The Loss of Source Interlink’s Distribution and 12 Titles, and Trying to Find a Lesson in All This

Source Interlink had a doozy of a week last week, and that is not said lightly. In fact, it’s said with a very heavy heart. The scale of its news about its “absorption” of 12 of its super-niche print titles into what could be called “parent” brands (e.g., Custom Classic Trucks being absorbed by Classic Trucks)—plus the news of its distribution business shutting down, affecting some 6,000 employees (as reported by Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post), made last week a hard one to stomach for the industry.

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We are losing some great magazines, and more importantly thousands of our own are going to be standing in the unemployment line.

Is there a lesson in this? Without knowing the full situation inside Source Interlink (regarding its magazine publishing business, and the wholesale business aside), it’s hard to say. And this is also hard for me to say, but it’s almost surprising that such niche titles survived this long.

Enthusiast titles have been among those that have often fared better than most, through the economic recession that left virtually no business untouched, through changing consumer content-consumption habits, through skyrocketing postal rates, and so on. Enthusiast brands are the ones that often have the most engaged audiences, and strong advertising, as marketers thrived on reaching very targeted audiences. The magazines and digital brands that support niche/enthusiast publications/brands speak directly to their audiences’ interests, creating engaged, loyal communities.

The challenge arises, in my opinion, when enthusiast brands break out into sub-brands. It’s a precarious line to walk, as you risk fragmenting your audience to too great a degree. When you see the list of titles being closed by Source Interlink, they all fall into this category. Look at the Hot Rod-related brands Source Interlink was publishing: Popular Hot Rodding (now closing), Hot Rod, Rod & Custom (now closing), Street Rodder (somehow staying afloat), High Performance Pontiac (now closing).

Maybe there was a time—in the heyday of magazine publishing—when such super-niche titles could be supported by (and even thrive on) the surplus of advertising that fattened the media market (in some cases leading to an oversight of excessive spending). But in the past decade, with print advertising declining, among the gazillion other challenges, these super-niche brands likely ended up draining advertising from their broader-scope “parent” titles or vice versa.

This is really somewhat of a theory on my part, but one that seems quite likely to be the case. Especially considering most of the titles affected are in the automotive sector, which we all know wasn’t left untouched by the recession (again, to say the least).

Regardless, it’s a sad day in publishing history and one whose impact (particularly regarding Source’s distribution business shutting down) will continue to send shock waves across all facets of the industry in the weeks and months to come, as publishers, other wholesalers and retailers strive to pick up the pieces.

My heart goes out to all those affected. And I am once again reminded of one of my favorite sayings of all time (which if you’re one of the (two?) people who have followed me over the years, you will likely know I resort to this often): “These are the times that try men’s souls” by Thomas Paine. Paine didn’t have the media industry in mind when he said this, but it seems, once again, appropriate as we continue to take beatings and continue to stand back up, as individuals and as a whole.

The newsstand situation is going to be one that is harder to recover from, and likely it will be more of a …

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Publishing’s Phoenix: U.S. News & World Report Emerges With a New Set of Wings, Part II

U.S. News & World Report was one of those magazines that had always just been there—packed into the stack of mail in the mailbox, on the coffee table at the doctor’s office, at the newsstand, being read on the train on the way home from work. The day in Fall 2010 when the venerable magazine announced it would cease publication (a process that was a year or two in the making) was a tough one to stomach. Publishing was in trouble. And it wasn’t just newsweeklies and newspapers. We were all in this boat together, and we watched as one of our industry’s flagships went down. (Or so we thought.)

Even the U.S. News and World Report staff—from top to bottom—may have thought it was the end. About half of the 150-person staff was let go. “For those of us who have been with the brand, you know six, seven, eight years ago, those were challenging times,” says Kerry Dyer, U.S. News & World Report’s publisher. “When U.S. News was down in ad pages, it was the beginning of the talk that was going on about whether U.S. News could survive. There was also talk about print surviving. That, I can tell you, was challenging. If you’ve lived on both sides of it, you know the feeling, and we certainly at U.S. News know that feeling, and we’re not looking back.”

But it wasn’t the end. It wasn’t a death. It was the beginning of a rebirth—one that is not only inspiring in its positive outcome, but also packed with lessons for us all, in free and paid content, in building digital audiences and successful products, in brand expansion, revenue diversification, e-commerce, lead-generation and more. Here is the story of U.S. News & World Report’s resurgence, as told through a two-part interview—Part I with U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly, and Part II with Publisher Kerry Dyer, shown here.

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Part II: Interview with Kerry Dyer, Publisher, U.S. News & World Report

mediaShepherd: What is the brand’s largest source of revenue?

Kerry Dyer: Right now it would be display advertising—single source [online].

mS: What is its fastest-growing?

Dyer: That’s a good question. It’s all growing pretty fast. We don’t disclose specific figures either on growth or percentages, but display advertising is among the fastest-growing; licensing; as well as lead generation. All three of our main revenue streams are growing at a very healthy and very consistent rate.

mS: What are you finding that marketers are looking for today from U.S. News? Have things changed in recent years?

Dyer: Well, there’s been a lot of talk in the press and the media/advertising press of a changing consumer, and changing advertising needs and wants, but having been in the business for about 30 years, over half here at U.S. News and the other half at a large ad agency in New York—Young and Rubicam—honestly, I don’t see a lot changing.

In the end, marketers are still looking for finding the right audience at the right time and the right place that will engage with their messaging, and to find a need and a want for the right service. Fundamentally, that is the essence of advertising, and it really hasn’t changed all that much in my estimation.

mS: U.S. News moved into e-commerce with entities such as the Best Cars site, where U.S. News gets revenue when people buy cars through the site. Is this something new?

Dyer: It’s realtively new in the scheme of existence of U.S. News. We’re 80 years old. The U.S. News Best Cars site is about 5 years old, …

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Industry Update: Penton Launches Govalytics; NAPCO Names New President

Continuing a strategy of new product development around data assets, Penton has announced the launch of Govalytics, which captures and analyzes information on city and county governments in the 25 largest metro areas in the U.S.

Designed for use primarily by marketers selling products and services to municipalities, the product provides budgetary data, information on current and planned capital projects, bond ratings, recent news, contact information for top city officials and detailed descriptions of municipal departments and their functions.

The most challenging aspect of the service was creating useful comparative data for a wide range of government types and city services, Ben Walker, Director of Brand Management for Govalytics, said in a press release.

“Normalization was our task, and our solution enables the user to effectively benchmark a government’s expenditures, debt, capital assets and departments to others its size across the nation,” he said.

The service is designed to help vendors tap into the $3 trillion annual market for municipal contracts and services, as well as allow cities themselves to do comparative analysis of other municipalities with similar circumstances or challenges.

“Govalytics provides marketers with the critical intelligence and workflow tools needed to navigate the complicated government sector and win more business,” Gregg Herring, Vice President and Public Infrastructure Market Leader at Penton, said in the release.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) tool was developed out of resources within in the company’s Public Infrastructure market group, which includes longstanding government sector media brands American City & CountyGovernment Product NewsGovProWaste 360 and other properties and events.

New York-based Penton has moved aggressively into data products across multiple market sectors. In the company’s Healthy Lifestyle division, natural products industry product tracker NextTrend and small business start-up data program NextAccelerator are recent high-profile additions to the New Hope Natural Media family of brands.

“We look at the Accelerator and Trend products not as augmented products to existing products, but as putting a fourth leg of the stool on the ground: in print, in person, data and services.” New Hope Natural Media President Fred Linder told mediaShepherd recently.

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New Leadership at NAPCO

Philadelphia-based North American Publishing Company, publisher of Printing Impressions, Target Marketing and a number of other B2B titles including Publishing Executive and Book Business, has announced the naming of David Leskusky as company president. Leskusky, most recently group president of NAPCO’s Promo Marketing publishing division, succeeds Ned Borowsky, who is stepping down after 30 years at the helm to become vice-chairman alongside his father, company founder Irving Borowsky.

Ned Borowsky, who in recent years has guided the company’s diversification into multimedia and data-driven products and services, said in a press release that Leskusky will “lead NAPCO’s transformation into a marketing services powerhouse that is not dependent on magazine revenue, but rather on monetizing every channel where our audience consumes content.”

“I am honored to have the opportunity to now lead this exceptional organization and succeed Ned, who guided us brilliantly through this recent period of evolution,” Leskusky said in the release.  “I see a bright future ahead for NAPCO—especially in events and video—and those will be my top priorities.”…

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SEO is Dead. Long Live OAO.

9 tips for implementing online audience optimization strategies now.

For content publishers, search engine optimization—which we’ve all come to know as SEO—is dead. Rising from its ashes is OAO—online audience optimization.

SEO was the art and science of creating web pages that generated traffic and high rankings in the search engines. It relied on keywords, links, page rank, and site structure to work its magic, and it has always been a bit of a moving target for webmasters. Search engines, wishing to stay ahead of SEO spammers who might use the knowledge to game the system, have kept their algorithms secret, constantly tweaking them to prevent their exploitation.

As publishers have gotten more sophisticated in their online presence, they have chafed under perceived restrictions of optimizing pages for search. The use of keywords in content has seemed at times antithetical to good journalism. Keeping Google and its cohorts in mind when creating web content has seemed to some like pandering. And the spammy tactics of less-reputable SEO wizards casts a sleazy pall over the entire process.

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Enter OAO
OAO is the collection of techniques that online content publishers use to rise above the pack of sales sites, catalog sites, or sites that live through shady SEO practices, generating cheap clicks that cause unwary web surfers to stumble upon their pages. OAO allows online publishers to leverage their greatest assets—their wealth of high-quality content—to create a consistent web-wide presence, and generate consistent new and repeat visitors. OAO uses the best practices of SEO, along with social media, content sharing, engagement mechanics and branding, to build and optimize loyal and targeted audiences for online content publishers.

OAO is an emerging discipline, but savvy publishers can begin to put its elements in place in their online strategies right away. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Focus on the brand. Sharpen up your editorial mission and communicate it. Words and phrases that are important to the brand should be shared with your webmaster, your social media strategist, and your SEO team. Every phrase used by them in headings, captions and anchor text should display dual relevancies: to the searcher and to the product.

2. Be consistent and clear about your strategy and purpose, both online and offline. If your print product is serious and practical, your online presence can be playful and whimsical—but everyone involved must understand the reason. Is your online audience different from your offline one? Do you have different goals for your site versus your print product? And if so, how is the duality managed? Where do the approaches dovetail?

3. Cast a wide net. Today, social media provides one of the strongest correlations with high search engine rankings. Build out your presence on social media and content sharing sites, but focus especially on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

4. At the same time, cast a targeted net. Your goal is not to bring the maximum number of visitors to your site. It is to capture potential audience members. Working to increase site traffic is pointless if the visitors who land on the site don’t stay. With that in mind, search for and connect with those people who need the content that your site offers. Stay away from empty promises in both SEO and SEM.

5. Encourage audience participation. Time on site and bounce rate are two of the main indicators that search engines use to evaluate sites and, hence, two of the main factors for site searchability. There are few metrics more significant in building and maintaining your audience and your presence in the search …

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