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Music magazine Paste asked readers to help it out of its money troubles. The print magazine needed $300,000. After ten days it collected $175,000 in reader donations.

Some public broadcasting radio and TV stations raise money through donations. This mainly happens in the US but the idea is starting to take root elsewhere.

Can this model work for print publications?

The answer is, in a way it already does. Print magazines earn revenue from copy and subscription sales. If there’s less advertising, the cover price is higher.

Many publications already carry no advertising, or very little. They make almost all their money from copy or subscription payments.

New Zealand’s Consumer Institute magazine Consumer doesn’t carry advertising. The same applies to Choice in Australia and similar titles elsewhere in the world.

This means the magazine’s readers know its articles are written without any pressure from advertisers.

It can a good business model for publishers. Subscription revenue is a more reliable income source than advertising. Better still from the publisher point of view, you get it before paying for publishing costs. Advertisers often pay a long time after a magazine goes to print.  I think we’ll see more subscription-driven print titles in the future. And more titles that rely on reader donations.

Readers can donate to this site through my PressPatron account using the button below:

There’s debate in publishing circles about whether consumers will pay for online content. Rupert Murdoch recently moved from the free content camp to thinking out loud about charging readers micropayments to view news.

Now Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal says it will press ahead with a micropayment scheme as well as more conventional subscriptions.

Reuters columnist Eric Auchard looks at possible newspaper business models for The Guardian in Pay a small toll to read this news story.  He concludes; “the newspaper industry must find a way to make work one or several of these proposals to make consumers pay for online news. The alternative is to accept that newspapers have had their day.”

Why micropayments?

In theory the subscription model should be perfect for delivering digital content. Yet only a handful of businesses have succeeded in persuading consumers to pay an upfront fee for pure online content – the best-known examples are the adult sites.

There have been famous failures to attract subscription revenue. Slate magazine started out free, then attempted to move to the subscription model. Less than 5% of readers were willing to pay even a modest fee to read the magazine. It has since returned to the ad-supported free online newspaper business model. This five percent figure crops up a lot in the context of online subscriptions, but few publishers have ever reached such giddy heights.

Buy print subscription, get digital free

There are interesting variations on the subscription theme, such as The Economist a British weekly newspaper-magazine has an excellent website. At first only subscribers to the print edition had full access to the entire site. Today, The Economist also offedigital-only only subscription, it’s about 20 percent of the price of a print subscription. The New Scientist has similar offers.

Another variation is where Internet users can trade their personal information for a subscription. The New York Times allows access to a basic set of pages, but for full access you have to fill out a questionnaire. Fairfax Media’s Stuff site in New Zealand allows registered users to customise pages and news feeds. Fairfax’s Australian sites let registered users take part in competitions and receive custom alerts. In some cases the data from these schemes is used for simple information gathering, in other cases once you’ve signed up you’ll see a never-ending stream of spam.

One reason why many content publishers haven’t yet managed to sell subscriptions is that online payment is still based on credit cards. Although many companies have attempted to introduce micropayment systems, none have taken off. Credit card transactions are simply not economically viable below, say, $10.

Rocky road to micropayments

Although as a journalist and ex-publisher I’d love to find ways of turning my skills into a reliable income once more, I see three big problems with getting readers to pay for online content.

First, for readers to pay money, content has to be valuable and consistently good. The Economist and the New Scientist offer consistently good reading and are reliable, credible information sources.

The same cannot be said for all newspapers. The most popular news stories online tend to be trashy tabloid pieces about celebrities – often hinting at sex or with vaguely sexy pictures. These drag in the punters for online advertising, but few people would pay money for this material.

Micropayments send price signals

Second, micropayment schemes would send price signals to journalists. While an economist would argue this is a good thing, it may kill the news business. Newspapers earn their credibility with their markets by the breadth, depth and independence of their coverage. If the easy micropayment dollars all accrue to the trash stories, then quality journalism will be quickly eliminated or relegated to backwaters.

Micropayments will give newspaper managers instant financial feedback on the profitability of stories, genres, beats and individual journalists. Journalist will quickly learn to write for salability. Tech Dirt has an interesting perspective on this in Wait… Wouldn’t Micropayments Be Bad For Journalism?

Third, readers may need to set up multiple accounts with multiple publishers. It may be helpful if there was an iTunes style clearing house for online news, but I can’t see a realistic way this could be made to work.

Lastly, the idea of charging readers to access news adds considerable friction to the process. Stories behind pay content walls become invisible to search engines. The mere process of a reader stopping and thinking ‘do I have enough credit?’ or ‘is this worth paying for?’ will erode numbers. Regardless of their willingness to pay, the frictionless, free content sites will win the traffic everyday.

Drawing parallels between the music industry and the newspaper business is not new.

Both industries are in free fall. Both are leaving skilled career-committed professionals struggling to find ways to carry on doing what they are good at while putting food on the table.

Although the newspaper industry may now be collapsing faster than the music business, the record companies started their decline earlier. Which means musicians have had longer to work out ways of coping.

And some of them are coping quite nicely thank you.

David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists suggests journalists can adapt some lessons already learnt by professional musicians.

Byrne’s article starts with a description of what happened to the business that is optimistic from a musician’s point of view:

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that’s not bad news for music, and it is certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.

You could make an equally uplifting argument about the opportunities for journalists. Although there is one huge difference between the two industries: no-one is going to pay to see journalists perform live.

Later Byrne looks at possible distribution models – most of which have analogies in the newspaper world.

David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists

There have been a few changes since the first users’ guide to New Zealand’s technology press was written in August 2008. Computerworld has switched to fortnightly publishing and now has a smaller page size. Tone and CIO have moved to a bi-monthly schedule. The Action Media titles now have websites. IDG’s titles were published under licence by Fairfax Business Media, which was managed out of Australia but are now part of the New Zealand-controlled Fairfax Business Group along with Unlimited, Actv8 and The Independent. I’ve added cover shots of each title, web addresses and ownership details.

So here is an updated New Zealand technology press guide.

computerworld new zealand

ComputerWorld New Zealand:

Was until the start of the year a weekly print tabloid newspaper. The print edition now appears fortnightly and with a smaller page size. Computerworld New Zealand still tends to break local news stories ahead of most local mainstream newspapers.

However, the news is more likely to break online than in print these days and thanks to changes at the National Business Review it faces tougher competition. ComputerWorld is mainly read by senior technology executives and other people who work with IT. The title has been printed in New Zealand for more than 20 years. ComputerWorld remains the dominant specialist IT news publication in New Zealand in terms of influence if not in terms of advertising revenue.

Editor: Rob O’Neill
Published by Fairfax Business Group
Fortnightly
http://computerworld.co.nz/

 PC World

 

New Zealand PC World:

A monthly A4 magazine mainly sold on bookstands, in supermarkets and petrol stations. PC World is read by technical types who get to choose or heavily influence the products they use at work and home. Contains reviews and how to features. Coverage is largely focused on personal aspects of computing. Includes some games and consumer electronics material. PC World had already moved beyond just covering conventional desktop computers – a process that has accelerated in the past six months.

For more information see: A quick guide to New Zealand’s specialist tech publications: PC World

Editor: Ted Gibbons
Published by Fairfax Business Group
Monthly
http://pcworld.co.nz

 Reseller News

 

New Zealand Reseller News:

Fortnightly tabloid newspaper for people who sell and otherwise work in the IT channel. Has strong news focus with emphasis on business and people stories long with regular advice features and commentary. Now more than ten years old.

New Zealand Reseller News is only sent to qualified readers (i.e. people who work in the IT channel)  who have requested the publication. Most of the news on the web site is derived from the IDG newswire, but there are daily local stories and information about tenders and contracts.

Editor: Chris Bell
Published by Fairfax Business Group
Fortnightly
http://reseller.co.nz

 CIO

 

CIO New Zealand:

Influential A4 magazine focusing on the business and strategic aspects of large scale IT. Mainly feature based. Read by the people who make corporate buying decisions in large organisations. Published since 1999. In 2007 it merged with rival MIS magazine and still retains the brand for special publications. Has a strong, active community with a comprehensive events program.

CIO was monthly but has now switched to bi-monthly publishing.

Editor: Divina Paredes
Published by Fairfax Business Group
Bi-Monthly
http://cio.co.nz/

 

Gear Guide

Gear Guide:

PC World spin off now on its third edition, essentially a buyers’ guide for home computer products and consumer electronics. A4 magazine format, sold on bookstands at $9.80 a pop.

 

 

ToneTone:

Was monthly, now bi-monthly A4 bookstand magazine covering home entertainment, technology and hi-fi. Heavy product focus, i.e. mainly contains product reviews and product-related features. Technology content is relatively minor compared to Tone’s consumer electronics coverage.

Editor: Gary Steel
Published by Parkside
Bi-monthly
http://www.tone.co.nz

 

TC-Feb-09

The Channel:

Monthly A4 magazine for the IT channel. Feature driven, lots of guides and “how to” stories. Now two and a half years old.

Distributed free of charge to people working in ‘the IT channel’. Much of the content is paid ‘advertorial’. Front cover is sold as an advertisement. Web site added since previous publication guide.

Editor: Clare Coulson
Published by Action Media
Monthly
http://www.thechannel.co.nz/

istart

iStart:

Quarterly A4 magazine for “business and IT managers needing to improve their business with web based technology.” Mainly contains paid-for case studies. Now also has an Australian edition.

Published by iStart
Quarterly
http://www.istart.co.nz

 

FC-NG-0309

New Zealand Netguide:

Monthly A5 bookstand magazine aimed at less-technical readers. As the name suggests the publication largely covers Internet related stories, but it also has product reviews. Sold by ACP Media to Action Media last year. Now includes games content from Action Media’s Games Console title.

Editor: Jonathan Cotton
Published by Action Media
Monthly
http://www.netguide.co.nz/

 

ResizedImage150212-telecommunications-review

Telecommunications Review:

According to the web site’s subscription’s page the print edition of Telecommunications Review will return in May or June 2008. At the time of writing this hasn’t happened. However there is a website. When Telecommunications Review was previously published it was a monthly, glossy trade newspaper for people working in the industry and their more technically sophisticated customers – in practice, this meant pages of stories about Telecom New Zealand the dominant player in this market.

Published by Action Media

IT-Brief-Feb09

IT Brief:

A small monthly A4 magazine of “peer-reviewed industry comment” (although some of the content appears to be written by public relations companies) aimed at senior business and IT executives within corporate, government and enterprise businesses.

Published by Action Media
Monthly

Interfacemagazine Interface:

Published eight times a year (twice each school term), Interface is an A4 magazine aimed at school teachers responsible for using computers and information technology in the classroom.

Editor: Greg Adams
Published by G Media
Eight times a year
http://www.nz-interface.co.nz/

 

mag

Actv8:

A quarterly free magazine for school students. Distributed via schools and supported by the Ministry of Education. Actv8 promotes careers and higher education courses in technology-related areas. The stories tend to be short and written for teenagers, the design is colourful and loose.

Actv8’s web site hasn’t been updated since August 2008.

Published by Fairfax Business Group

 

Cover_Sept08

MyMobile:

A monthly mobile phone buyers guide with reviews and articles on how to get the most from mobile phones. Sold on bookstands. A5 size.

Published by iStart
Monthly

Any fool can write a good press release that hits its target audience and creates an impact.

Writing one that fails means work. There are people who have mastered the art.

As an editor I’ve seen some great efforts over the years. I’d like to share them with you.

Here are my top ten tips for making sure press releases get minimum attention:

1. Cripple its chances of reaching editors and journalists

Everyone can read plain text messages in the body of an email. The message will almost certainly get through to any kind of desktop email clients, all flavours of web mail, as well as Blackberries, iPhones and Palm Pilots.

To reach less than 100 percent of your potential audience, try putting some of these clever barriers in the way.

Attachments are an effective way of cutting down the reach of your press release. People reading email on mobile devices have trouble reading them. Spam filters treat them with suspicion and if you’re lucky the recipient may use Lotus Notes as a client and have difficulty decoding the attachment.

Another advantage of attachments is that you can trim your audience further by using difficult-to-open file formats: such as the new .docx file format used by Word 2007 – many journalists will struggle to read them.

Attachments are great for bulking up the size of your release so it won’t squeeze through email gateways. If you’re clever, use high-resolution logos in, say, your Word attachments. These add  nothing to the press release but can swiftly push the file size over the email gateway threshold.

A further reason for sending a press release as an attachment is its invisibility to email search. So, when a journalist decides to look for your press release among the hundreds and thousands in their email in-box, it will be difficult to find.

2. Minimise relevance

One of the best ways to make sure your press release fails is to make sure it has no relevance to any sane audience. For example, if you are a technology company and you buy a new fleet of cars you can squander your PR budget and make sure any future release goes directly to an editor’s recycle bin by sending the story to the technology press.

3. Send it out whenever

Timeliness is everything. So send releases out when you feel like it to boost your chances of failure. Better still, for print publications try waiting until five minutes after the final deadline. For online publications wait until the story has already broken elsewhere. Editors love that.

4. Organise schedules so contacts are unavailable for interview

Good journalists are annoying creatures. Rather than printing your press release verbatim and passing the contact details over to their advertising departments, they may want to speak to the people mentioned in your releases.

A tried and tested technique for avoiding these complications is to send the people overseas shortly after dispatching the release. International communications are good these days, so just packing them off to a partner conference in Atlanta isn’t good enough, you need to make sure they are on an 18 hour trans-pacific flight or, better still, holidaying on a remote island.

5. Use poor writing skills

Obvious when you think about it. If your writing is poor and confused so that editors and journalists can’t understand your message you kill two birds with one stone.

First, you’ll make sure the first message gets spiked in the too hard basket.

Second, as a bonus, you can establish your reputation as an illiterate idiot that isn’t worth bothering with under any circumstances. That way, your future releases will go straight to the junk pile without even being read.

6. Try bullying

Sadly this powerful technique is underused. By threatening to talk to a journalist’s editor, or an editor’s boss about their poor response to your press release you can permanently undermine your relationship with scores of people (remember journalists talk to each other so this is an efficient way of burning lots of bridges).

Another approach is to tell the journalist the company in question is advertising thus triggering their professional editorial independence.

7. Don’t bother with photographs

Journalists and editors like photographs. They love good photographs. By making sure they are no photographs of any description you’ll increase the chances that your press release is regarded as useless.

If you think that’s taking things too far, try sending out crappy, unusable photos. Photos with dozens of un-named people work well in this respect. Getting people to hold champagne glasses, stand in front of company logos, gather around an unreadable normal-size bank cheque or impersonate public enemy number one mug shots are all effective techniques for creating instantly ignorable press release photographs.

8. Send it to everyone regardless

This is a great way to upset journalists and degrade both your personal and company reputation. At the same time if you work for a PR agency you can bill the client heaps for having a, er, comprehensive, mailing list and then bill them for time as you and your staff spend all day on the phone dealing with angry editors.

9. Keep things as dull as possible

Journalists prefer interesting stories. Public relations professionals recognise this and use clever tricks like passive sentences, boring ideas, irrelevant background facts, tired clichéd adjectives and implausible anodyne quotes to turn them off and help speed their press releases on their way to the great recycle bin in the sky.

In-house and government public relations people are usually better at delivering boring releases than agency staff – if you’re worried your writing sparkles too much, they have much to teach you.

10. Make sure the subject line obscures the message

Even experienced public relations operatives can slip up by giving an email release an interesting subject line. The danger is that after putting in all the hard work required to guarantee nobody takes the slightest notice of their press release they use active language to put a relevant, timely subject line message that tempts editors and journalists to open the document and read more.

The good news is there are fail-safe subject lines that are certain to turn off editors and journalists so they can just skip past your release. A classic subject line like press release will probably work, if that’s too simple try important press release or important press release from Company Name.

A neat by-product of badly written subject lines is they can fool spam detection engines into rejecting a message altogether; phrases like important announcement from Company Name or message for Clark Kent can come in handy here.