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Magazines And Web Strategy, Or The Lack Thereof

My pal and former boss, Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom, came back from this month’s American Magazine Conference with some tart thoughts regarding the gap between what magazine publishers have said about their businesses and reality:

Major magazines’ corollary websites still account for only a tiny percentage of all web activity. Very few magazines — the exceptions being ESPN, National Geographic, Real Simple and The Economist — can be considered brands that have established much meaning beyond their printed forms. Many think they have. Major publishers have repeatedly told me that their titles are also powerful brands …

But magazines are not marketed like brands. They spend little advertising themselves to either consumers or the [advertisers] that support them, and when they do, their messages tend to be focused on the content of the publication . . .

Few have committed to the web, despite protestations to the contrary. There are still top-50 magazines whose landing pages are essentially ads for their print versions.

Broadly: He’s right. You can quibble around the edges, as I am about to, to note that much of what he says applies to the monthly magazines of the world. Say what you will about weekly newsmagazines, but Time and Newsweek—and, for that matter, BusinessWeek—have been forced to reckon with the Web, since they live and die with news cycles.

This isn't the case for monthlies, and the way in which the Web was ignore-able for them has come around: now the Web's all but ignoring them. The traffic of Web sites of top-tier titles like Hearst’s Cosmopolitan do not rank with that of many Web-only competitors. One of the more damning things I heard at last week’s Association of National Advertisers, a Web site run by one American teen—Ashley Qualls—routinely garnered more traffic than those of teen mags Teen Vogue and the (recently shuttered) CosmoGirl—combined.

It didn’t have to be this way. But it is.

Anyway, read the rest of Bloom’s column for more on where magazines have missed out.

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