Hemmings Digital is a Web Edsel

Hemmings Motor News has introduced an all-digital version of their print magazine effective with the April issue. Hemmings Digital will be priced at $14.95/year for print subscribers; $19.95/year online only. Texterity supplied the platform for the online version, essentially a facsimile of Hemmings print book with the added features of online navigation, indexes, paginations, and so on. Unfortunately, this mid-life kicker falls short of delivering on today’s consumer expectations, and it critically missteps by restricting online access pending delivery of the print version.  Editor Richard Lentinello describes Hemming’s Digital as follows:

Just like online versions of Car & Driver, Road & Track, Popular Mechanics, and The New York Times, you will be able to read every word of every page and see every car-for-sale photo right up close on the screen… the digital version of Hemmings Motor News will be exactly the same as the newsprint… just turn on your computer on the 10th day of every month and all 650-plus pages will be waiting there…

Okay, I’m hooked. But wait, there’s a catch:

To make sure the playing field is absolutely level, no one person will be able to receive the online version before any of our print subscribers do. The digital version will be sent approximately the same day that all 4th-class print copies are expected to be delivered.

The shortest distance between a buyer and seller is a straight line, right? A work-around such as the above constrains the user experience with a print-centric policy. Can efficient links between buyers and sellers be achieved where ad word counts, photo quantities, and realtime ad editing are constrained by a focus on print? Do consumers want a 650-page book online? We’re talking thousands of classified ads where many lack the fundamental method of seller contact: email.Hemmings Digital post

Of course, Hemmings.com has been around for a while and I remember back in the mid-nineties working with then owner and publisher Terry Ehrich to help bring the company into the online world. The site now contains ad listings in a much more interactive style than the eZine, but is lacking in clarity and absent many of the fundamental tools users seek when managing ads and responding to ads. Which begs the questions: why introduce an eZine when the publisher already has an e-commerce presence? Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Hemmings.com in a future post.

Marketing for Hemmings Digital included an email blast presumably to their house list. As with other marketing pieces originating from the publisher, this one sets a new standard for dull and formless. Does it remind anyone of production values akin to a High School Yearbook? Ad copy is features-driven where the campaign would have scored much higher with a seasonal pitch, for example: ”Your Dream Convertible is One Click Away.” Instead we have instructional verbiage conveying little incentive to dig in.

If Hemmings Digital becomes as short-lived as I anticipate, it might be more attributable to lousy marketing than the inherent trend away from eZines.Hemmings Digital email

Bottom Line: Classified ads have moved online. Not as regurgitated print content, but as dynamic results-driven content absent old-world baggage. While some will embrace Hemmings Digital, I really questions whether they will gather in sufficient numbers and of a valued commerce appetite in order to sustain the publisher in the face of pure e-commerce plays including AutoTrader, Cars Online and eBay Motors. And not to mention the wealth of niche sites catering to hard core buyers and sellers.

Like the Edsel, Hemmings Digital hits todays showrooms with yesterday’s model.

Related post concerning Hemmings promotional piece for Sports & Exotic Car.

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There Are 9 Responses So Far. »

  1. Thanks for your coverage — HEMMINGS as “bible” has traveled a long way since the Gutenberg era. BUT your coverage is great: Slick, captivating, sense of peering over the edge of the horizon!

  2. Yeah, I knew Terry as well. Hemmings was (and is) a backward-thinking company and you are correct to point out flaws in their web approach. I thought you Vermonters were ahead of the curve?

  3. Hemmings was, and continues to be, a squandered and underutilized asset. New team on the heels of American City Business Journals acquisition have dug a deeper grave with obsolete land-based initiatives. Pre eBay days allowed Hemmings to dominate. As they say, “The Sun has Set …”

  4. Bookstores are moving away from pub’s like Hemmings. I ran a number of metro area Borders and this title along with other ad-based periodicals lost considerable ground in 2007. I can’t speak for newsstands in general though the distribution chain is going through its own identity crisis.

  5. Many in the business refer to Hemmings as “Lemmings.”

  6. All of these post seem like a lot of sour grapes. It’s interesting to note that all 4 of the Hemmings publications have grown from 2007 to 2008.

    There are many reasons why the new digial issue makes sense. The first being that it now makes ALL of the ads searchable by search engines. The digital also allows collectors that do not live in the United States the ability to get the publication in real time.

    As far as the printed Hemmings Motor News I should point out that from the March 09 issue to April 09 the publication went up 58 pages while ebay has dropped almost 30% in listings.

  7. Searchable online ads are useful when readers can make effecient email contact with advertisers and many Hemmings ads lack that fundamental connection. Hemmings ads are size-, photo-, and word-constrained creating a price/benefits disadvantage with pure-plays such as eBay Motors. Denying online readers access to content pendng dispatch of the print version might have worked in Web 1.0, today that model is wildly out of touch with reality. Hemmings circ numbers are fractionally changed from 2007. Circ and ad stat’s can be massaged at the whim of the publisher (e.g., what is “paid circ?”) and a fungible rate card. Not being privy to Hemmings financial statements, I’m reasonably sure that an M&A opportunity at any attractive multiple has vaporized alongside the Edsel.

  8. Yeah, definitely a step behind any live listing. It does appear to offer some benefit to overseas readers who no longer have to fork out a hundred bucks to get their magazine six weeks late, like Buickguy said.

  9. As an advertiser I have felt Hemmings OnLine strategy has been inherently flawed, and it looks like it continues to be so. Hemmings may be somewhat immune to the things that are plaguing other Print Pubs due to the advanced age demographic that they currently serve, however, this won’t last forever. Ebay has become the central watering hole for most of the Hobby, and will only continue to gain ground.

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