Contrary to the idea that all print is dead, print magazines have only been experiencing small declines in circulation since 2009, ranging from -2.2% in 2009 (the worst year) to -0.3% in 2012[1]. The more troubling statistics for the industry are around circulation composition and ad revenue.   The circulation declines are coming from single copy sales, which have fallen an average 8.2%[2]. A similar trend can be seen in digital replica versions of magazines, where, in 2012 91% of the 5.8M digital sales were sold on a subscription basis.[3] This has fairly serious revenue implications for the magazine industry, where subscriptions are sold at a far lower per-copy price, and only compounds the problems created by the precipitous decline in ad revenue that started in 2008.

Publishers don’t currently see digital subscriptions as a viable revenue replacement; lower ad CPMs[4] are compounded by the far lower circulation of digital replicas. And this is part of the problem, that magazine publishers believe that digital replicas can substitute for the paper copies. 73% of digital versions are replicas of the print copy[5], while only 25% of consumers want their digital copy to be just like the printed copy[6].

The reason why most magazines are digital copies is a simple technology issue. Most magazines currently use Adobe DPS, essentially making a PDF the print copy, and then loading that into an application to read in the same manner as a print magazine. The benefit of the current system is that it is a single workflow, created after (not in tandem with) the magazine layout, then pushed to an application, with little or no change across operating systems. Some publishers are using native apps (58% according to the AAM[7]), but that generally just means that the screen size is optimized for the device, a feature of the Adobe DPS system. Approximately 30% of magazine publishers are considering going to HTML 5[8], but that seems more likely to continue the status quo of a single product across systems.

Into this breach have come some great hybrid products and providers: Pugpig[9], Baker Framework, Periodical, and 29th Street Publishing which are moving away from digital replicas, and towards a more interactive format. Key to this move is the importance of the emotional connection that readers have with their magazines, which has not, so far been captured by digital replicas, and which I believe is unlikely ever to be.

Readers don’t yet know what they want from their tablet reading experience, but the immersive and interactive nature of the devices leads me to believe that there is the potential to recreate the trust and deep emotional reaction (and the advertising dollars that they command) with tablet magazines. And lastly, the rising popularity of online sources like Buzzfeed and Upworthy whose emotional and curated content  demonstrates the desire of younger  generations for a trusted relationship with content providers, one which tablet magazines, if executed well, can provide.

[1] Pew State of the Media 2013
[2] Ibid.
[3] Alliance for Audited Media Digital Magazine Circulation 2012
[4] CPM is cost per thousand impressions
[5] Alliance for Audited Media 2012 Digital Publishing Survey
[6] Magazine Publishers Association Magazine Readers and Tablets
[7] AAM 2012 Digital Publishing Survey
[8] Ibid.
[9] Disclosure: I have worked for Kaldor Product Development Group, the creators of Pugpig

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To compete with the marketing budgets of traditional retailers’ ecommerce startups have found a way to cheaply acquire customers: provide interesting content on their website. Those who enjoy the blog are most likely their target demographic, and once on their website it will be easy to convert these readers into paying customers. However, these visitors are first and foremost consumers not customers, and the conversion from consumer to customer may be more complicated than imagined. Content driven commerce is an age-old concept; advertisements are paired with relevant media content in magazines, in newspapers, on television and alongside search results. Yet, for ecommerce businesses this new model challenges them to simultaneously create interesting content and a viable business. One company in particular, Huckberry, has been extremely successful in meeting this challenge.

Huckberry is a startup ecommerce site designed for the urban male professional who spends his weekend’s outdoors. Co-founders and college friends, Andy Forsch and Richard Greiner lived this life during their investment banking days and thus know their consumer well. Huckberry is equally a blog and a shop, you can seamlessly toggle between the sections via tabs at the top of the page. Counterintuitive to traditional merchandising, Huckberry intentionally drives traffic from the shop to the blog; products are featured next to blog posts, and blog teasers are placed in the shop. Last month I sat down with founder Andy Forsch and learned their blog strategy is as crucial as their merchandising strategy; they are constantly aiming to improve the customer’s experience by not only providing more interesting products, but also more relevant content. With email communication, their rule is three content pings for every commerce pin, and to date the strategy has worked as they have incredibly high open rates on their emails.

Huckberry’s consistent aesthetic and voice results in seamless integration between their blog and shop, they maintain this consistency by keeping all of their writing and photography in house. Even their product descriptions read like a story, In 2008, Swedes Alexander Palmgren and Henrik Lindahl found themselves in an American hotel room with lost luggage and— even more upsetting— no clean underwear. No, this isn’t The Hangover 3. But it was the beginning of an idea: Bread &Boxers.” Not quite the typical product description for undershirts and boxers, but each of these descriptions builds and maintains their brand.

The question remains, how will they convert these content driven sign-ups into paying customers? Further, does Huckberry need to turn every one of their consumers into a customer? To date their sales have supported the bootstrapped company (they have taken no venture fudning) and everything from article writing to order fulfillment is done in their SOMA garage style office. Without the pressure of growth targets they are waiting for the right opportunities to scale their business or pivot their model.

With a blog as valuable as Huckberry’s I wonder where their future lies. Are they going to continue to sell a curated collection of luxury plaid shirts and masculine candles? Are they going to fundamentally change media content’s monetization and distribution? Their articles are as interesting as GQs, but their turnaround time is seven days, not seven months, so it is no wonder why traditional media outlets, such as Outsiders magazine, have begun to seek partnerships with them. Huckberry delivers timely and interesting articles to their consumers’ inboxes with interesting products for sale folded into the mix. As a consumer and a customer that sounds better than getting an email from Details filled with display ads and veiled behind a subscription fee.

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