Hearst Clings to Branding

This article was published on Feburary 12, 2012 at All Things Digital.

Despite what you may have read online, the print magazine business is actually pretty good. Or so says Hearst Magazines President David Carey.

“A lot of magazines get tarred with a lot of the anxiety around the newspaper business,” Carey said, speaking at our D: Dive Into Media conference. “Magazine brands are powerful things.” Fashion and beauty advertising hit a new record last year, Carey said, and younger women in particular remain avid magazine enthusiasts. (Younger men are still a challenge, Carey agrees.)

As for the company’s digital efforts, Carey said that mobile devices — both tablets and phones — now account for 40 percent of unique visits to its magazine websites. One of the challenges, though, is that ads on a phone tend to sell at a 25 percent discount to those on the desktop Web. The iPad is the dominant tablet, but women’s titles are doing better on seven-inch tablets. Early on, that meant success for Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, but now Apple is there, as well. “The (iPad) mini is the statement device in all the meetings I go to,” Carey said.

So, what of the Google Play store for Android tablets and phones? “There is a level of volume,” Carey said, clearly being charitable. The company has about 900,000 paid digital subscribers — about 3 percent of the company’s total. That’s close to, but short of, the company’s goal to hit a million subscribers by last year. By 2016, Carey said, the company wants three million digital subscribers — 10 percent of its current base. Digital subscribers are also renewing at high rates, Carey said.

One of the great legacies of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Carey said, is that “he taught consumers how to buy digital content.”

While there is a free Web, and always will be, Carey said tablets are helping create a sustainable paid business. “We are training subscribers to pay for digital content,” Carey said.

Hearst is also working to extend its magazine brands further, such as its just-announced deal with Comcast to rebrand its G4 channel as Esquire Network. The company also dabbled with its own video efforts, using funding from Google to create two YouTube channels, Hello Style and one tied to Car & Driver.

“They helped prime the pump, which we appreciate,” Carey said.

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