Print to Digital: 5 Steps to Making the Move

metropolitan-home-magazine-donna-warnerAs magazines continue to fold, editors can continue to lament the downfall of print media as they hold onto their jobs for dear life or take charge of their careers and do what’s necessary to make them invaluable to their employers.

Hopefully magazines and newspapers will learn to monetize their content on the web or rebuild their business models so they aren’t solely based on ad dollars which are based on inflated base-rates.  I’ll gladly spend a little more to keep my favorite magazines from faltering and I’m saddened when I seen a subscription offer of “two years for $6″ as I know the writings on the wall for that magazine to shutter.

After spending a few years working for two of the largest print media companies in the world (Time Inc. and Hachette Filipacchi Media), I understand why they don’t get the online business. Each of these publishers has been putting ink to paper for at least 100 years. That’s why they’ve been successful because they’ve been doing this better than anyone for a tremendous amount of time. The same goes for long-time employees, many of who remain stubborn and arrogant about their roles editing a magazine. For many of them it’s been their only job since graduating from college.

I remember a team meeting between the digital department and a senior group of magazine editors from Metropolitan Home. One of the editors said “Why do we even have to have a website? I hate looking at photos on a website. I don’t get why we have to spend time talking about this, my team is very busy.” This meeting took place in 2008. The following year Metropolitan Home folded.

Regardless of how these media behemoths evolve, the digital revolution is here and print editors who want to keep their jobs or take on more responsibility in their next positions should acquire the following skills, yesterday!

1. Join the community – You say you hate Facebook and have no time for Twitter. Are you busier than Martha Stewart or Bob Vila. So they may have ghost writers but the important thing is they are visible on these two social media platforms and have thousands of followers. If you choose not to participate at least build a profile which will be indexed by Google.

2. Blog – Forget what you know or have heard about blogs. If you fancy yourself a great writer and a person of exceptional knowledge in an particular field, then you would make a great blogger. Being a great blogger will in turn build authority in your subject matter and broaden your audience and reach. Blogs are a central piece of any portfolio and a sharp looking and well-written blog will get you hired over clips and blurbs from random publications.

3. Adjust your style – The majority of successful blogs and websites are short-form and understand there is a limited amount of time to capture a readers attention before they move on to another website. You may write beautiful long form prose but save that for your book deal. Learn to write for the web and also consider keyword rich heds and deks that will translate to online stories. If you can summarize your article in 140 characters you are golden (if you know why this  is important then you’re on your way).

4. Learn the online business – If you can show an employer you understand why pageviews per visit are important and can explain SEO you’ll be ahead of the game. Knowing just a little bit about how a magazine website makes money and builds traffic shows you are savvy to the whole operation.

5. Volunteer for online assignments – Create your own opportunities by approaching the online editor or producer with a special online series that you’d like to write. You’ll most likely be greeted with an enthusiastic response and show the organization how important online is to you. If you can tie it to a print story with inline slugs to URL’s that’s even better.

Bottom line – The editors I saw successfully move from print to online or those that just wanted to stay relevant within their organizations, embraced the digital side of publishing and adjusted their skill sets to not only keep from being let go but made them the most valuable members of their organizations and many were quickly rewarded.

Mark Zuckerberg may only be 24 but in the publishing world the 50 year-old editor who knows how to build a keyword rich article in the CMS and post it to Facebook will get the corner office.

8 thoughts on “Print to Digital: 5 Steps to Making the Move

  1. I was Editor in Chief of Metropolitan Home and attended every single web meeting that was ever held in the history of that wonderful magazine. I've spoken to several of Met Home's senior editors and none of us remember the dialogue you quoted.

    What we do remember is many frustrating years trying to build a decent website when there was very little editorial input allowed. That changed in 2008 (or perhaps even a bit earlier), and almost every editor on staff contributed regularly to that site, in addition to putting out a great paper magazine.

    And, to continue to set the record straight, Met Home's demise had nothing whatsoever to do with the editorial staff's contributions to the shared pointclickhome.com website (many of which generated more traffic than other sources), but to much larger corporate issues and decisions.

    Donna Warner

  2. I made the switch from print to digital a few years ago and it was tough, but if you go in ready to learn, it's not as intimidating as you think.
    Mr. Dahl, these are great pieces of advice. Keep writing.

  3. As someone who worked in print for both publications and now works for online media, what is apparent is a great deal of the old guard has had a difficult time transitioning between what they know and what is actually happening in this migratory period between print and online delivery systems. So my own memories of senior editors and EICs also mirrored the description above, with a great deal of transitional blockage due to an inherent lack of understanding of the technology behind online media, the changing readership and reading habits landscape, and sometimes simply due to a fear of losing grip with what they had known for years (if not decades). This isn't necessarily a criticism of character, as almost everyone eventually finds themselves losing grip of technological and progressive ideas, especially when the playing field flips over completely, like many in print find themselves. But there's something to be said about admitting and taking credit for not helping the transitional phase many print publications face with older guard management.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that in many cases the senior team at Met Home and similar publications were unable to initiate many possible stopgap solutions because the “senior” staff was anything but senior in regards to understanding online media, social networking, and general readership habits of a changing demographic of new readers. Donna may be absolutely correct that at the heart of it, the issues were corporate, but as EIC, she was part of the corporate culture that has hastened the demise of many excellent publications the print generation create.

    The queen is dead…all hail the new queen.

  4. This is just a misrepresentation of what happened at Met Home, pure self-congratulatory revisionism.

  5. Donna

    I appreciate your response but it misses the point of this article and perfectly illustrates the attitude that many print editors share.

    The intent of this post was not to denigrate the work and editorial
    contributions print editors make to websites but rather share what I feel are necessary skills that editors can acquire to help advance their careers in a fast-moving media landscape.

    I agree that when working at a mainstream media company there are many variables outside of our control but today's EIC's need to recognize that not only are they responsible for curating the content of a print publication but also taking ownership of how magazine content is presented online and making sure the entire staff is on the same page.

    Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst and HFMUS are all struggling with this and the books that get it right are flourishing and rightly so.

    Without a doubt the loss of Metropolitan Home in the design and magazine community will be felt for years and is a blow not only to the magazine industry but designers, decorators and stylists around the world.

  6. Your reply was so fair-minded you neglected to score an easy point (such is the nature of fair-mindedness). I suspected you were being facetious about automatically appointing digitized EIC’s to corner offices, though I posted in a super-serious vein.

    The easy point you neglected and which I’ll score against myself is this: I had submitted a long list of people the modern EIC needs to engage in addition to coveted readers: staffers, freelancers, creative directors, ad sales reps and so on, BUT tellingly neglected to mention social networking experts. Without you guys and your IT cousins at the table, I’d be the first to admit media workers are hopelessly lost.

    Suggestion: Why not write another blog about what happens when panic raises its ugly head in the editorial room?

    Precisely when many voices, many calm voices need to be heard – including social networking voices – only one ends up predominating: “Cut production costs – that’s the answer!” or, better, “More sales, more face to face calls! Forget this social networking nonsense.” And if your tone becomes super-serious like mine I’ll understand.

    I’ve been there.

  7. You r being more than fair, 1. I knew you were tongue in cheek and 2.
    More to the point: after listing all these different folks an eic
    needs to engage, I tellingly left out some key players: Social
    networkers!

  8. I read Somewhere that the demise of Metropolitan Home had nothing to do with editorial. If we concur in defining “editorial” as the discriminating decisions made by its Editor-in-Chief, Donna Warner, then the failure of Met Home to provide compelling and inspiring content had everything to do to with a narrow editorial vision. As early as 2003, I began to chart the downward editorial direction onto which Mrs Warner hand was firmly steering the magazine. It was obvious that Donna Werner was suffering tunnel vision. Most of the interiors had a polished “trying too hard” aesthetic of the nouveau riche that lacked the power to capture readers fantasies and aspirations. nnAs magazines like Dwell were pointing to a new direction, the direction to where modern life had taken us; while others like Wallpaper, had turned to edgy urbanite readers, and Elle Decor and Architectural Digest were departing from tassels and brocade u2014 the stuffy realm of Westport Connecticutu2014 and resorting to editorial content that appealed to a broader cross section of American society, Metropolitan Life presented interiors u2014whether new or renovatedu2014 in a manner that alienated the reader rather than encourage them to picture themselves on the spread. The homes featured in Metropolitan Home were often impeccable, in a Homesense kind of way. And to me that was precisely the problem. Werner’s idea of compelling interiors clashed with the zeitgeist of contemporary home decor, with the new sensibility taking hold of people’s imaginations, with our exposure to a variety of cultures, architectural sensibilities and most of all with our growing ability to discern what is fake from what is real allowed for lived in imperfections and uniqueness, where Donna’s spread seemed manufactured in China.nnI recall the many times I was compelled to pick the phone or wished I had Donna Werner’s email address to offer some kind warning. It was obvious to me that the interiors she was featuring were soulless, but there was no readers column in Metropolitan Home where a boy could have pointed out that the empress had no clothes. That might have been part of the problem.n

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