The Age of Digital Media: How Can Start-Up Publishers Achieve Success?

A couple weeks ago me and a bunch of other creatives piled in Alley’s Chelsea location for a chat with Jeff Caravalho, partner and executive editor at Highsnobiety, media in the digital age.

For those of you not familiar with HighSnob, it’s a online and print publication that covers fashion, art, music, and culture. What started as a website designed to talk about sneakers and their release dates has grown into a Tidel Media Group with offices in Berlin and New York.

The conversation kicked off and almost immediately dived into what in my mind was the question of the night. Is there still a place for print media in 2016? As the creator and EIC of The Cool Mag, an online magazine for creatives by creatives, it’s a question I often struggle with. My goal, even before starting The Cool Mag online, has always been for it to be a print publication but that idea often gets met with doubts when I express that to others.. From Conde Nast ending print of Details Magazine (which focused on men's health, grooming, and entertainment) to Vibe magazine ceasing print and going completely digital, it’s clear that print publications are certainly on the decline so I guess I shouldn’t be too offended when people aren’t sold that a startup print magazine is the best step to take.

So… To Print or Not To Print… That Is The Question!

It's 2016 and it's crystal clear that we live in a digital world, so is there room for print media? I mean digital media is much easier for new publishers to execute because of it’s low start-up costs. It’s also a lot more interactive allowing brands to instantly talk and react with their readers, as well as keep up with topics and trends faster than print. So if digital is such a great thing, is print even worth the trouble (and much higher start up costs)? I say... Yes! And so does Jeff but only when it's done right.

So how do you execute a print magazine properly in the age of rapid content consumerism?

Use premium materials:

                                                                                                                                                                 Inside view of HighSnob's Magazine Issue 11

                                                                                                                                                                 Inside view of HighSnob's Magazine Issue 11

Jeff notes that packaging is important. From the cover images down to the paper stock, every single detail is important because your print should be designed to make the customer feel something. What you have to keep in mind is that print provides a sensory effect that digital can’t. When people can touch, feel, hear and smell something versus just seeing it (like with digital media) they grow more of an attachment to it.

In 10 Steps to Profit from Your Passion, the founders of The College of Hip Hop perfectly explained why proper packaging of a product is key saying:

“Proper packaging creates the perception that you have invested in the project and it will be worth the money. If you don’t show you’re serious about how your items look, people might conclude the music was also approached in the same way.” The same is true for your publication.

Create original content:

From short pieces on sneaker drops and others long form articles like  “Why You Should Boycott Zara”, HighSnob rolls out around 20+ online articles a day. But for it’s Fall and Spring print issues,  the magazine provides 100% original content and storytelling. That’s because no one wants to pay to read content they’ve previously read online for free.

So...Spice it up! Present exclusive content. Come up with an interesting story. Even if it’s  a popular topic like the election that’s constantly being covered this year, tell the story from a creative point of view.

Make it unique:

                                                                                              Example of HrdCvr's unique packaging 

                                                                                              Example of HrdCvr's unique packaging 

HrdCvr is a hardcover culture magazine created by diverse teams for a diverse world. Created by journalists Danyel Smith and Elliott Wilson, this magazine stands out not only for its in-depth cultural content but also because of it’s look. Shaped like a book, this hardcover magazine comes in 4 colorways that ship at random. Along with it’s one of a kind look, HrdCvr was a Kickstarter effort and may or may not be published again. This exclusivity adds more interest and incentive for consumers to purchase.

Think of ways you can make your magazine stand out against the crowd. Maybe that’s collaborating with a dope graphic designer to create stunning visuals or finding a unique way to package your publication. The choice is yours, just make sure you find something that your readers can identify as “unique” to your publication.

So now that we’ve established there is a place for print media in 2016, what about digital media? No worries, here are some MAJOR KEYS (cue DJ Khaled voice) to help with executing both print and digital media effectively.

                                                                                                                        Major Keys Alert!

                                                                                                                        Major Keys Alert!

1. Give First Person Narratives

From Periscope to Instagram stories (sorry SnapChat), first person interactions and narratives are the new wave for brands. On top of creating killer content, it’s important to give your readers some insight into who’s creating the content. Telling your brand story helps build trust with your readers and trust is crucial for brands to succeed these days. Let your readers know who's behind the stories you cover. It helps them identify with the brand and feel more connected to your product.

2. Know Your Audience

It's not necessary to be on every social platform especially if you don't have the knowledge and/or manpower to keep up with them. It’s important to find where your audience is so that you know how to communicate with them. Some people love Facebook but aren’t into Instagram. A lot of young people don’t care much for Facebook but prefer Twitter and/or Instagram. Do some research into what platform(s) has the most engagement with your readership demographic and start putting more time (and possibly money) into those platforms.

You also need to know how your content translates across all platforms you’re using. A stunning visual may work great for Instagram but perform terribly on Twitter because people on Twitter are looking more to read than browse pictures.

3. Feed Your Readers and Stay True to Your Brand

Identify your audience and feed them! You should search for what your audience interests are while ultimately staying true to your voice. Even if your main supporters aren't who you originally thought they would be, that's ok. Find a happy medium. Find what works for you and execute the HECK out of it! For example, Adweek recently released an article saying that Publishers Reach on Facebook has declined by 42% over the last 5 months yet Jeff says HighSnob’s Facebook engagement has actually consistently increased month to month. So never automatically rule something just because it didn't work for your competitor. Create you own lane. AKA “don't ride the wave, be the wave”.

4. Don't rush the process.

Take your time and do it right! The founders of HighSnob took a decade to get it right by posting content that they enjoyed without dealing with metrics and analytics. Now I’m sure you may not have a decade to get things right but just know it’s not an overnight process. Take your time and create great content because ultimately, that’s what’s going to grow your audience and keep your audience coming back for more. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a race!