Is email going to be a future publishing channel?

Any avid blog readers will know about my appreciation for the Shortlist media model[1]. One of the emails that have worked exceptionally well has been the daily Mr Hyde and Stylist email.

Email marketing in general has been on the radar for years. Cheaper than direct to mail, they very often had a pretty standard subject line designed to get through subject lines. Most publishing websites used email to encourage existing users to come onto the site as part of their daily routine.

Looking at the broad trends, there is an interesting juxtaposition. Email open rates have increased from 22% to 25.6% at the end of 2009, but email click through rates have declined from 5.9% to 4.4% on average[2] according to Epsilon.

As a statistic, this seems to be in opposite. In the UK, however, there are similarly low figures – an open rate of only 21.47% against a click through rate of only 3.16%[3]. More interestingly was the way that in this sector, publishing bucked the trend – achieving almost 25% more than their competitors on average with 4.26% click through rate against a 21.52% open rate.

That’s a lot of difference between comparative industries – and one possible answer as to why is that publishers are able to create the subject lines and brand that enables the trust for people to engage with their EDMs.

Moreover, there are good news for advertisers: 67% of customers were willing, according to Clickz marketer Mike Hotz, to give email addresses to receive discounts and promotions. A further 57% ‘say they are more apt to buy a product in store after receiving an email’.

So before we even consider click through rates, there are some strong arguments to say that email is still an incredibly valuable and underrated tool in marketing.

And yet 61% of emails are considered non-essential by consumers. 49% of consumers subscribe to 1-10 brands, and 34% choose to receive 6 emails per day from brands that they trust[4]. This tells you that for brands – engagement and trust is important.

Publishers traditionally used their ‘impartial’ status as marketers, but not direct marketers, as a great skill to be able to generate trust in their audience – perhaps why they generate a higher click through rate than other industries.

What these statistics show is an astounding range of possibilities for the email publisher. Generally speaking, brands themselves can be far too defined to warrant an entire email of consumption – and Shortlist has shown there is a demand for a strong, daily email which can instead select and curate the brand stories you should be hearing about, wrapped around content that you are interested in.

So what is the future of the email with regards to publishers? Well, the opportunity lies in creating a compelling product that curates the content that consumers are looking for. Trust will be critical here – trust that the EDM not just delivers them relevant and engaging content, but content that will work.

For advertisers, this offering will be compelling – a way to cut through the traditional brand noise whilst maintaining a sense of product authenticity. For consumers, they get the news, content and information they want, in a convenient, easy to read format. And for publishers, they create a new channel of engagement – one that can draw people back to aggregating around their website.

In 2013, look for email publishers. They will be the ones creating waves – using email to create a strong, digitally based reach into consumers’ lives.


Video and the men’s market: natural allies


One of the great booms of the internet has been the rise of video. There are now a staggering 1 billion unique views of YouTube a month, with more than 72 hours of video Imagebeing uploaded a minute. 4 billion hours of video are now watched on YouTube alone[1].

And that is just on YouTube. IGN Entertainment records almost 35 million + views in video each month alone – with content ranging from simple video reviews, to conversations about games, to demos and interviews with leading developers[2]. It knows what it’s audience wants to see, and uses video to augment that experience – the majority of print content has an accompanying video piece.

It’s a slick operation. All of these videos are generally (unless it is a particularly compelling piece of content) under ten minutes long. And if you look into reports, it is a male dominated market: a study done in 2009 picked up on the fact that 77% of users are in the under-35 market, while 60% of users are male[3].

For men, then, video is the superior medium of engagement. It explains why porn smashed the men’s market so effectively (you can see my post on this on the attached footnote)[4]. And increasingly, companies are recognizing the effectiveness turning their magazine and media brands into channels of their own.

Conde Nast, for example, is making big moves into the content game: their new entertainment president (Dawn Ostroff) is focusing on building content across platforms to turn them into broad offerings – notably talking branded web series as one major output of their efforts[5].

And both IGN Entertainment and Conde Nast aren’t the only ones. Brightcove has built a platform specifically to help sell video advertising for publishers – a move that highlights the moves that Hearst, Time and others have begun to make toward the video age[6]. Video is quickly becoming the medium of choice to complement and expand a content offering.

All of this points to a merger between the traditional ‘TV’ channels and the publishers. And with advances in technology rapidly smashing the cost of broadcast quality production and distribution, it only becomes a matter of time before these organizations come into direct competition.

In some cases, they already have: Amazon (the noted book publisher) recently made the move to launch a series of pilots that indicate their move into video, film and TV streaming[7]. Instead of the traditional focus group pilot launch, however, they have built a different model: use data to inform their response on the investment into a TV show[8].

That is a radically different approach to the traditional channel, and one which relies on a couple of factors. Firstly, they aren’t restricted in terms of geographical viewership – in fact, digital means geography is largely no object. These days, you can launch a web series that can be viewed in England, Australia and the US and group it around an interest instead.

In essence, video and content is no longer constrained by channel. And so instead of focusing on ‘how can we hit as many people in this area as possible’ (see shows like the news, which reports on such an array of topics there has to be some wastage), you now have the ability to work out how many people exist around an interest group/market, and can you build a product around them.

The men’s market will find this key. Having the ability to build around male interests, whether that be sport, or something else, will be a real trait in the future, and producing the kinds of video content that reaches into those interests will be crucial. Look at the ongoing success of shows like Top Gear, any number of spy shows (Burn Notice for example) and even watching the cricket for good examples.

Men are always looking for the next gripping piece of ongoing content to latch onto. That used to be the weekly FHM, with a series of lewd jokes and other bawdy articles. These days, though, expect the next big men’s site to be one packed with video content, integrating in great digital journalism.

Here are some hypotheticals:

  • Esquire TV: all around cool guy routines, upmarket. A show about stockbrokers (think a Suits style show) combined with articles about their style guides, how to get ahead against your boss.
  • FHM TV: a jackass style show, replete with best office pranks (and video of) and articles about flirting with that hot girl (you can see a video of guys taking a crack at a hot girl, even if fictional, being cool here).
  • Men’s Health TV: workout routines for your morning run, articles on health and fitness, best songs to listen to whilst you work out.

You can see all these types of products working: and what’s more, you know that the media companies themselves will drive that discovery process far more efficiently than companies like Google (YouTube) and Vimeo ever could. They’ll be able to use the data and insights, combined with storytelling, to facilitate the process of discovery across these platforms.

And discovery will be key: producing those TV shows so men are relying and trusting you to provide them with their content, rather than them doing the legwork.

In short: video is going to be big business for the men’s market. It will be a way to reinvigorate the product back around interests in a compelling and interesting way: and will almost certainly see publishers attacking the mass-market television studios in the not-so-distant future.


Did pornography kill the mens magazine?

One of the great media explosions in the 90s was the rise of the ‘lad mag’. Published monthly, these were titles like FHM, Ralph and People. They attracted a young, often slightly adolescent male looking for laughs, entertainment and a bit of excitement in their lives.

But in the late 2000s, the market seemed to die. Ralph went out of business in 2010, and FHM followed shortly after[1]. It was a massive change, and a shock to the system of the market. Suddenly, magazines were considered endangered species.

But why?

One of the first things to consider about these types of magazines is the person reading them. In late 2007, one of the biggest things to rise was Facebook. Growing massively, it represented a massive increase in the amount of funny, snackable content that was the staple of the male lifestyle brand.

Other websites grew to accommodate, and more importantly integrate into these networks. They were more convenient and attractive for people to consume entertainment through, simply by nature of the medium. It was instant, quick and selective: all attractive attributes for readers. Not to mention, virtually free.

One of the biggest challenges of social, though, is that it is exactly that: social. That means a hesitancy to share scantily clad photos of women for men. If you’re a bloke, you don’t want the girls in your network to see you’re a fan of that type of thing. And why would you?

Of course the other phenomena was the extra-ordinary growth of porn[2]. Increasingly, in order for men to get their daily experience of women, they turned to the readily available and generally free internet to sate their needs. And it blew away probably the most ubiquitous factor uniting the media consumption of men.

My theory is that this phenomena led to a change in the psychology of ‘lads’ entertainment – you either went down the full smut route or scaled up. The market didn’t disappear. The landscape simply changed.

In this period, though, we saw lad mags do very little to attempt to compete. Launching websites and focusing completely on providing more of the same content, only in digital, did very little to recognize how social and digital actually shifted the terms of content consumption[3].

Not only that, barely any of them realized that their content model needed to change. Sex suddenly changed from being the selling point of these magazines, to their weakest link – because sex was no longer an engaging point through the magazine medium.

Hearst, for example, recognized this, taking the Esquire magazine rapidly upmarket and recognizing the need for a shift in their content models early. And clearly it is working: these are the magazines seeing strong growth in the digital era[4].

Instead of targeting the men’s market though the unifying force of sex, they instead focus on what men want to be – creating an aspirational model based on interests and different examples of lifestyle.

Take two quite separate publications: Esquire and Mens Health. Both are relatively successful examples of magazines that still exist in the post-lad mag era. Esquire ( is a magazine and media brand which exemplifies the upmarket man – who is suave, engaged and knows what he wants.

He represents the lifestyle of ambition, and wants the best: in style, politics, entertainment, food and drink, with the occasional beautiful woman validating this opinion. What doesn’t he want? Tits, booze and footy being thrown at him. Even though he may still like these things, they don’t represent the interests that he feels he should have.

Men’s Health again is similar. I very much doubt the majority of men who read that are satisfied with their current weight, or their current physique. But what does the magazine do? Gives them a clear paragon, interest group and lifestyle to define themselves too. And it is one which taps clearly into some general interests men hold: food, women, sex – but all in a way which defines itself into a lifestyle and revolves around a core interest: health.

And what is clear is that the lad mag had a great market for selling this lifestyle: sex. But with the abundance of freer and racier content offered through the anonymous web of the internet, this smashed apart the traditional core content offering of the lad mag. And they did very little to adapt their content models.  

Now, instead, the winning formula has changed. Digital models and print models need to revolve around creating a compelling portal for men to engage with: and this is typically based on theming it around a core interest. That can be health. That can be cars. That can be travel. But it must engage those core sensibilities that drive the male market.

Why not sex you ask? Well, advertisers always were slightly on edge about providing strong revenue to a sex based product. At best, it is a tenuous link. At worst, in the modern day, you’re selling an inferior product – ultimately, when it comes to sex, porn is a better service than a lad’s mag, and consumers know it.

The future of the men’s lifestyle media market is in capturing their interests. Whether that be sport, cars, travel, style – the reality is the modern media company will be able to capture these interests and generate a lifestyle out of them. As a product, this will give an aspirational lifestyle that captures their core drivers, and more importantly, one that can easily cross borders.