Interview with Doug Harbrecht, Director of New Media, kiplinger.com
For podcast release Monday, September 24, 2012
KENNEALLY: The death toll continues to grow. The catastrophe is not one wrought by nature or inhumanity, but by technology. Month after month, we learn that another newspaper or magazine will cease to publish and print. Hard copy, ink on dead trees – whatever you call it, print seems ready to succumb to digital. But some publications are not ready to go anytime soon. Their editors and publishers believe that readers enjoy a different relationship with print, a closer relationship, and a more rewarding one for the publications.
Hello, and welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. My name is Christopher Kenneally, host of Beyond the Book, and joining me today in Washington DC to proclaim the power of print is Doug Harbrecht, Director of New Media for kiplinger.com. Welcome Doug.
HARBRECHT: Pleasure to be here, Chris.
KENNEALLY: We’re happy you took the time to join us. We should tell people about your background – it’s an interesting one. You are, as I said, Director of New Media for kiplinger.com, the fastest growing Website in the investing/personal finance magazine space, and kiplinger.com receives nearly 1.2 million unique visits per month. You joined Kiplinger in 2006 from Businessweek online, where you were executive editor, and your 30 year career in Washington includes covering the White House and Congress for Businessweek. And finally, in 1998, you were President of the National Press Club. So eminently someone qualified to talk about new media, about the digital side of things, but also about the print side of things. So for Kiplinger, which I suppose we ought to start by telling people briefly about it, why does print still matter? But first, just the rundown on what Kiplinger does.
HARBRECHT: Well, Kiplinger is a very interesting company. We’ve been around 90 years. Kiplinger started with the letter, the Kiplinger Letter, back in 1923, which was a great innovation at the time. If you want to think about it this way, it was a blog through snail mail of – but blog-like, but nonetheless excellent reporting, thorough reporting, trying to give businesses a heads up on what was coming out of Washington in terms of regulation policy, politics, etc.
Then in 1947, another great innovation of Kiplinger was the first personal finance magazine in 1947, at a time when no one was quite sure whether the Great Depression was coming back again, or whether we were moving into an era of astounding global expansion and expansion at home. At the time Austin Kiplinger and Willard Kiplinger, his father, saw that, in fact, we were going into very boom economic times. And they were right. We forget now that people were very concerned about the Great Depression coming back at that time. And with kiplinger.com, this is another great innovation that we are now making. We still publish the magazine, still publishing the letter, and we also have ancillary letters like the Kiplinger Retirement Report and the Kiplinger Tax Letter.
KENNEALLY: So let’s talk then, about the contrasting formats and the contrasting propositions of print and digital. There are some competitors in your space who have decided to leave the print marketplace and only be published in digital form. Why would Kiplinger really commit to staying in print?
HARBRECHT: Well, print’s not going to go away, and I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. Radio didn’t go away when television came along, and television didn’t go away when the Internet came along. In fact, they evolved in their own separate ways. They evolved in different ways. I don’t think it’s an issue of print going away. But there are tremendous economic pressures right now on print publications.
KENNEALLY: Well, tell us about what they are. I suppose the primary one is advertising as the real source of revenue.
HARBRECHT: Right. What’s happening is with the digital medium, advertisers are flocking to the digital medium. They’re flocking to kiplinger.com, but they’re less willing to advertise in print publications. The reason is twofold. First, to have a page in a magazine costs 10 times as much as it does to have an ad on a Website. Their costs are 10 times as much. Number two, the metrics of tracking what audiences – whether they see the ads, who they are – the demographics ads, this is a science online. Advertisers get a tremendous amount of information through digital pixel tracking, whatever, about who it is that’s looking at their ad, who’s clicking on their ad, and whether they’re buying or not. This kind of science is not available in the print medium.
KENNEALLY: So gone are the days when you could say that half of the money I spend on advertising is a waste, except they don’t know which half. Now you know which half.
HARBRECHT: Precisely, and they know a lot. It’s almost a little scary how much that advertisers are able to learn about people now, and that’s why there’s so many concerns about privacy and privacy rights.
KENNEALLY: So if digital advertising is where it’s at and where it’s going to be, print advertising, though, still has tremendous value and I suppose that’s why the advertisers pay 10 times as much for it.
HARBRECHT: Well, in the industry we call it the mix, and indeed there continues to be a media mix. Many, many companies advertise both on radio and television. Some just do it on television, some just do it on radio. I think the mix will still be there.
The other aspect of this is circulation, and the other side of this equation is that audiences have now so used to getting content and information for free. They expect it on the Internet. They’re conditioned to get it for free on the Internet. And the problem there is people will now spend $4 on a latte at Starbucks, but they won’t spend $10 for an extremely valuable magazine like Kiplinger , and we know our audience is very high end. We have one of the most treasured audiences for advertisers that exists. It’s wealthy, it’s older, they’re thought leaders, and yet even we’re struggling with this.
KENNEALLY: For those who are listening who, as you say, are struggling along with you, let’s get back to the point about the power of print. Talk about the relationship that your readers have with Kiplinger. You are the Director of New Media, but still, I want you to help us out and understand why print still matters to them, to that particular affluent audience.
HARBRECHT: It comes down to reader experience, and I think that’s the way to think about it, is different platforms. In the new media age, it’s all about reader experience. How does the reader want to receive the information? Something about a magazine that is not going to go away is the ability to sit down on a couch on a Saturday or Sunday or at night, curl up with a magazine with a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and just enjoy, luxuriate in the magazine experience.
On a computer, that doesn’t exist. The experience on a computer is, I need information and I need it now. Now one of the more interesting things that’s evolving is the growth of tablets like iPads and Amazon Fire which are more of a television hyper-graphical experience, if you will. And we see opportunities there fore a magazine-like experience that is also very television-like, and the graphics are magnificent.
But nonetheless, the experience of reading a magazine is not going to go away.
KENNEALLY: And it must be difficult at Kiplinger, in your role, to place bets on technologies that are evolving before our eyes. We have to remember the iPad is only two years old. It seems as if it’s been here forever, but it’s only been around for just a little over two years. We don’t know what’s coming out of Apple a year from now. So for you to place a real bet on the iPad format or any other format is a tremendous risk. Talk about how you evaluate the formats. What are you looking for?
HARBRECHT: In our business there are big companies, like Condé Nast, for example, or McGraw Hill, that will spend a lot of money for the experimentation and the innovation that comes with this rapidly evolving media landscape. They are able to do that.
We are a small company We’re a small publisher. We cannot do that. So what we do is we sort of watch the evolution of things, and what you’re seeing is a lot of technologies, when they first come on board for delivery of content in the digital age, they’re very expensive but they come down in price very, very rapidly as competitors move into the market and compete against each other for business. Which we’re seeing that, for example, right now with iPad, where iPad platforms are coming down tremendously in price. What cost a few million dollars six months ago is now down into a couple of thousand dollars. So we watch this very closely.
And the other tenet in online world is, you experiment, but you experiment cheaply. And you try many things, but if it’s not working, you discard quickly, too.
KENNEALLY: Can you cite a particular experiment that you’ve been surprised by the results?
HARBRECHT: Well, the rise of tablets has been astonishing for us. Our audience on tablets is growing at a triple digit rate right now. People are coming to our Website and getting our content from our Website. But this explosive growth, this is also driving us to look at platforms where we think we could get even more page views out of this. We need page views in order to monetize because if we have page views, advertisers will want to be with us in that site, and that’s how we make our money.
KENNEALLY: Finally, Doug Harbrecht, Director of New Media for kiplinger.com, I suppose you must be grateful to be in the particular space you’re in. Financial news, the kind of information that you traffic in is one that will always be important because it’s about survival in this free enterprise system of ours.
HARBRECHT: Yeah, we have a saying on the wall at Kiplinger’s, which is we start with the expectation our readers will act on the information we give them and benefit from doing so. And that is our stock in trade, that’s what we give people, is we try to provide value, and that’s the whole trick in the media business now. And personal finance information, valuable personal information, that’s not going to go away, people always need that.
KENNEALLY: And if you can’t get it anywhere else. I can get the Red Sox score almost anywhere. In fact, I can get it from a friend sitting at the park, she’ll just tweet it to me. But you can’t get the kind of insight on financial practices that Kiplinger has almost anywhere else.
HARBRECHT: No, you can’t. And what we do, again getting back to platforms, it’s interesting how people like to get their information on different platforms in different ways. For example, in a magazine, people like to read an article. They will read an article or they will read a column. Online, people like to get their information through a quiz – an entertaining and informative quiz, or they like the slideshow experience. There’s some (inaudible) about slideshows, too. But a lot of people like to view slideshows online. So we put a lot of our valuable information into slideshows that produces a very rewarding user experience.
KENNEALLY: Well, Doug, you were President of the National Press Club, you’ve been in journalism, you were formerly an ink-stained wretch. I suppose now, you’re sort of a pixel-pigmented wretch – I’m not sure what it is. But it’s remarkable, isn’t it? In less than a generation’s time, the business that you committed yourself to, that I’ve been involved in for nearly as long, is unrecognizable from what it was when we were young.
HARBRECHT: Pretty astonishing. And the more astonishing thing is that it’s accelerating. The pace of change is accelerating. We look at Twitter and Facebook now, and people say all the time to me, well, I don’t know that Twitter or Facebook is going to be around in five years. Well, that’s true, but social media is going to be around, and that’s the more important thing to keep in mind is that the way in which people are communicating, through digital meetings, is changing the way people behave. It’s change how they want to consume information, and how they want to share information. And if we don’t change with them, we’re going to have a problem.
KENNEALLY: And it’s not only whether they’ll be around in five years, but what will be around in five years? We didn’t have Twitter, we didn’t have Facebook nearly five years ago. Who knows what we’ll have five years from now?
HARBRECHT: Yes, exactly.
KENNEALLY: Doug Harbrecht, Director of New Media from Kiplinger.com, thank you so much for joining me today.
HARBRECHT: Thank you, Chris, a pleasure.
KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, and magazines and blogs, as well as images, movies and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center Website, copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book.
Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.