The $10 Million Dollar Question

This week I was asked to participate in a “digital publishing innovation” panel as part of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute program. On my panel were some of the most well-respected experts in the industry including: David Kang from Hearst, Josh Quittner, currently at Time but on his way to Flipboard, Matt Bean from Rodale, and Chris Sanborn, founder of Sanborn Media Factory.

Our mission was to inspire and educate students of publishing on how the magazine landscape is changing, has changed, and what the outlook is for innovation-driven successes. Based on the response from the attendees, it is safe to say we were a big hit.

After discussing a series of very interesting topics ranging from Apple’s growing interest in digital magazines, to digital business models outside of apps, integrated brand, and brand extension, David decided to end the session with a closing question for all panelists to answer. The question was: “If someone gave you $10 million to start a digital-only magazine business, what would you spend it on?”

This question made the room completely silent and everyone leaned forward to hear the answers. At first we thought they were truly interested in what we had to say, then we realized that this question was the basis of their final assignment and they were looking for some quick answer to “borrow.”

I found the answers to be extremely interesting and thought-provoking, and wanted to share some of them. So here they are; according to representatives from the world’s leading publishing brands, with $10 million in hand, these experts say they would absolutely consider things as it relates to creating a successful and sustainable company:

  1. Create web assets that will stream into apps (as Seventeen did in its December issue).
  2. Consider building an HTML5 version of your digital magazine to avoid the ever-growing proprietary app language requirements (like the FT buzz happening now).
  3. Ensure there is a brand marketing effort that lives off of the web (like the up-and-coming VIVmag-nificent Woman Program I will be speaking about in my next column).
  4. Build the features and base pricing on what the customer sentiment is. Do not restrict to the old school models we have gotten used to.
  5. Eliminate the print-based low entry subscription fee. Up-sells don’t work the same in digital as they do in print.
  6. Research the average purchase volume and value by device type before building a business model (smartphone owners pay less per transaction but transact more than tablet owners).
  7. When creating apps for your magazine, ensure they all cross-link to each other to up-sell on differentiated products over price.
  8. Build a model that enables you to reach brand fans via direct efforts and content fans in new and unique manners like partnerships with distribution and social companies.
  9. Ensure you build for all mobile screen-size experiences.
  10. Give back $9 million and engage advertisers as sponsors of your development efforts.

Well, there you have it from the experts. What would you do to ensure your new digital magazine was a success?

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