Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Publishing Without Profits: What's Behind the Content Marketing Craze?

American Express web site for small businesses
Since when do insurance company web sites look like this?
Though the publishing industry isn’t exactly booming these days, the hottest trend in marketing is for non-publishing companies to act like publishers.

Consider that Citibank is posting articles like “5 Healthy Snacks Your Kids Will Actually Eat” – not what you expect to find on a bank’s web site.

Or that retailers like Walmart, Target, and Walgreens recently launched or are launching magazines primarily to enhance their brands.

Or that content marketing – AKA brand journalism – is taking a growing share of what non-publishing companies are spending on marketing.

It’s no accident that one of the leading books on the trend is Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher. It explores how non-publishing companies can use “words, images and multimedia to systematically enhance consumer engagement and conversion rates.” (Note: It does not address such key publishing tactics as stating inflated prices on a ratecard, debating whether print is dead, or blaming all problems on the circulation department).

Many content marketers follow the 4-to-1 rule of thumb: publish four non-promotional items for every one that mentions the company’s products or services. But some eschew any promotional copy and focus only on establishing their companies as “thought leaders”: You have to look closely to see who is sponsoring sites like OPEN Forum (American Express), HouseLogic (National Association of Realtors), or especially Brighter Life (Sun Life Financial).

National Assoc. of Realtors site has a Target ad.
Publishing Executive just published in its January 2013 issue my article, The Content Marketing Craze: 7 Ways Publishers Can Fight Back, which explores how traditional publishers can respond to the challenges presented by so many companies vying for our readers' attention.

But why are profitable non-publishing brands emulating Newsweek – pouring millions of dollars into creating content without much of a revenue model? Here are seven reasons content marketing, which has been around in various forms for decades, is suddenly booming:
  1. The Web: In the pre-internet days, freedom of the press applied mostly to those who owned a printing press. Now everyone can be a publisher. 
  2. Social media: Who would think of turning to an insurance company to read about The Year’s Most Inspiring Athletes or a deodorant to see Seriously Dangerous Snowboard Stunts? It doesn’t

Saturday, January 26, 2013

So Far, FSS Is A Step Backward, USPS Data Indicate

The Flats Sequencing System is costing the U.S. Postal Service more than it is saving, information submitted by USPS this week indicates.

USPS's response to a question from the Postal Regulatory Commission showed that FSS has pushed up the costs of mail processing far more than it has decreased delivery costs.

USPS invested more than $1 billion in the huge FSS machines to automate the labor-intensive process of handling catalogs, magazines, and other flat mail, but so far the results have been mixed at best. Meanwhile, the agency continues to seek special rate increases on some types of flat mail, such as Periodicals, on which it claims to be losing money.

The cost of delivering Carrier-Route-sorted Standard-class mail rose 2.32 cents per piece, from 16.54 cents to 18.87 per piece, in just two years almost solely because of a 48% increase in mail-processing costs, USPS told the PRC.

"An examination of mail processing costs by cost pool shows that the bulk of this rise is due to FSS sorting. Specifically, FY 2012 FSS sorting cost per piece for Carrier Route is 1.84 cents while the amount for FY 2010 is likely fairly small [because few FSS machines were operating then]," USPS wrote.

"Delivery costs (both city and rural carrier) have declined by 0.06 cents

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Knew I Was in the Production Department When . . .

I toured a publishing company recently that had no signs marking the various departments, but I didn't need a sign to know when I was among the folks who buy paper and plan print projects.

Most departments looked pretty much the same -- people sitting at computers. OK, you could spot the designers because they had Macs and big monitors, but otherwise the differences were subtle -- a bit more phone chatter in ad sales, more arguments in editorial, more gossip in circulation.

As an environmentalist, I noticed that every department had recycling bins. And whether people worked mostly in old media or new media, they used those bins the same: as garbage cans.

Then I rounded a corner and saw it -- a recycling bin with a cover that had two holes, indicating it was for bottles and cans. And it actually contained only bottles and cans!

"For paper only"
Nearby was another recycling bin with a sign saying, "For paper only." And people were actually obeying the sign!

I knew right away I was in the production department. (Some of my colleagues in the industry like to call it the operations department because these days they're also doing things like preparing mailings, building web pages, or selling reprints. And some like to call it the manufacturing department, which really throws off the people who cold-call on behalf of factory consultants, only to find that American magazine publishers outsource all of their manufacturing.)

Anyway, this was not an isolated incident. I consistently find that the people in the industry who really care about environmental issues are the ones who buy paper or put ink on it.

They're the only ones you'll hear talking about sustainable forestry, carbon footprint, and the differences between pre-consumer and post-consumer waste (a distinction unique to North America). They understand that forestry industries can benefit the environment, or harm it, and they often wrestle with how to make their companies' paper purchases and other practices more sustainable.

The "print is dead" gang
Meanwhile, the "print is dead" types ignorantly assume they're saving trees, oblivious to the environmental footprints of the web and digital devices. And they rarely lift a finger to make their work any greener.

A similar dichotomy shows up in government. It's no accident that the U.S. Postal Service, the nation's primary distributor of printed pieces, has been far more active on the sustainability front than any other federal agency. There's something about handling printed products that makes people and organizations more environmentally aware and inspires them to take responsibility

As I noted last week, the dichotomy occurs even at Hearst Corporation, arguably one of the world's greenest large companies. (See Killah in Manilla: Hearst's Green Reputation Tarnished by Subsidiary.)

Hearst's traditional publishing people have meticulously documented the fiber sourcing of the company's magazine paper, pressured paper suppliers to use more sustainable forestry, led industry efforts to make the supply chain greener, and even installed a worm farm at one office. But then an all-digital subsidiary called Manilla ignorantly claimed that its involvement in the "Paperless 2013" campaign will "help improve the environment."

You wanna bet which part of Hearst -- the production department or Manilla -- makes the best use of its recycling bins?

Related articles:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Killah in Manilla: Hearst's Green Reputation Tarnished by Subsidiary

Update: No Thrillah in Manilla: Paperless 2013 Founder Going Down for the Count

Hearst Corporation has earned a reputation as a truly green company by systematically measuring, revealing, and minimizing its environmental impacts – until now.

A subsidiary of Hearst – one of the world’s largest buyers of publication papers – is among seven corporate sponsors along with Google of the controversial Paperless 2013 promotion. That campaign has come under criticism (See The Takeover of Paperless 2013) for unsubstantiated claims that organizations become more environmentally friendly when they switch to cloud computing and other paperless processes.

Manilla, a Hearst unit that offers an online bill-management process, is not just guilty of greenwashing by association. Manilla’s CEO said this month that the company’s sponsorship of Paperless 2013 is “truly representative of Manilla’s overall mission ... to help improve the environment by reducing the overall use of paper.”
Manilla ad

Like Paperless 2013, Manilla presents no evidence that its processes help the environment. In fact, its web site reveals nothing about its environmental footprint or programs. That’s a far cry from the practices of the parent company, which owns such leading media brands as Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Road & Track, A&E Network, and the Houston Chronicle.

Hearst doesn’t just claim that its headquarters “is the most environmentally friendly office tower in New York City history.” It underwent the stringent process of having the innovative building LEED-certified with a Gold rating.
Hearst paper policies

Dead Tree Edition cited Hearst in 2009 as one of “the real leaders in making U.S. magazines greener” because of its multi-faceted work on such matters as encouraging sustainable forestry and promoting the recycling of magazines.

Documentation and transparency have been hallmarks of Hearst’s efforts. When it set up the Hearst Sustainable Forestry Initiative in 2004, it says it found that 38% of the fiber for its magazines was from certified fiber.

“By modifying our purchasing strategy and working proactively with our suppliers, we were able to increase this level to 75% by December 2009. We continue to have a goal of 80%,” says the company’s annual “Being Green” report. It also says it is not averse to “changing mills or suppliers when certification percentages and targets are unacceptable.”

Methinks that Manilla’s vague, self-serving claim about helping the environment does not represent the new Hearst philosophy but is rather a case of the startup division not absorbing its parent's culture. Manilla could learn a few lessons from its not-so-paperless sister companies about business practices that promote healthy forests and other measurable environmental benefits.

Methinks, to paraphrase a Manilla ad, that when it comes to environmental claims Manilla needs to get its “s**t together.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Takeover of Paperless 2013

A group of companies including Google recently created the Paperless 2013 campaign to promote the use of online solutions, but unsubstantiated environmental claims caused the program to backfire.

The campaign went viral in the past few days, with hundreds of Twitter messages a day using the hashtag “#paperless2013.” But the tweets are running roughly 10 to 1 against the campaign, with most criticizing it for implying that digital media are always greener than paper-based media without providing any facts.

Welcome to a protest tool for the 21st Century – the hashtag takeover. I didn’t invent the concept, but I think I’m the first to use the term (which is ironic given my lack of social-media savvy. My Facebook page has cobwebs from neglect.)

The tactic sprang up in June as one of the grassroots responses to Toshiba’s ill-fated No Print Day. Toshiba was using "#NoPrintDay" to promote its gimmick, but defenders of print turned that hashtag into a

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How About a NewPage-Quad/Graphics Merger?

After finally emerging from bankruptcy protection, with a much lighter debt load, NewPage Corp. clearly has merger on its mind.

Why else would North America’s largest maker of coated paper choose as its chairman Mark A. Angelson, the U.S. printing industry’s Great Consolidator? And why else would he accept the job?

Only four months ago, the man who led the rolling up of such major printers as Worldcolor, MooreWallace, and Banta quit an apparently successful run as deputy mayor of Chicago so that he could lead “a somewhat less frantic life.”  It seems unlikely that he took hold of the NewPage reins simply to be caretaker of a stable company in a declining industry. As I’ve noted before, even his initials are M&A.

Further consolidation of the paper industry is inevitable, but could Angelson & Co. have something more radical in mind? Like maybe a marriage with a printing company? Like maybe Quad/Graphics, the continent’s #2 printer?

This is pure speculation, and it might be totally crazy, but hear me out: