Yes, we can sell: New Scientist publisher on marketing products successfully
Jasper Jackson @ - on 2/10/12
Peter Hobday's article yesterday on how publishers don't know how to sell created a lot of debate both online and offline. For a take on the other side of the argument, we spoke to New Scientist publisher John MacFarlane to get his reaction and hear about his approach to ensuring they offer enough different products and market them properly.
TheMediaBriefing: Do you agree with Peter Hobday's suggestion that publishers don't know how to sell?
MacFarlane: The proposal is not anything I would agree with and his portrait of marketing departments as bogged down in administration and process is certainly not anything I would recognise.
Certainly not here at the New Scientist, nor at many of our competitor publishers, many of whom do an even better job than we do. Not all publishers can sell, but there are core that are doing a good job.
What do you think of the idea that publishers need more products in the shop window?
The idea of having more products in the shop window is an interesting point, and it’s not something I would reject out of hand.
We have just launched a sister quarterly title called Arc. It’s an interesting mix of futurology mixed with science fiction. Arc covers what could happen next. We’ve certainly broadened the portfolio there.
Micro-publishing offers opportunities to put together packs of bundled content. Instant Expert in the New Scientist has a deep dive in a particular content area. It allows you in an hour’s read to become an expert on an area of science. Currently it runs in the magazine, but separating that out there are a lot of opportunities there.
We have also done very successful special editions on topics such as (the concept of) nothing, on existentialism, which have done well on the news stands. There are opportunities to package that content together.
Are publishers as a whole moving towards offering a wider range of products?
Publishers do need to shake up their offers. But that is something that digital publishing makes possible that most quality publishers are exploring.
The unspoken (concept) is that you have to have quality content that readers need to engage with. Publications like The Economist, Sports Illustrated, Wired, they are all high quality content, and most of those publishers are starting to put together packages of digital content offerings.
And if you move into the B2B sphere there are white papers, reports and specific topic areas they are putting out a lot of new products on. B2B is where you will have some real innovation, and that just goes back to the quality content. Consumer readers choose to spend their time reading good content. In B2B, they are about products solutions and data that people need. The demonstrable return on investment is an easier case to make.
What do you think about Peter's criticism of publishers' attitude to marketing?
I absolutely disagree with him saying we don’t know how to market. I can remember attending conferences around six years ago in New York where a retailer came along. I remember thinking when it came to selling there were huge gaps in publishers’ knowledge, on things like advertising or handling recurring card payments, compared to retailers.
I remember thinking we have to play catch up. But it has become increasingly difficult to sell subs of any kind, coupled with horrendous economic times, and to be a survivor you’ve had to learn those lessons.
My marketing department are more comfortable with a spreadsheet than a canapé and a glass of wine in their hand. The marketers we are employing now, for want of a better word, are the quants (quantitative analysts). They are very clued up on the process of the sale and in terms of offer experimentation, packaging, bundling and pricing, they are light years ahead of where they were.