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Copy has always been important to online retailers. For obvious reasons, a well-written product description, for instance, is likely to produce more sales than the standard manufacturer's version.
But there's a new trend: online retailers going beyond product descriptions and building content-rich properties run in large part by folks from the publishing world.
Times are tough for magazine publishers. From dramatic declines in subscribers to dramatic declines in ad pages, it seems that publishers just can't get a break. Until now.
On Tuesday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) announced that it's changing the requirements for qualifying U.S. and Canadian consumer magazine circulation figures.
Many print publishers hoped that the iPad would do more for them than it has done thus far, but that doesn't mean that the iPad, and tablet computing in general, doesn't have potential.
The challenge: figuring out a strategy that works. Trying to charge more for your newspaper on the iPad than it costs in print doesn't seem all that sensible, and creating tablet-only dailies doesn't exactly come off as a smart investment given the economics of the publishing business today.
However, Condé Nast might have stumbled upon a concept that might be a viable part of a larger strategy: take old, existing content, repurpose it and sell it as a new product.
Most traditional publishing executives have bought into the idea that digital is crucial to the success of their publications in the 21st century. But despite the fact that most of them are increasingly embracing and investing in digital, few are seeing the kind of results that would indicate good times are back again.
A new survey of 476 publishing industry professionals and 1,800 consumers conducted by Harrison Group sponsored by Zinio might just hint at why: publishers are simply blind to what consumers really want.
In the run-up to the launch of the iPad, there was a lot of talk about the impact Apple's tablet computing device would have on traditional publishers. For some, including publishing execs, the iPad was seen as potential source of revitalization for newspapers and magazines.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the iPad will be as beneficial to traditional publishers as many hoped, it has become clear that finding success on the iPad isn't any easier than finding success in the broader market.
Prior to the launch of the iPad, many magazine publishers hoped that the iPad might do for them what the iPod and iTunes did for digital music: provided a viable marketplace for them to sell their wares. Operative word: sell.
Getting consumers to pay for content has, of course, proven challenging for many magazine publishers. And despite the warm reception the iPad has received from consumers, it hasn't exactly meant overnight success for publishers that have rushed to develop iPad versions of their magazines.
Isobel McKenzie Price is Editorial Director of IPC Media's Homes Network, which includes print titles such as Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, and their online counterparts, as well as decorating portal housetohome.co.uk.
I've been talking to Isobel about the cross-over between working on print and online titles, how magazines can use the internet, and the challenge of monetising content online.
Consumption is up, dollars are down. In traditional media channels it's the same lament time and time again: audiences are rising, but advertising continues to plummet.
Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride, Portfolio, I.D., Vibe, Blender, Domino, Metropolitan Home - the magazine body count is mounting. Over 400 magazines folded last year, despite the fact that a survey of 1,000 consumers just publised by the CMO Council in conjunction with InfoPrint Solutions finds 92 percent of consumers still read magazines in print, and 90 percent say they want to keep it that way, e-readers be damned.
Yet at the same time, 78 percent of these consumers say more relevant and personalized content, promotions and ads would "increase their advocacy and loyalty."
So it would seem all print publishers have to do to resuscitate a foundering business model is figure out how to personalize their (dwindling) print ad pages to the wants and needs of individual readers.
Easier said than done.
The carnage in the print world continues. The latest big-name publication to go up for sale: 77 year-old Newsweek.
The magazine, which covers U.S. and global news on a weekly basis, has, like many print publications, seen its subscriber base erode over the years. That has made it hard to run as a sustainable business. Newsweek lost nearly $30m last year, and just over $16m in 2008.
The iPad hype is in full swing. Anybody who checks Techmeme on a daily basis, for instance, will be intimately familiar with the latest iPad news and rumors.
While initial analyst indications are that the iPad is going to rock and roll, it's still too early to say if it will truly live up to the hype long-term. But that doesn't mean it's too early to declare that it has done something remarkable because that it has. What has it done? Inspired stodgy old industries.
Bloomberg is wasting no time in getting to work on BusinessWeek, which it agreed to acquire last month. Although the deal is not expected to close until next month, Bloomberg is already plotting out the future for the weekly business magazine.
According to MediaWeek, Bloomberg's initial plans are to make BusinessWeek "bigger, glossier and more international". Talking Biz News, whose sources were at a meeting conducted by Bloomberg exec and future BusinessWeek chairman Norm Pearlstine, is reporting that the overhaul would "focus on making it more competitive with The Economist and less like Fortune and Forbes".
Times are tough for many magazines these days. BusinessWeek knows that first-hand. The weekly business magazine will reportedly lose some $40m this year.
But after a long bidding process, it has found a knight in shining armor: Bloomberg LP. The privately-held financial software, data and news company is acquiring BusinessWeek for an undisclosed sum rumored to be in the range of $2-$5m (yes you read that right, million). It will also take on BusinessWeek's liabilities, which could far exceed that amount.