2010 Industry Opportunities Prospectus: Interviews, discussions and actionable ideas

New Year | New Content Starting today Printers’ Marketplace will be interviewing and holding public discussions designed to flesh-out opportunities for printers of all types. It’s certainly easy to point out obstacles, nay say and attempt to look smart by saying no. So Printers’ Marketplace is asking where are all the good ideas? What actionable and profitable strategies can we as printers implement that churns out more black ink than red?

On December 21st I spoke with Jeff Majewski, President of TCG Graphics.

Based on the demands of your clients is TCG planning any fundamental changes to its core printing business in 2010? Not our core business, but we will alter the game by adding additional services to capture more revenue from each client. For instance, we added mailing services three years ago, digital printing and, most recently, specialty packaging.

Adding services during a period of no or slow growth is certainly a bold strategy. Specialty packaging is first and foremost a play for additional revenue capture from TCG’s long-standing strength with Pharmaceutical clients. Die cutters, folder glues are definitely an investment in the future. The additions TCG has made are all geared toward physical output consumers can’t receive digitally.

Ask yourself this long-term question: What services will my customer’s have-to-have printed in the next 5 years? Am I equipped, staffed, and ready to sell these needs?

What opportunities in print should publishers and print buyers be excited about for 2010?An investment in management systems that increases your communication between supplier and client could be a big improvement for your organization. With closer to real time information clients and shops can both enjoy leaner production costs making a profit in a weak economy possible.

For shops producing multiple works everyday, the advantages are clear for accurate status updates and delivery times. MIS systems, even in the retail consumer market, and advancements in digital printing quality are leading print buyers to think and act like JIT consumers even if the project isn’t time sensitive.

Ask yourself this short-term question: How often does your organization communicate with its clients during the production process? Are you engaged in a game of managing expectations? Can you arm your clients with information that would help them achieve the success beyond goals of the project? Most everyone wants to be thought of as a hero…without being heroic.

Christopher Allen
Printers’ Marketplace

Triangle Communications Group, Inc. has been in business since 1986 and started off with 2 fulltime and 1 part time employee operating a quick print shop type operation. Since then we have grown and invested most of the profits into new equipment and we are now operating in a state-of-the-art 70,000 sq. ft. facility and can produce anything from one copy to more than 1 million. Over the last several years we have dramatically increased our services to include mailing, digital printing and most recently specialty packaging. With all the new services Triangle Communications Group, Inc. has increased our customer base significantly especially in the pharmaceutical, financial and education industries. Some of the reasons that Triangle Communications Group, Inc has been so successful include implementing a new MIS system, which will allow us to pass on info to our customers in real time and account for every detail of printed jobs.


Advertising for the Warp Level Generation

How many banner ads, tinyurl posted links, email blasts photos have you clicked on today…or over your lifetime?

It’s no secret that younger online users are pretty quick to sniff out online marketing in disguise. Games, quizzes, online polls all designed to peak your interest long enough to advertise the next great mortgage package from Obama, get rich quick with google opportunities, or buy a politically incorrect t-shirt.

My latest favorite has to be “see if your IQ is higher than your friends / see who thinks your [always misspelled] dumb.” A fantastic scam aimed at grabbing your email address or cell phone number to inundate your inbox or relentlessly send you text messages.

But just because users are hyper-aware that the information in front of them is advertising doesn’t mean it can’t be effective. Younger online users are very open to learning about new products – especially new products that fit their lifestyle. Younger online users are also pretty open to sharing what they’ve learned about products and events by posting or sending links to friends.

So how can a publisher generate excitement for advertisers with honest transparent online marketing/advertising, while still maintaining enough focus on the content of the publication?

In this continuing series I’ll be critiquing different techniques advertisers are using to capture traffic. The critique will cover the following elements:

Window Dressing – a measure of how obvious the content is advertising.

First Click – a measure of the engagement level established before sending users to an alternate website.

Time to Discovery – a measure of how much time and thought was needed to reach the advertiser’s message.

Publisher’s Comfort – a measure of how comfortable the publisher would be utilizing the advertising method throughout their published content.

Product: Taken –Blu-Ray & DVD
Location: espn.com home page
Delivery Method Banner / Video / Micro Site
Links: http://microsites.craveonline.com/taken/

Window Dressing:
The subject of this banner is clear: it is an advertisement for the release of Taken on Blu-Ray & DVD. Even if a user is interested in seeing the movie, clicking on the banner isn’t necessary to achieve success for the campaign. This technique will be harder for the ad agency and publisher to track, but probably will yield quite a bit of success based on the sheer volume of traffic. Awareness is all the advertiser needs. As a publisher I would want to make sure this ad campaign was not monetized on a per click basis. The focus pretty much stays on the publishers content. Users who visit the site several times a day are more likely to see the ad than a casual browser – based on the number of other eye catching features on the site.

First Click (Wide Banner):
The long wide banner at the top of the page sends the user to a mini site about the movie.
I probably would not have clicked on this banner had I not been intending to do a write up on the campaign. Pretty poor engagement factor.

First Click (Square Banner):
Clicking the square banner, as shown in the posted clip, drops a within espn.com’s main feature box. The video is a trailer for both the NBA finals and Taken on DVD. There isn’t a next step after the video, nor does it take you to the micro site. Again engagement for this banner is low.

Time to Discovery (on site trailer):
Even thought the message is clearly presented in the static box ad, I couldn’t help wonder what was more important the NBA finals or the movie. Call it a moment of confusion.

Time to Discovery (Microsite):
The microsite is decent, however there isn’t a clear buy now aspect, nor is the main goal of the microsite obvious. I signed up for the contest and clicked on a few things, but I left the microsite thinking “in what way am I more influenced to buy the movie on DVD.”

Do We Have Enough Friends Yet?

A breakdown of how magazines are utilizing social networking to build brand awareness, enhance reader loyalty and maybe earn a dollar or two.

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Orkut, Friendster, etc.

Facebook apparently isn’t killing productivity and you can unblock these websites should your employer feel otherwise. However, the pope doesn’t think it is a good idea and it is making your teenage daughter depressed. So what should magazines do on social networking sites? At Allen Printing and Publishing Inc., we’ve been carefully crafting a plan to interconnect our print magazines, websites, and social pages together. Our official social strategy launch for HORSEpower Magazine should happen later this summer.  In the meantime we’ve been experimenting and examining some of the options these sites can provide.  In this post I’ll take a look at two strategies for publishers to captivate the masses.

Social Pages

HORSEpower's Fan Page

Facebook and MySpace ‘pages’ are the most common first step initiatives for publications. They allow pubs to create a free space where people can proclaim their love for the creator’s magazine. I’ve often been baffled by what real opportunities are here, it certainly is another great place to drop a back link to a corporate website. Discussion boards, wall posts, user photos are all cool, but a quick search of publications that have these free pages shows that very few users post media or text that can hold a reader’s interest.

The real gold of a social page is the collection of fans and friends. When users click ‘become a fan’ or ‘add me as a friend’ the owner of the page is able to send in network emails. It’s a great way to build an email blast list, which can be used to promote an advertiser, generate more subscriptions, or keep in contact with a fan/subscription base. The real questions are: Do in network emails burn out a users patience faster than traditional emails? Are in network blasts more effective than traditional email blasts at generating click through action? Do users read these blasts at a higher rate?

You’ll probably never know until it’s too late. I would recommend a conservative approach until you can measure the enthusiasm levels of your readers.

Follow me if you want to live…Or save big with instant promotions

Twitter PageTwitter users fall into two categories those who get it and those who don’t. Twitter is definitely for establishing a reputation as an expert. Businesses have used it to push coupons and the latest sales items on their e-commerce site, however the followings are usually pretty small. Promotions via twitter need to be big and not every day. A big juicy coupon now and then will help keep you sticky.

If you’re a text driven magazine there is an opportunity to have your writers publish and engage in targeted discussions with back links to your publication, advertisers, and highlights of what your readers are doing. If online community is a top priority for your publication promoting your readers is easily the way to go. I think advertisers will start beating down your doors if your readers are well promoted and engaged via twitter. I imagine twitter engagement as thousands of 140 character testimonials. “yes we read, yes we like, yes we buy!”

Get yourself several thousand followers and you’ve got another opportunity to sell text/link advertising.

I’m not sure if it’s working for the Wall Street Journal, but I’d try following Walt. He does have over 14,000 followers, I’m sure the sales department at WSJ has noticed this.

How are you meeting friends and influencing people online?

I’m curious to hear about other successful strategies for engaging readers for both brand building efforts and creating additional advertising revenue opportunities.
Post your thoughts below.

Magazines on my iPhone 3G

I’ve had an iPhone for nearly a year now and I’m officially lost without it. I’ve recently downloaded the MLB.com At Bat 2009 application, which streams real time game updates and audio from every major league game. With a potentially talented playoff team in town this year this application will obviously get a lot of use.

Games, Twitterriffic, OpenTable, and iHeartRadio are all on my iPhone too. Some applications stay on my phone longer than others. Not every application is created equal; Turkey Hunt was pretty awful. So last week while I was writing about digital delivery I started to research magazine delivery options for the iPhone. Sure enough several media firms and digital delivery providers have started to take advantage of the printed word on the iPhone.

DRAMA Magazine, which was an absolute worthless read, was the first publication I found. Since DRAMA was released as an iPhone only publication I thought I better take a look. Immediately I discovered I was not the target market. Pitched as a lifestyle magazine, it is filled with ‘artsy’ fashion and theater photos. Photography is clearly the main content driver. The photos are reasonably well sized on the small iPhone screen, however the short snippets of text require the user to zoom in far too much to be legible. In fact I would grade the delivery of text a resounding F and the photo loading speed a C+. For $3.99 I’d recommend saving your money, the DRAMA Magazine website can certainly give you enough of a sample to see this application in action.

Amazon’s Kindle for iPhone application currently doesn’t support magazines, however I was able to download a few sample chapters of current best selling books. Compared to DRAMA Magazine, text on Kindle app for the iPhone is fantastic. However it is still a little too small…or too large. I made it through the first chapter of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. Which is a book I’m interested in reading. I struggled with finding the right size text on my screen. Either the text was too small so my phone was 6-9 inches from my face, or too large so lines had about 5 words each. The other major down side of this application is the limitation of content discovery. Users must find and purchase materials on Amazon’s website and send it to the iPhone wirelessly. The process works, but it would be much more enjoyable to find/purchase/read magazines and books all within the same application. If you spend enough time away from your desk I would definitely recommend at least trying this free application out.

Texterity for iPhone, offers a web browser delivery system. Utilizing the full browser capability of the iPhone, Texterity is simply a resized version of the online flash paper reader. I found the user interface of Texterity for the iPhone more appealing than the full online reader for the Mac/PC. Flipping pages using a touch screen is simply pleasing when compared to finding the next page button with a mouse. But here again the screen size limits both text and image viewing. Zinio also offers a similar web browser version for the iPhone, of equal value and limitation.

What I would like in an iPhone magazine:

  • iPhone application with subscription based delivery. Send me an update message when the latest issue is available. Allow me to re-read older issues. Charge me once for a 1-year subscription.
  • Build in the strengths of the platform. Great iPhone applications are all interactive. Some applications actually offer real world solutions like booking a table at a restaurant or checking the score of the game. Either way this real world relevancy keeps me coming back. Magazines could be interactive and the results could be directly measured.
  • Special content please. Don’t regurgitate a printed or online magazine via the iPhone. Provide new and exclusive content, both your readers and advertising clients will love you for it. Readers aren’t going to pour over novel length text on the iPhone, its just not built for that. And the iPhone doesn’t reach everyone, so here is an opportunity to build something just for the iPhone demographic.
  • Finally be size aware with your content. So far all the content delivered on the iPhone wasn’t really sized appropriately. Miss on the first try and your application will be lost in oblivion.

Mildly Interactive Digital Publications

Interactivity, as a buzz-word, certainly gets thrown around a lot. Maybe not as much as 10 years ago, but in the publishing industry I think it is starting to make a buzz-word bingo comeback (along with RIA, Sticky and App). I’m also under the impression that pseudo-interactive implementations are receiving full interactivity status just like learning applications and websites did 10 years ago.

Baby Steps, I guess.

Most digital publications are about as interactive as plain paper. By flipping over the page I’m interacting with the paper to see what’s on the other side; really this is just the same as physical manipulation. A few new services (Ceros, zmags) are adding a second medium to each digital page. By overlaying video, or even small flash .swf’s, each digital page has an increased opportunity for engagement. But very little data or knowledge is shared between the digital pub and the user. In a 400 x 400 pixel window there is only so much space to display interactive objects for the users to play with. Currently the best you could hope for is some sort of poll or short submission form.

So what opportunities are here?

Publishers usually don’t want to add too much extra composition/development time to release a digital publication. Increased production costs with limited opportunity for increased advertising sales are hardly attractive. Plus, publishing a digital edition should require every advertiser to pay extra for a second distribution method. This isn’t an easy sell. As I noted in my previous entry, internet users expect free content. Advertisers also expect some free inclusion online or at least minimal cost increases, because the ad is the same ‘just put’r on your site’.

(I’m currently investigating cost structures and should have meaningful data soon.)

This leaves interactive advertising as the sole opportunity for big dollar revenue generation. If simply adding video, a poll, or a flash interactive movie (you hope your client has already developed) can generate big dollars go for it…I’m not so optimistic. The interaction needs to provide measurable outcomes (instant feedback | identifiable sales for the advertiser | assurance of user return for the publisher).

My requirements for interactive publication success:

  • Blazing fast downloads – I don’t want to wait more than I would for a standard web page to display any type of information.
  • Measurable data from user interaction – I want to return ROI figures to my advertisers or even better have my advertisers return ROI figures to me
  • Addictive – I want the experience to hold their attention for more than five minutes so they come back next issue.
  • Socially engaging – Oddly enough people go to the internet to connect with people. Connecting people with similar interests instantly adds dimension and fresh content.
  • Viral – make sure they can share the experience in a way that compounds internet traffic numbers (respectfully).

In my next few entries I’ll cover each of these points in greater detail. For now I’d like to start by creating a collection of so-called interactive digital publications.

1. Wired

2. Horse Link

Please comment with examples and urls of publications claiming full interactive status and we can critique together.


Scribd: Sharing PDF’s of your publication

Today I’m revisiting Scribd. I first found this service after reading a note to iPhone owners written by Apple CEO, Steve Jobs.

The document was embedded in blog. So my first experience with a Scribd document was much like the document I’ve embedded (below).

Rundown from the Scribd About Page:
Quick Facts

* More than 50 million readers every month
* More than 50,000 documents uploaded every day
* More than 5 million iPaper embeds
* 90 different languages

The Pros:
You really can’t argue with that. Scribd is a fast and free way to share PDFs. If your publication is text centric, is in need of greater readership, and is a free publication a Scribd version is a great place to try out digital delivery.

The folks at Scribd have been busy developing more ways to search within the text of your document. With powerful keyword search, indexed by search engines, you can get your publication in front of new readership.

The Cons:

I’ve really never been a fan of embedded applications or widgets. Widgets and embeds use a second level of interface control that always feels disconnected to the surrounding content and context. From a design perspective I feel embeds are analogous to dashboard compasses. They are invaluably useful if your car doesn’t have a compass or GPS navigation. But they wreck the dashboard with sticky adhesive, scream I’m lost, and obstruct the view of the road.

The same cons can be said about integrating embeds on a corporate website: interface design doesn’t match the look and feel, shows users you don’t have the cash or skills to integrate new technology on your site, and any other important message displayed on the page usually gets second billing visually.

Scribd is clearly best used as a vehicle for promoting text heavy documents. For publishers, this limits bottom line potential. While Scribd will take an advertising centric PDF like the embed above, I’ve had a large number of error’d out upload sessions with PDFs chuck full of graphics. So in the example above we’ve created a low resolution PDF and the compression fragments are pretty apparent.

It would be fantastic if the designers of Scribd could add advanced navigation based on indices for use inside and outside of a Scribd document. Most of my publications include a pretty heavy index of advertisers. I would love to have document navigation based on my index, until then page flipping, scrolling, and thumbnail navigation certainly does not come close to the experience of physical paper.

Scribd isn’t really designed for document purchase or subscription services. The common usage for fee based publication is to use Scribd as preview the content of a for purchase document. You’ll commonly see first chapters and teasers, instead of full product implementation.

My Recommendation:
Try Scribd out for yourself to see how your publication looks and reads in digital form. Use this service as a sandbox. Pencil out the opportunities and weaknesses of digital delivery for your publication before investing in software or service agreement. This ten minute exercise will at least make you smarter.

Answer: where IT professionals first look when trying to solve your computer problems. Question: What is google?

Knowledge, instructions, diagrams, and expert advice are all free if you’re marginally talented at riffling through the internet via google searches. Since the bulk of developers engineering web 2.0 (and beyond) are living the open source lifestyle its natural to speculate that the future of content within web 2.0 (and beyond) will be as openly free as the technology that delivers it. This extremely prevalent mindset has made free content a near human right to all internet users.

As publishers we know free content is never exclusive. So if your print publication’s model for success has historically been driven by exclusive content should you be asking: What is google? I think the answer, so far, is a definite maybe. So lets start examining what is available to publishers today.

My single goal with this blog is to record and critique online technologies that can help us get back in black in a big way. To kick off my blog, I’d like to start with digital delivery. Whether this technology will get generate significant and sustainable revenue for any given publication isn’t immediately obvious. But, lets never say never.

The first technology I’ll examine is Flash Paper/ iPaper. List of service providers (incomplete) includes:

If you have any experience with the aforementioned services, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post a comment below.