parenting and marriage resources, help with college and seminary selection, community guides, and sermon aids.” The popular publication covers world, national, church, and ministry news.

Others making the top 10 include:

Relevant Magazine, a bimonthly lifestyle magazine targeting 20-somethings who are passionate about God, spirituality, and the world they live in.

Charisma, a leading magazine for Spirit-filled Christians, offering inspiring articles, columns by well-known pastors and teachers, community forums, and news from a charismatic perspective.

Bible Study Magazine, a new bimonthly print magazine by the publishers of Logos Bible Software, delivering tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professions, historians, and archaeologists.

Kyria.com, a monthly digital publication produced by Christianity Today, is designed to strengthen and equip Christian women to fulfill God’s calling on their lives.

World Magazine, a biweekly publication committed to reporting the news from a biblical worldview, with emphasis on stories that are often under-reported or even misreported by the national media.

CCM Magazine, formerly in print and now available only on-line, covers the contemporary Christian music world. There is a free weekly e-mail newsletter and a site with music, reviews, forums, tour and concert information, special artist features, and shopping.

Christian Living, an inspirational magazine featuring human interest stories, ministry spotlights, education, health, home, fashion, food, finance, and business. Founded in 2004 with a primary audience in Metro Atlanta, it has quickly grown to nationwide prominence.

Guideposts, a monthly magazine which has been delivering inspiration and guidance to Christian readers for more than 60 years. Their mission is to “help people from all walks of life achieve their maximum personal and spiritual potential.”

Christian History & Biography,  which offers in-depth, informative articles, graphics, illustrations, timelines and maps to help trace the roots of Christianity and to chronicle the people and events that have shaped the journey of Christianity through the ages.

Five checkpoints for a stronger magazine

Sure, most magazines fail within the first 10 years of operation. But there are things you can do to help make sure  your magazine won’t be one of the casualties. Here are five checkpoints to consider as you look at the future of your magazine.

1. Checkpoint One: Your magazine’s mission and editorial, marketing, and design philosophy. How long has it been since you’ve reviewed your magazine’s mission? Does everyone on the staff know why your magazine exists and what purpose it was designed to serve? A clearly and tightly focused mission will help you to stay on track as you make day to day decisions, selecting  articles, designing pages, and marketing your magazine.

2. Checkpoint Two: Know your audience. Do you know who your audience is and who you want it to be? One American magazine for college students was alarmed to find some 15 years after it was founded that the declining audience was composed mainly of people in their late 20s and early 30s. What happened? As the editorial and design staff aged, they failed to keep up with the tastes and issues faced by their supposed audience, and little by little the magazine grew older with the staff. Do you really know the audience you’re trying to reach? The more you know about your audience, the better equipped you will be to produce a magazine they will want to read.

3. Checkpoint Three: Your marketing plan. Are you continuing to look for new ways to get your magazine to your prospective readers? Have you explored new options as they’ve become available? Especially with a small staff, it’s easy to focus on producing the magazine and to forget to budget time to consider how you will get your wonderful product into the hands of readers.

4. Checkpoint Four: Your financial situation. Do you have a budget and are you keeping track of expenses? Do you have a fairly good idea of how much it will cost to produce your magazine next year and how many subscribers, advertisers, or donors you will need in order to continue to produce the kind of publication you now have or would like to have? A carefully-prepared budget and financial plan will make it possible to gauge your progress throughout the year and will alert you to potential problems or the need for an infusion of cash or a course correction.

5. Checkpoint Five: Are you continuing to learn your craft? Magazine publishing is changing rapidly. Are you keeping up with trends in magazine publishing and those that affect your audience? Design styles are changing and the expectations of consumers are changing, as well. It’s easy just to continue doing what you’ve always done and the way you’ve done it. However, those who continue to learn, whether through formal training or keen observation will be better equipped to produce a quality publication that continues to appeal to its market..

Six reasons why your new magazine may fail

Why would you want to think about reasons your new magazine might fail? Well, you’re making a significant investment of time and money in getting your magazine off the ground and you want it to succeed. In the United States 60 percent of magazines fail within the first year. I don’t know what the statistic are for other countries, but my observation is that the same is probably true in many other places. In the U.S., by the fourth year 80 percent of new magazines have failed and by the 10th year, only 10 percent are left.

So, how can you make sure that your magazine is one of the 10 percent that make it long term? Industry expert Samir A. Husni (www.mrmagazine.com) suggests there are 13 traps to avoid. I’ll list six of them here and briefly comment on each.

• Insufficient planning and research: You’re excited about your idea for a new magazine and you want to start right away. Why take the time to plan for the long term and to do research to find out whether your magazine is really wanted and needed and whether anyone will be willing to place advertisements in it? Many years ago, I was on the staff of a national Christian bi-weekly newspaper that started with great excitement and an investment of millions of dollars. The publishers were so sure their vision for the publication was on target that they didn’t bother to do research. Five years later, with diminishing renewals and skyrocketing debt, the publishers concluded a publication like theirs was not wanted.

• Insufficient budget and funds to cover magazine costs: It’s not surprising that a brand new publisher has no idea how much a magazine will cost. The assumption may be that you sell the copies and it will cover the cost of the issue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. It may take years of careful planning before your magazine even gets into the black. That means you have to have investors or donors who share your vision and who are willing to cover the losses until the magazine is able to get on its feet.

• No clearly defined audience or target market: Who exactly is this magazine for and what are their interests? Publishers and editors know what they want to say, but if you don’t know what your potential readers want to read, your magazine will have an audience of one. The more you know about your potential reader, the more you can shape the content, design and language to appeal to the reader. Okay, this does mean research. Don’t take it for granted that you know who they really are.

• Unfocused mission and editorial philosophy: Can you say in one sentence what the purpose of your magazine is and how it should affect the reader? If not, go back to the drawing board. The more focused your mission and editorial philosophy, the more likely you are to appeal to the target audience.

• An ineffective [or nonexistent] marketing plan: Many magazines in the Developing World are started by editors. This is the person with the vision and the ability to communicate. However, often this is also a person who is NOT a marketer. I personally know of many magazines with enormous potential started by editors who knew the audience, were good writers and editors, but who were not able to get the magazine to the audience. A carefully thought out and researched marketing plan is crucial.

• Unable to acquire significant distribution: How will you distribute the magazine?  Distribution is a significant hurdle and new publishers have to have a plan to overcome the obstacles in the way of new, small, untested magazines. In many countries, subscribing to magazines is practically unknown. Everyone buys their magazines and newspapers at the local kiosk. But will the kiosk take your magazine? And if they do, will they display it or will it end up stuffed behind the more popular publications? If it’s not possible to get single subscriptions and if you can’t use the kiosks, how will you distribute your magazine? This is an important issue and should be seriously considered before you even think of printing the first issue.

In my next post I’ll list some reasons why your new magazine may succeed.