In the first half of the year, there was a lot of talk in the magazine industry was about how 2012 is the end of the world for print and that the tablet is going to save the industry. In the second half of the year so far, there are still lots of stats showing print is in decline, but there is also a growing bearishness about magazines on tablets after difficulties for The Daily and HuffPo. One thing that has been constant for the entire year so far is the talk about magazine websites. Which is to say there hasn’t been any.
Okay sure, the website has been around for a long time. Why would we be talking about a platform that’s pushing 20 years old? Magazines have now figured out how to build the perfect website by now, right? Well, not exactly.
Of the 100 or so site assessments we’ve done with magazine publishers over the last three months, we are frequently seeing fundamental issues like non-friendly URLs, ad crowding and bad layouts. Almost none of the sites we look at had a mobile friendly version.
Maybe it’s because everyone is focused on digital editions – Zinio, Magster, that sort of thing. I can see the allure since they let magazine publishers leverage the investment they currently have in their print process and move it to the tablet. Unfortunately, that’s not how the audience is typically consuming content on a tablet. Okay, if you have a loyal subscriber and they just bought an iPad, they are going to hunt you down on Zinio - or wherever - and download your magazine for the novelty of it. But after a while, that little red notification circle on top of their other apps draws most of their attention. I can’t tell you how many mornings my newspaper reading time has been eaten up by mindless Facebook scrolling because I couldn’t resist the draw of the red circle.
A lot has been written lately about how our attention spans are tumbling rapidly. That’s not to say that people aren’t spending an hour or more watching TV, reading a book, or exploring a magazine. But competing for that hour of attention is getting harder and harder. The first thing most people do when they pick up a tablet is go through their notifications – people want to know what’s going on in their lives – whether it’s a Twitter mention, a Facebook wall post or a LinkedIn Group response. If your arms still have enough energy to hold up the iPad after all of the red circles are gone, you might dig into the newsstand and open up a magazine.
Once the notification draws a user into Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media apps, they tend to stick around and browse through other content for a while. And what do they find in that content? Links. And where do the links go? To websites. Referral traffic from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn far out paces Google for many magazine sites.
So hundreds or thousands of people are clicking on recommended links from their friends and co-workers to get to magazine websites. What do they see? Are they compelled to stick around by your touch-friendly mobile site, or running scared to the next red circle? Have you checked the bounce rate on your referral traffic lately?
So the magazine industry isn’t exactly blowing past revenue expectations these days, but that’s no reason to give up. Building a magazine website can be a fraction of the cost of moving to the tablet with better historical data to show the return on your investment. Let’s get back to the basics and give the red circle tappers a reason to stick around.