April 12, 2011

Lessons From Snowboarding

By Stephen Laliberte

As a longtime downhill skiier, when showboarding first appeared I resented the fact that snowboarders were pushing large amounts of snow downhill, screwing up the ski hill and making things difficult for us “real” skiers. Then, a couple of years ago, having given up moguls to protect what was left of the cartilage in my knees, I decided to join my daughter-in-law who was learning to snowboard. Skiing and snowboarding seemed similar enough in principle that I thought I’d pick it up right away. A day of embarrassing falls and a cracked rib showed me how wrong I was.


It later occurred to me that the transition I thought would be so easy was similar to the one that print publishers have to make in entering the new digital world. For the last 15 years, print publishers have been viewing the web as something that was “screwing up the hill” of print publishing. The snow that the web pushes off the metaphorical ski hill is the nice fat advertising revenues we learned to expect in print. (I can remember publishing a 500-page issue of Byte Magazine that dropped 60 percent to the bottom line.) The key to high margins and high ad rates in the digital space is the same as it is in print—acquiring, engaging, and delivering high-value readers to the advertiser—but the process of doing so is very different.

Your Print Reader is not Your Digital Reader (even if they are the same person)

Digital readers are not acquired the same way print readers are, nor are they sold to advertisers in the same way. Unless you recognize this you won’t be able to convince your advertisers to pay you as much for that reader. One the other hand, if you do recognize it you may be able to earn even more for a digital reader than for one in print. But you have to be able to show advertisers that digital readers are different and show how they can be more valuable.


Start by convincing yourself. Have your circulation department do a survey—digital, of course—of your online readers asking them the same demographic question you ask print readers. You will find that the demographics are quite different. Then get e-mail addresses for print subscribers and cross reference that to the email addresses of regular readers of your brand’s primary editorial e-newsletter. You will probably find that there is less than 30 percent overlap.


Do you sell your digital readers to advertisers in your rate cards? Probably not, which is unfortunate since your digital audience includes non-print readers and may, in fact, be significantly larger than your print audience.


Your rate card probably sells:

  • the quality of your editorial
  • the quality of your reader
  • print ads
  • online ads
  • custom media

This format assumes that the print reader and the digital reader are the same, significantly undervaluing your incremental digital audience. To recapture that lost value you need to add a section specifically for digital that sells:

  • the quality of your online content – web-first coverage, expert bloggers, features, data, * web seminars, and white papers
  • the quality of your online reader – great demographics, decisions makers, and engaged readers
  • digital ad space and lead generation


The key is being able to identify, quantify, and qualify your digital audience, which IProduction can help you do, enabling you to produce digital revenue as effectively as print revenue.