Why does the Tsarnaev cover still matter?

It’s a fair question. And I don’t just mean the fact that, nearly two weeks after it was announced, Rolling Stone‘s decision to put Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of its Aug. 1 issue is still making headlines (Senator John McCain said this week that it was “stupid” and “inappropriate”). Why, in an age when few people buy physical magazines at retail, or even see them for sale outside the checkout line, does our culture still react so strongly to what Rolling Stone chooses to display on the front of its print edition?

The easy answer is that Rolling Stone has long been a symbol of celebrity, hipness and youth. Getting your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone is a storied mark of rock celebrity, of making it big and, of course, buying five copies for your mother. There is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to Rolling Stone cover celebs. This speaks to the enduring power of the magazine as a pop culture brand.

But there’s something else at work here. Vanity Fair tagged July 13-21 “The Greatest Week For Magazine Covers In Recent Memory.” Search “magazine covers” on Google, and there are dozens and dozens of recent news articles dedicated to who is appearing on what magazine cover and what (if anything) they are wearing. I’ll bet fewer than 10 percent of the people reading these articles will ever hold the print edition of those magazines in their hands. Yet there is an almost mystical quality attached to the idea of the cover. It matters little that it’s about as relevant as hot type to the search and social media-driven Web.

The media still needs self-generated symbols to help drive stories. We all still need benchmarks—the idea that somewhere, “out there,” is a fixed edition, a reference point around which we can focus emotion and mark change. Oddly, digital bits and bytes—what we once called virtual—is now the “real,” while actual print objects increasingly fill the role of a Platonic ideal. Yet another reason why print will never completely go away—and why the idea of the magazine will continue to hold power.

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The Digital Media Kit: Are You ‘Making It Easy’?

Last week I wrote about the importance of designing Web-friendly media kits, which is one of the more pressing issues to consider today. (See below) But there is another practice I want to address—a pet peeve of mine: requiring someone to fill out his/her name and e-mail address, sometimes along with a good deal of additional information, in order to be able to download or access the kit.

I see this as a potential hindrance to sales. While publishers might like to know who is downloading their media kits, and in theory* using those as potential leads, it is not user-friendly. Who wants to provide her name for something today when it is suggests that doing so may result in unwanted calls or e-mails from salespeople? It is an additional step, an additional possible hurdle to getting someone information that can sell them on your products. Why not just give it to them?

What happens to someone who stumbles upon your site and thinks, “Hmm. This might be a good place to advertise. Let me look into it further.” And when prompted to provide his/her name, they forego downloading the media kit. They don’t know enough about you at that point to necessarily want to engage directly with you.

You might think this isn’t likely to happen, but do you know for sure?

Does anyone check out the number of “abandons” at this point on the site in their web statistics? It might be worth taking a look. If it’s not a problem, great. If it is, it may be worth changing your ways.

*Part of the other concern I have is that some publishers don’t even use the information that is collected. It is dumped into a black hole. So if you are requiring people to give you their names, are you at least using the information?

The whole point can be summed up in what I see as an effective motto to follow regarding providing access to content of any kind, whether in print or online, mobile or otherwise: “Make it easy.” Make it easy to access your content. Make it easy to buy what you’re selling.

An Often-Overlooked Sales Concern: Today’s Options for Media Kits

The concept of “today’s media kit” was one I explored when preparing the media kit for mediaShepherd —our new business that will be launching its website soon. Traditionally, media kits were obviously a print concept—the heavy paper stock and multipage, catalog-style format. Over the years, many publishers have scaled back on print media kits to cut costs and adapt to the digital era, as visitors to a publication’s website now expect to be able to simply access the media kit online.

Most publishers put their media kits up in .pdf format, as a replica of the print version. Slightly more advanced have been digital editions of media kits, and kits such as Atlanta Magazine’s, where pages have been designed to fit the Web screen vs. a printed page.  This has been a positive step in providing user-friendly design.

Some publishers have taken the digital media kit a step further and integrated it directly into the website. And why not? It makes it easier for site visitors. It’s content. And it’s online. Why would it retain its print “body”?

A good example is Inc. magazine’s media kit. It’s an entirely web-based experience with pull-down menus and different content sections. I love it.

For mediaShepherd, our solution was to create an online-friendly design in .pdf format, like Atlanta magazine, since our website isn’t launched yet. It also was designed to be “print-friendly” for when we need print copies. When our website is launched, we plan to integrate the kit into the website, similar to Inc.’s approach.

Both types of kits have value. The main point is that if something is being presented digitally, why is it retaining a design that was created for print and requires the viewer to scroll down and across, and zoom in and out? It’s a bit sheepish … I mean, sluggish. You want to make it as easy as possible for viewers, as with any content you are providing.

Two Media Kits?
Some publishers, like Atlanta Magazine, also have moved to an approach where they separate their media kits into two or more, one for the print magazine demographics and opportunities, and another for digital properties.

In my humble opinion, this isn’t the best idea, as it forces the potential advertiser to choose which kit to view. Why not give them all the opportunities, including for integrated campaigns, in one place? I’d love to hear opinions on this from others. 

Check back soon for Part II of this media kit exploration where I talk about one of my media-kit pet peeves.