Saturday, September 13, 2008

The plan to save soap print media

Excuse the provocative title.

In case you missed it, soap magazines are dying. (Judging by the vitriol in the Jossip Hinsey thread, they are already dead). Circulations have been falling for years, in part due to the decline of soap viewership, and in part due to the general decline in many print media). SOD/SOW were sold from Primedia to Source Interlink...and somehow I don't think companies sell off highly profitable ventures.

Now, Roger Newcomb points us to the fact that Source Interlink has experienced particularly stunning ad page losses lately--20% This pretty much is the highest of the losses.

Couple that with news that SOW is not replacing (cannot afford to replace??) Carolyn Hinsey...and you get the idea that the red ink may soon bleed off the page.

I think there are a few other problems with SOD/SOW that are hastening their demise--and I say this NOT with Schadenfreude, but as a reader (of SOD) since 1979 who LOVED those magazines and wishes they would thrive.

1. They have not adequately cultivated their subscriber base. Thus, they rely on fickle newsstand sales.

2. Newsstand sales forces sensationalistic covers. How many "Sonny leaving!" covers can you read (only to learn the ACTOR is taking a two week vacation that you won't even notice due to pre- and post-taping) before losing trust in the mag?

3. Subscriptions are further harmed by the WORST fulfillment house ON THE PLANET (Palm Coast). Most of use SOD subscribers get the mag a week after it appears on newsstands.

4. SOD is experimenting with an online version, but when I wrote to the fulfillment house about it, they said I had to UNSUBSCRIBE from the print version to get the online version. Or I had to pay double? Huh??? Where does that make business sense. A smart venture would have been to give all print subscribers free online content (it is the SAME product)...and try to wean them off the print version with immediacy. Unfortunately, I'm told even the online version appears days after the print version! Silly, huh?

5. SOD and especially SOW are trying to goose their sales with "news". (This is the term used to refer to story SPOILERS and casting changes). In the modern era, HOW FOOLISH.

Why? Because the moderately literate reader gets all the news WEEKS before the mags from Soap Opera Network, Daytime Confidential, Roger Newcomb, and Canadian TV Guide. The few scoops that remain in the mags (US TV Guide's Michael Logan and SOD/SOW) are INSTANTLY telegraphed on EVERY message board.

News/spoilers is NOT the way to build a magazine nowadays. The news travels faster than print. The only people who will buy your mag for "news" are older people without computers...NOT the desirable demographic for advertisers.

6. What to do? I think there is a multi-part strategy:

a. Shift the news to your online sites. Make it hard to cut-and-paste your news, and surround it with internet advertising. Release the news instantly (I'm really talking about casting and production changes), and soon you will be a destination.

b. Abandon story spoilers. They are killing the industry. The last few viewers don't need to watch, thanks to the mags. So stop "screwing the pooch" by printing spoilers. (Where did I hear that phrase?)

c. Use your legacy content (SOD goes back to the mid 70s) to build a return visitor base. Print subscribers should get exclusive access to your full back library, scanned, online. That builds an "incentive" for subscribership that goes beyond the current print edition.

d. What, then, should go in the mag? DETAILED analysis and interviews (not just with stars). These should be long, multi-page jobs without BREAKING NEWS. Why? Because the message boards will be less inclined to steal and disseminate this lengthier kind of article (how many Vanity Fair articles are being pilfered?). That makes the magazine a place for exclusive content.

e. Broker deals with the major online sites that they can release "exclusive" previews of your articles. That drives an audience to your print product. In return, ask those online sites to censor piracy, so that users are forbidden to share your copywritten material. Soap Opera Network is excellent about doing this (protecting the magazines) is Roger Newcomb.

Soon, your magazines become a haven for detailed, analytical, insightful content (and fashion spreads, if you must, though they make me retch). This is stuff you can't get anywhere.

Instead of spoilers, talk to actors and producers about what happened LAST WEEK. Instead of cagey "I can't tell you" responses, now they can freely talk to you about the motivations and intentions of scenes we all watched together last week. For the non-watching viewers, if written right, the "catchup" on recent story will STILL help them keep up with their soaps.

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