Monthly Archives: October 2012

What the iPad Mini and the Coming Tablet Boom Mean for Branded Content

What does Apple’s just-announced iPad Mini mean for branded content? It’s pretty straightforward: Tablets will quickly become a dominant medium, so you better plan on making content for them.

At its press event today, Apple said it has sold 100 million iPads. The standard iPad features a 9.7-inch screen and costs upwards of $500, and those aspects have limited the iPad’s appeal. Yes — even at 100 million sold, the iPad has been fenced in. The bigger size is great as a work space and makes for excellent video viewing, but the thing is bulky to carry and hard to hold when reading, and the price can be a little much for a big segment of consumers — including much of China and India.

Amazon proved the demand for a cheaper and smaller tablet. The Kindle Fire costs around $200 and has a 7-inch screen — easier for carrying, easier for book reading, easier to afford, and a nice fit between a smart phone and a laptop.

The Fire has been a hot product (so to speak). Google followed with the Nexus 7. Next thing you knew, 7-inch tablets were sucking up market share from iPad-size tablets.

The success of the 7 inchers all but forced Apple to develop the iPad Mini, which comes in at $329 and up . (If you’ll recall, Steve Jobs was adamant that 7-inch tablets were too small and he killed any talk of making one at Apple.)








Here’s the bet on what happens next: the 7-inch tablet market takes off like a rocket, far surpassing the market for bigger tablets. As that happens over the next year, the tablet will become firmly entrenched as a medium. It will hit its tipping point — from ahead-of-the-curve gadget and luxury item to the category of everybody-has-one-and-I-gotta-get-it.

This tablet boom in turn will change media habits. Attention once given to web sites, TV sets, magazines and books will increasingly get sucked into tablets. The younger the audience, the more likely it will consume its media on tablets. But don’t be fooled — older demographics will head there, too.

So if you want to create branded content, put that in your plans.

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So Sorry About Newsweek, But Print Isn’t Dead…Yet

We were greeted today by the sad but inevitable report that Newsweek will cease to be a print publication. Sad because Newsweek was once a terrific magazine (I was a big fan in the 1980s and ’90s). Inevitable not because all print magazines are doomed, but because Newsweek panicked and remade itself into something that wasn’t anything like Newsweek, killing its own brand. Doh!

All print magazines are not doomed. Just certain kinds. Well, and Newsweek would’ve been one of them sooner or later. But still…

There are two a pretty simple lines of demarcation. This is important for brands to consider if they want to get into publishing.

The first is between text magazines and designed magazines.  Text magazines are typically newsy magazines — Time, Newsweek, The Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The New Yorker. As I wrote in the previous post about books, we’re getting used to reading long-form text on electronic devices. Now that that’s happening, there’s almost no good argument for reading on paper — unless you’re someone who just doesn’t want to read on a device, the way some people don’t want to floss their teeth.

Designed magazines are something else entirely. They are, at their best, beautiful packaged experiences. Think of a great issue of Conde Nast Traveler, or Vogue, or even New York Magazine (which seems to be thriving). Yes, you can do all of these very nicely on an iPad. But great designed magazines take advantage of the medium of print in a way that many readers still find more pleasing than the iPad experience. The print publication does something the iPad can’t quite duplicate — it creates a cover-to-cover experience rich in context. And it’s an artifact that you can leave on a coffee table and share or return to again.

For however long print can do this better than devices, print will have a reason for being. And here’s a minor proof point: My old colleague, George Quraishi, co-founded a new print magazine about soccer, called Howler. (I have a story in the first issue.) There was no way a soccer magazine that looked like Sports Illustrated would succeed. Howler had to be a designed magazine — and it is in fact a beautiful, large-format eye-feast. If you’re going to start a print magazine these days, this is how to do it.


So, what’s the other line of demarcation? An obvious one: age.

Anyone over about 40 grew up reading magazines. And you know what? They still like a good magazine. And you know what else? They are going to be around for another 20, 30, 40 years. Baby Boomers alone number about 80 million. Not a bad audience to play to.

That’s the good news.

The bad news: People who grow up reading devices are not going to embrace print. At a recent magazine industry conference, Dr. Jeffery Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, gave this blunt assessment about the future of print publications: “Every time one of their readers dies, they’re not being replaced by a new reader.”

Brands are creating content, and a surprising number publish some kind of print magazine. If I’m right about these demarcations, then the dumbest thing a brand could do would be to publish a text-heavy print magazine aimed at younger readers. That’s the worst quadrant to be in. If you have to publish text for younger generations, put it on the web or in an app, but not on paper.

However, there’s still a sweet spot in the quadrant where designed magazines meet 40-plus readers. It’s a big audience and one that tends to have lots of money. Probably worth considering. Yes, create a digital version that lives alongside the magazine. But the print product could win you some brand love.

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Horses, film cameras, paper books…

This post is prompted by an unbelievably backward-thinking op-ed column published in today’s New York Times under the headline “Long Live Paper,” by a Tufts University professor, Justin Hollander. He in turn is responding to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion last week that paper textbooks should soon be made obsolete in favor of digital books.

In his op-ed, Hollander goes on to dump all over digital books, arguing that paper is better. In other words, this old-school professor thinks that we should continue to give our kids information in a form that (a) most of them don’t like, (b) makes their school backpacks weigh 40 pounds, (c) costs a lot in production, shipping, storage and environmental damage, and (d) is a a medium of information that will be as precious and vintage as vinyl records by the time these students are adults.

Secretary Duncan is right: paper books will go the way of horses and film cameras. Print books won’t go away. But they will no longer be ubiquitous or essential. They will become premium versions of what was formally known as a book — something nice you might give your employees for Christmas. A personal library will become more of a keepsake, a decoration, a way to preserve and pass down a physical version of an intellectual life. But increasingly you’ll find no one pulls a book off the shelf and actually reads it.

Book lovers among us — heck, authors among us! — hate the idea of dying paper books. But that won’t make the trend go away. Each succeeding generation moves farther and farther away from paper media. The harsh truth is, if you want to publish something for old people, put it on paper. If you want to publish something for young people, put it in the cloud so they can see it on anything, anywhere.

In 2007, I interviewed Kodak CEO Antonio Perez in front of an audience at Dartmouth. He talked about his first tour of Kodak facilities after he took the job. He’d go to film factories, and gather a couple thousand workers, and ask them how many of them use digital cameras. Inevitably, just about every hand would go up. Perez didn’t even have to say more. The film makers showed themselves why their world had to change.









That moment is around the corner for paper books. I’ve written five books and am on my sixth. I don’t read books on paper anymore. I just finished Ron Chernow’s 904-page biography of George Washington by reading some of it on a Kindle, and much of it on my smart phone on the New York subway. The book was always in the cloud, synched to whatever page I last read. I found time to read it in spaces where I never would’ve carted the massive print volume.

This is good news for publishing and authors, because now I can buy and read more books. And it’s looking like that’s true for much of the book-reading audience — once they get into digital books, they buy more books than before.

A lot of CEOs come to us wanting to write a book. And that’s great. A long-form book makes a statement. It can be a deeply argued body of thought or a grand sweeping story — something you can’t do so well on YouTube or Pinterest. Despite all the technology out there, the written word remains the most efficient means for channeling what’s inside one person’s brain directly into another person’s brain.

But keep in mind that the book is changing. If you want to create a paper book, publish beautiful printed copies that can be treasured artifacts and reach an audience — still sizable, by the way — that can’t or prefers not to read a book on a device.

And know that you’ll reach a younger, more tech-savvy generation a different way — through digital copies in the cloud. Like it or not, kids entering grade school today will get to college and think of a physical book as an antique.

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Why Brands Should Produce Content They Can Sell for Actual Money

I’m going to throw down a gauntlet here: The measure of great branded content is whether the audience will pay for it.

Most of the time these days, brands looking to create content dive right into the free model. They believe they have to foot the bill to create a web news site, a magazine, a book. And then they give it away.

Brands in some way have been doing this forever, from airline magazines to Mayo Clinic’s web site and everything in between. The web has especially fueled the era of free content — Wired magazine shouted that to the world in 2008 with its cover story, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business.

But there’s also always been another side to that story. Merck created its Merck Manual more than 100 years ago, and first gave the drug guides away to doctors — but later sold them to consumers. Now you can buy one in a bookstore or on Amazon — or buy one of its spin-offs, like the Merck Manual Home Health Handbook.

Weber, the grill company, pumps out a whole series of grilling cookbooks — and people buy them, at as much as $40 a pop. When I co-wrote the book The Two-Second Advantage with TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive, the idea from the start was to write a book good enough to sell to a mainstream publisher and make the bestseller list.

Bike apparel company Rapha publishes a literary cycling magazine, Rouleur, that it sells for $20 dollars an issue. Twenty dollars!

Harvard Business Review is a great branded content success. It is, actually, Harvard Business School’s branded content play — and it’s become a stand-alone business. These days, it’s available online, as an iPad app, and in the traditional magazine format. Buy an all-access pass for $99 a year.


I can’t think of a brand that has created a new, digital content offering, and charged for it. (Let me know if I’m missing something.) But — why not? If it’s good enough — especially if it’s useful — people will pay for it.

Why should a brand even try to create content it can sell?

Well, for one, if you get the audience to pay, you’ll get a better audience. The audience will be invested in your content, so it will be more loyal, more likely to actually consume the content, more likely to buy into the brand.

And if we’re honest, free also lowers the expectations of greatness. If a brand is creating give-away content — it’s not charging the audience and it’s not charging advertisers — nobody expects the content to be truly, consistently great. The brand doesn’t have to lure the best talent or design a beautiful product. The burden is only to put out something that’s OK. So making a decision to sell content is making a decision to produce great content — and that can only be good for the brand.

It’s not about the money, by the way. As any media company knows, content can be a tough business to try to make a profit on. But, hey, if paying customers offset some of the cost while the content is benefitting the brand — what’s not to like?

Yes, sure, in a lot of situations, free probably makes sense. It lowers the barrier to getting an audience, especially when starting from scratch. Heck, this blog is free. If I charged for it at this point, I’d be lucky if my dog Louie subscribed.

But free isn’t always the answer. And when it comes to content, free may be the enemy of great.

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Google Trends and the Dawn of Brand Journalism

Google Trends just unveiled a new tool for mapping the popularity of search terms. So I was curious about  what it might tell us about “brand journalism” and “owned content” — two of the terms often used to describe this marriage of credible content with company sponsorship.





Neither term even shows a blip before 2008. Interesting that brand journalism had a couple of brief spikes, then went dormant around 2010 and has re-emerged with staying power since 2011.

Owned content seems to have been introduced into the vernacular in early 2009, and has seen a somewhat steady rise in popularity since.

The tool can be revealing. I was messing around with it, and tried the term “journalism jobs.” My assumption was that the trend would zoom upward thanks to the constant drumbeat of cutbacks at traditional publications. Not so! The trend line curves downward. Fewer and fewer people are searching for “journalism jobs.” Could it be that people increasingly don’t even consider journalism jobs?

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