July 9, 2014 Last Updated 12:24 pm

Wednesday column: Quality editorial and B2B media

Each Wednesday, Talking New Media invites industry leaders to discuss industry topics involving digital publishing issues. This week’s column is about… columns, and the difficulty in securing quality material.

The B2B media business, one might say, is split between those publications that must drive new, hard news in order to attract and keep their readers, and those titles that are there to represent the industry’s vendors to readers. Often the difference between the two can be determined simply be whether the magazine is a paid circulation title or a qualified circulation title.

If that seems like a simple, and completely unfair way to breakout the industry’s magazines, it is because it is unfair. There are plenty of qualified circulation magazines that feature well-written and researched editorial, just as many paid circulation B2B titles contain puff.

But the quality issue does, in fact, dog the industry. Of the dozen B2B magazines I have already received in the mail this week, only a couple contained anything of interest (yeah Grocery Headquarters, Supermarket News and AdAge). The others were collections of press releases probably with editorial calendars that were designed years ago, with very little change over that time. (It is July so they feature short press releases on new lawn mowers, or skid steers, or new paint coatings, or whatever their industry might dictate.)

CMmag-smI was fortunate when I entered the magazine business because I came to it on my own terms, by launching my own magazine. In the early ’90’s, while a publisher of a daily newspaper in San Francisco owned by McGraw-Hill, we launched a new regional construction magazine. We looked at many of the other magazines covering construction and designed our own, including the editorial calendar. Of course, we had a good model as McGraw-Hill owned Engineering News-Record where the editor-in-chief looked down on the existing regional magazines as little more than press releases masquerading as magazines.

Our first issue featured a lengthy interview with a construction executive well known nationally and featured an amazing photograph of him on the cover, his tie blowing in the wind in a shot taken from the roof of his building. Our editor immediately heard back from the guys in NYC, congratulating her on the story, the magazine’s new design, and our ambitious take on regional B2B publishing.

But most of the industry can not build their books from scratch, they live month-to-month slaves to editorial calendars that drive ad sales. There is nothing wrong, mind you, with editorial calendars that drive ad sales – that is actually their purpose. I always told my editors that the editorial calendar is NOT what you base your content solely on, but is what is expected by the advertisers. The quality of any issue is determined by how you fit in the topics mentioned in the calendar with what you think the magazine should contain. Each month is a battle between advertiser and reader expectations and how the editor reconciles the two. Too many publishers have reinforced that idea that the calendar is the beginning and the end of their editorial decisions, once the calendar has been set and printed, the magazine’s content is locked in.


TNM has the same issues as any other B2B media outlets: balancing quality and quantity, and securing good material. Twenty different authors have penned articles for this site in just the past year, many contributing insightful, instructive articles – helping carry the load.

Our newish Wednesday column was created to be a space where members of the digital publishing industry could contribute technical articles that would assist designers, editors, publishers and others create new digital magazines, eBooks and other digital media products. It hasn’t worked out as planned.

Of the more than two dozen articles submitted for the Wednesday column, half have been rejected because they were, in the end, simply press releases for the companies submitting them. Most of the rejected columns came from PR firms that, one assumes, could not pass up the opportunity to slip in some PR for their clients. I very clearly explained what was expected, but still what was received was not very different than the press releases that are received every day.

A recent post on LinkedIn argues that contributors to B2B media magazines should dumb down their technical material for readers. I could not disagree more. Do what editorial material dumbed down for you?

Why is it so hard to get good material for the Wednesday column? Because it is hard to write good material. The columns that have been best since the column first appears in April have generally been opinion pieces rather than technical ones. No one, it appears, wants to tackle a column on creating HTML5 animations, video creation, InDesign and Photoshop advice. That’s fine, I suppose, but I know that TNM readers are actively creating digital editions and would love to learn something new from their trade industry news sources.

TNM is taking a bit of a break in July from our columns as we try to reenergize the feature. We’re not giving up, however, and continue to invite anyone who wants to contribute to do so. Right now only one new column is scheduled, and that one keeps getting moved back as the company involved requests more time. Do you have something to contribute, something to teach, or new information on a digital publishing platform, newsstand or other issue? Contact TNM and let’s see if we can add your voice to this website.


Addendum:

A word about TNM’s press release policy: TNM publishes dozens of press releases every month, they appear in the Latest News and Digital Media Industry News sections of the site.

They are reproduced unaltered because I firmly believe that it is a waste of time to rewrite a press release in order to make it appear that TNM has come up with something original. When I have something to add to a press release I receive – more information, background, opinion – then I use the press release as source material and attempt to come up with a new story. One TNM reader asked me why I publish any press releases at all. The reason is simple: someone might find that information valuable, so it is published, unaltered, and clearly labeled as a press release.

I’ve been the publisher of some dozen and a half magazines and if someone out there offered me a position as publisher of a B2B title again, and I accepted (not likely), the first thing I would tell my editor is that anyone caught wasting their time rewriting a press release would be let go. Spend your time writing original articles, blogging, creating features, designing pages, making animations and videos, conducting interviews… don’t waste your time rewriting a press release so you can fool your editor or the reader that you came up with the story yourself.

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