Light years behind

A couple of weeks back, John Squires, formerly an executive at Next Issue Media and, before that, Time Inc., posted his view of how the transition to digital might be managed for magazines. He wrote in part:

“Tablets provide publishers a wonderful opportunity to rethink their products and add more value. But no manner of reinvention will be possible if they can’t mine their customer relationships to merchandise these new products. If the relationship between the magazine publisher and customer is broken, the industry will end up like music and book publishers–removed from customers, wedded to old habits and powerless as digital delivery inevitably overtakes and diminishes the value of their physical distribution.”

The post, which appeared on AllThingsD, runs almost 1,700 words and includes no outbound links. The absence of links, a basic currency of the social web, is a casual and telling sign of why magazine publishers are losing the digital race.

You’ll see in the piece that John is worried about what consumers will do when they “lose” a direct relationship with a magazine. As a consumer, I’d lament the loss of a direct relationship with a magazine, if I ever had one.

I buy subscriptions from companies that hold data on my address. The companies are not publishers, though some are ultimately owned by publishers. They apply data from other sources to guess how much money I make and the like, and then their clients – publishers – send me more mail (unless I repeatedly beg them to stop) to renew early, renew often, order a gift subscription, order a magazine they also publish at a special rate…

That is, the relationship = “We can try to sell you more stuff”.

Digital? Forget it. I already have a print subscription to BusinessWeek. They still send me four e-mails a month, each one saying: “BRIAN, Order Now & Lock in 88% savings”.

I also subscribe to Harvard Business Review, and they send me up to five e-mails a month that say things like “Get HBR at a special rate” (a rate, by the way, that is less than I paid when I renewed; think about how THAT makes me feel).

These publishers, and many others, do this because they have not developed an effective way to reconcile my physical presence with my digital one. Facebook has figured it out. Google has figured it out. Amazon has figured it out. Apple has figured it out.

With all due respect to John, who is a former colleague, that’s a sign of why these other companies are winning. They have figured out how to have a direct relationship with people who live in multiple worlds. Magazines are light years behind.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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