I moderated a panel at an AIGA event in Washington, D.C. on June 12 on the subject of in-house interactive design. The presenters included Khoi Vinh, the Design Director for nytimes.com, and Rob Covey, Senior Vice President of Content and Design at National Geographic Digital Media, and Faz Besharatian, the Design Director of Web Strategy and Operations at AARP. All three sites -- aarp.com, nytimes.com, and nationalgeographic.com -- rely on digital advertising as part of their revenue-model. As we discussed how advertising space impacts the design of a site the conversation turned to the changing demands of advertisers and the future of publications.
Advertisers have been looking beyond standard online banner ad units toward interactive ads, video ads, and content integration. With the recent announcement that the print version of U.S. News and Word Report will move from a weekly to a bi-weekly frequency my mind turned to considering just what kind of traditional publications will survive as people continue to consume more news online, and less offline. What will it take to survive, and thrive?
A strong brand is certainly one criteria. According to ComScore The New York Times continues to be the top online news destination, outperforming even Yahoo! News by 10 million unique visitors in May, 2008. Their strong brand has to be an ingredient of that success. I expect another criteria will be the ability to offer advertisers an integrated online, print, and broadcast package. When we (Fleishman-Hillard) developed a program for Rawling's 50th Anniversary of the Gold Glove we partnered with ESPN because they could offer on-air and online integration. Publications like The New York Times, The Economist, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and TIME don't have that home-grown broadcast element. Time and Newsweek have used collaboration with CNN and MSNBC in an attempt to bridge the gap, but their online readership has not provided any real separation from others in the category. A look at Alexa data suggests that the sites for these publications group together in a narrow band for rank, reach, and page views. Content is still the draw online, and the traditional publications are blessed with quality journalists and the smart ones are adding blogs, video, and social media features as fast as they can. But as an indication of where things are heading, all have had their site traffic recently eclipsed by the huffingtonpost.com. Or consider Amy Poehler's zinger at the TIME 100 gala: "TIME magazine's circulation is around 3.4 million, which is great for a magazine. Just OK for a YouTube video, but great for a magazine."
National Geographic has an interesting model, and it is probably not the first publication one would think of as a long-term digital player. A redesigned site with an emphasis on user-generated and games contributed to a huge spike in traffic over the last few months. The brand is strong, recognized globally, and is supported by a Web site, a cable channel, branded programming PBS and FOX, branded movies, and ten magazines. The ability to integrate content over that diverse portfolio may prove an advantage in keeping advertisers. ESPN may have a similar advantage with their portfolio of espn.com, television, radio, and a magazine.
Much of the consolidation in the newspaper space has involved print-only deals. Judging from the news coming out of the McClatchy Company, an aggressive acquireer of newspapers over the last few years, those deals are not paying off. We might some deals happen across mediums, particularly with some of the stronger players in the distressed space, if the industry can get past the halo effect of the AOL-Time Warner merger.