In Circ: How to proceed with your digital strategy

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Magazines and newspapers have had a bumpy ride along the road to digital expansion. Many are continuing to test new operational models - among them, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The latter had its own Tweeting reporters leak plans from an internal company meeting about the Times' ideas to pursue a paid membership model last week. However, true success stories with monetizing digital content in a sustainable way are few and far between.

Overall revenue continues to decline, PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts a $20 billion dip in size of the global newspaper publishing market in 2009 from 2008. Oddly, however there has never been more choice around where a title can invest in improving its digital strategy. Publishers can choose from digital editions, social media widgets, e-mail newsletters, RSS, interactive Web sites, podcast and video content, virtual magazine events, social media Web sites and mobile sites, just to name a few.

A lot of these tools have been used in the name of "brand building." Usually this phrase produces snickers in the back of the room from the savvy direct marketer. But newspapers and magazines have gone through round after round of investing in publishing online without adhering to tried and true circulation marketing principles.
Incremental investments and expansions are what have traditionally grown circulation lists. Whether it's a paid or unpaid model the pace of that growth must be determined by a simple cost-benefit analysis. Today's market is seeing large investments of time and money, while a monetization model for many of these digital methods has yet to surface.

In fact, even those that are deeply steeped in the tech-savvy world have a difficult time defending their business models online. Wired magazine has lost 50% of its ad pages so far this year in print and its online display ads have yet to generate as much revenue.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that marketers don't follow their audience online. In fact innovating around how to monetize digital content is more crucial than ever. But what also is valuable is old-fashioned direct tactics. Before you write a check to overhaul your Web site or begin putting your content on an RSS reader feed, crunch the numbers and protect your business model.

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