Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Got "mine", But I Don't Get It

Time Inc. just spent at least $2, probably more, to produce and mail me a beautifully printed customized magazine called mine. Just one question: Why?

Actually, I have lots of questions, like why a big publisher with lots of smart people goofed on so many aspects of this much-hyped project.

But the fundamental question is why anyone at Time Inc. or Lexus, the sole advertiser, thinks the project is worthwhile. It's as if someone said, "Let's figure out how to spend as much money as we can on mine without creating any value for the advertiser."

Subscribers to the free magazine signed up on a Web site, choosing to receive content from five of eight possible Time Inc. or American Express titles and entering some information about their personal preferences. The magazine consists of 36 pages -- a cover, four personalized Lexus ads, a customized table of contents, and six pages from each of the magazines selected for the mash-up. Rex Hammock's blog has a nice little slide show depicting his copy.

The text stock is brighter and much heavier than that used in National Geographic. I'm guestimating it's at least a 70# coated #2. The extremely smooth surface, moderate paper gloss, and high print gloss allow for some striking photo reproductions.

The saddle-stitched magazine is printed using a very high AM (that is, not stochastic) line screen, with a bronze PMS border on all of the editorial pages. The opening page of each six-page section has only the source magazine's logo in black type, the bronze border, and the page number -- a bit of a waste.

But there are plenty of other questionable features of mine:

  • Needless complexity: The combination of saddle stitching and six-page snippets creates far more versions of the editorial sections than are necessary because each printed signature contains content from two different magazines. It's no wonder some subscribers received the wrong sections. Here's a way to create a simpler magazine with more editorial content and probably a lower cost: Offer eight pages of each of the five selected titles in a (selectively) perfect-bound magazine. That would have created much less complexity and probably would have allowed the editorial pages to be printed offset instead of digitally, at significant savings without loss of quality.

  • Pointless personalization: All of the personalization is with text -- such as subscriber's name, town of residence, and selections made on the multiple-choice survey. But nowhere does it show the nearest Lexus dealer, much less a map from the subscriber's home to that dealer. The gimmicky, clumsy personalization does nothing to drive sales or even to create interest in Lexus.

  • Pointless ads: The personalization gimmick was supposed to highlight the customer's ability to customize a new Lexus 2010 RX. But nowhere do the ads mention customization. In fact, the only mention of Lexus is in one of the ads, and that's in small type on the back cover. So when the second ads begins, "We know how much you love . . .", some readers will assume the "we" is Time Inc., not Lexus.

  • Expensive postage: The magazine was mailed presorted First Class at a cost of probably more than $1 per copy. Standard class would have cost less than half of that. All Time Inc. got for the extra money was faster delivery, which is kind of irrelevant for something with months-old re-purporsed articles, including one that touted's "breaking news coverage" of a 2008 European soccer event.

  • Awful ad copy: With all of the unemployed journalists around, you'd think Lexus could have done better than run-on sentences like this: "With more usable cargo space for your matching designer luggage, and an available Heads-Up Display for keeping your eyes on the road because the LA Freeway can be tricky on your way to the beach." We're supposed to be impressed that the references to designer luggage, LA Freeway, and the beach were personalized (in grey type to emphasize the gimmick). But it left me wondering how the cargo space would help me navigate the LA Freeway, what a Heads-Up Display is, and whether that random comma had eaten the sentence's subject and predicate.

  • Tiny photos: The high production values are wasted on some photos that are smaller than a postage stamp. I needed a magnifier to make out what one of those mini-photos was depicting, and I still can't figure out how it relates to the article.


Anonymous said...

Just because it says first class doesn't mean a true first class postage rate was paid.
The mailing may have been done for a negotiated price. That negotiated price does not have to be revealed.

Coordinator of the Printernet Project said...

All very good points. My take is that it's one more solution looking for a problem. And if it can't find one, it makes one up.

Meanwhile the data will be used either to support or decry versioned customized print.

VDP and "personalization" are the memes that come from production vendors not from selling stuff. The map thing was used years ago for shoe company in the midwest. It worked pretty well. Although only a couple of people have the tech to do it at scale.

It is worth noting that the last I heard, about two weeks ago, users were choosing the print version over the web version by about 6 to 1.