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Where is the Netflix of Magazines?

Written by Aysling

Published: 11/20/2015

In a previous article, I looked at how digital magazine editions could improve. Some of these issues may have contributed to why tablets never took off as a viable alternative to print. As apps like Facebook’s Instant Articles, Apple News, and other services like Flipboard flood the market, publishers are finding themselves at a major disadvantage. Who knows how friendly some of these services really are towards publishers and their brand partners?

Ben Thompson, on his blog Stratechery, pointed out the major flaw of websites as generally being content delivery platforms. A lot of this has to do with advertising. His modularization and consolidation theories go a long way in helping create a framework to understand the current media landscape. It’s worth repeating that your competition is not simply other publishers, it is now also any other entertainment company AND all of your customers. The rise of mobile means that your customers are going to be using the same devices to engage with your content as they will to create the content that competes with it. There are a few principles I believe many magazine publishers should embrace if any of their revenue will be coming from digital in the near future.

 Articles Are The Commodities

What started as mix tapes in the ‘80s reached perfection with the Spotify playlist. In the late ‘90s the music industry underwent a massive shift. Albums that were designed to be a complete experience by the artists, are no longer the primary source of revenue. A lot of this has to do with the amount of people who only like a few songs and have no qualms with buying music or getting it illegally. As offensive as the pay is from Spotify, it is better than nothing. Magazines are similar. There’s a lot to be said for the complete issue. New and unexpected things are discovered when flipping through a magazine. However, most people don’t have the luxury of time or attention to give any such media their undivided focus for more than a few minutes. Magazines need to look at how they can better monetize their individual articles. This can probably only happen as part of a broader program.

Netflix Model for Digital

Riffing off of Ben Thompson again, I want to point out that the success of cable TV and original content by Netflix or Amazon is the result of an ancient principle: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What people do cooperatively is often more effective than what is done individually. By creating a quasi-socialist system, independent producers who provide content to a systemized distributor achieve better results than if they do it themselves. This is true both in terms of content quality and financial returns. There is no question that Apple and Facebook are trying to become that delivery system. Texture has recently announced a similar service.

Think Articles, Not Issues.

As noted above, and by Publishing Executive, the articles (or video or whatever) are the primary commodities. A service should supply access to media across the web and especially mobile platforms. Pay once and get access to an article, without ads, by NYT or a video by Catster or a podcast by Home & Garden. Technology has now made it possible to make micropayments. It could also be based off real-time data to setup a virtual auction for, not only advertising, but also for the consumers who pay to view a piece of content without ads. Imagine a scenario where a single login works across multiple content providers in which you are given credits. Your friend shares an article from Facebook. As the article increases in popularity the price of viewing the article increases with it. Starting at a value of credits worth 20 cents it increases to the number of credits worth 50 cents. If the user chooses to view it on the “free” model, the worth of those ads is already increased based on traffic. At 5 million views that’s over $750,000. A company called iMoneza is currently working on a solution similar to this.

Make Buying Physical Issues Easier and More Mobile. 

I’m gonna go ahead and say that the existing infrastructure for delivering magazines to stores is not optimal. Perhaps magazine publishers should look at stemming the hemorrhage of newsstand sales by making it extremely easy to buy physical editions on mobile platforms. There is a ton of data to suggest that shoppers will use their mobile devices in stores to determine if they should make a purchase. If someone is reading an article on their phone and they really like it, they should be able to easily purchase the entire magazine with just a few taps of their thumb and have it in their hands within 24 hours. This will require rethinking the entire publisher, distributor, wholesaler, and retailer system, but it looks like that’s already starting to happen, this is just one potential direction. There are a number of ways this could be possible:

  • Delivery partnerships. Work in close partnerships with USPS, UPS, FedEx, and other delivery networks to make same-day deliveries.
  • Localized printing partnerships. There is a vast network of local printing companies that do short-run magazines up to professional specifications. The advances in technology have also made it much easier to deliver digital content. If magazines treated these local printers like studios treat theater chains they would be able to integrate logistics with their delivery partners to ensure limited waste.
  • Pickup partnerships. Perhaps you could make it easy for content consumers to read an article, purchase the magazine, and then pick it up from a local grocery store. There are a number of ways to make this possible. Kiosks, coupons, etc…
  • Invest in Drones. Amazon CEO received a lot of backlash for suggesting that drones be used for everyday delivery. It looks like he has the last laugh because DHL just finished a pilot program in which drones proved to be one of the most effective delivery methods in an extremely hostile environment. Imagine a hundred people in their kitchen before their commute into the city order the latest issue of your magazine and a drone drops off the precise amount of copies needed to a kiosk at the public transportation station where they can scan their phone to get their copy… potentially even customized with revolutions in printing technology.

I think we can all agree that the user experience has suffered from the current digital ad delivery system. Additionally, business as usual for most publishers will no longer suffice in a digital age. Putting more care into how users experience and get access to content could make or break a business. Utilizing the latest technologies and being on the forefront is the best way to stay a float. There is no such thing as a guarantee in this business, but there are greater and lesser risks. The greatest risk in a volatile environment is to maintain the status quo.

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