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Micro magazines and a future of media

Does anyone read Time or Newsweek (being sold to anyone who will take them) any more? And when they disappear, who will really miss them?

The problem is that they are both slow and general. The world, on the other hand, is fast and specific.

Is there a business here?

While there are still people hoping to make a living writing a blog (not as a tool for something else, but as an end into itself), that's awfully difficult to do. Micro-magazines, on the other hand, feel very different to me. They have elements that make them very attractive to advertisers and readers.

I'll define one as:

  • Being digital (probably a PDF), that's free to 'print', fast to make and easy to share. (Newsweek spends seventeen million dollars a year on paper.)
  • Having subscribers, either by email or RSS
  • Focused on issues that appeal to some, but not all
  • Having a very specific audience (call it a tribe)
  • Enabling that tribe to connect by sharing the ideas in the magazine among them, as well as supporting it with a forum or blog
  • Containing ads that are relevant to that audience
  • Being longer than 140 characters or even a blog post, so significant ideas can be exposed in detail

There's room in the market for 100,000 profitable micro-magazines. Why not have one about Aruba, for example? If all the people who vacation in Aruba could read about the island in detail every month, read about restaurants, resorts and politics, for free, in an easy to share format… Multiply this by every destination, every interest group, every type of profession (how about a micro-magazine for ethnobiologists?)

Surely you can think of a group of people that share a demo- or psychographic, that are appealing to an advertiser base and want to learn and share what they learn… for free.

Take a look at Clay and Ishita's new magazine, Fearless.  It's jammed with good stuff, it's engaging and it begs to be shared. While the audience for Fearless isn't as vertical as some, it clearly should resonate with some advertisers, the sort that might pay for an ad in the soon to be irrelevant newsweeklies. And the big difference is that instead of paying for an office building and paper and overhead, the money for an ad in a micro-magazine can go directly to the people who write and promote it and the ad itself will be seen by exactly the right audience… (Aside: Newsweek has 427 employees and a guaranteed circulation of 1.5
million. Fearless will probably end up reaching 100,000 people with 2 employees.)

Don't expect overnight successes in this form of media, but certainly expect that once someone figures out how to be the voice of a tribe, the revenue will take care of itself. 

Consumer debt is not your friend

Here's a simple MBA lesson: borrow money to buy things that go up in value. Borrow money if it improves your productivity and makes you more money. Leverage multiplies the power of your business because with leverage, every dollar you make in profit is multiplied.

That's very different from the consumer version of this lesson: borrow money to buy things that go down in value. This is wrongheaded, short-term and irrational.

A few decades ago, mass marketers had a problem: American consumers had bought all they could buy. It was hard to grow because dispensable income was spoken for. The only way to grow was to steal market share, and that's difficult. Enter consumer debt.

Why fight for a bigger piece of pie when you can make the whole pie bigger, the marketers think. Charge it, they say. Put it on your card. Pay now, why not, it's like it's free, because you don't have to repay it until later. Why buy a Honda for cash when you can buy a Lexus with credit?

One argument is income shifting: you're going to make a lot of money later, so borrow now so you can have a nicer car, etc. Then, when money is worth less to you, you can pay it back. This idea is actually reasonably new–fifty years or so–and it's not borne out by what actually happens. Debt creates stress, stress creates behaviors that don't lead to happiness…

The other argument is that it's been around so long, it's like a trusted friend. Debt seems like fun for a long time, until it's not. And everyone does it. We've been sold very hard on acquisition = happiness, and consumer debt is the engine that permits this. Until it doesn't.

The thing is, debt has become a marketed product in and of itself. It's not a free service or a convenience, it's a massive industry. And that industry works with all the other players in the system to grow, because (at least for now) when they grow, other marketers benefit as well. As soon as you get into serious consumer debt, you work for them, not for you.

It's simple: when the utility of what you want (however you measure it)
is less than the cost of the debt, don't buy it.

Go read Dave Ramsey's post: The truth about debt.

Dave has spent his career teaching people a lesson that many marketers are afraid of: debt is expensive, it compounds, it punishes you. Stuff now is rarely better than stuff later, because stuff now costs you forever if you go into debt to purchase it. He's persistent and persuasive.

It takes discipline to forego pleasure now to avoid a lifetime of pain and fees. Many people, especially when confronted with a blizzard of debt marketing, can't resist.

Resist. Smart people work at keeping their monthly consumer debt burden to zero. Borrow only for things that go up in value. Easy to say, hard to do. Worth it.

All the news that fits

After years of reading newspapers, I've never seen a paper that said, "sorry, not much happened yesterday, so today's paper is shorter than usual." In fact, the length of the paper is virtually always driven by the number of ads, not by the amount of news (wars, elections and disasters are the exception). Editors are told how many pages of stories they can run by the publisher, who bases it on ads sold.

The web, of course, doesn't have the problem of paying for paper, so the length of a website isn't driven by ads, it's driven by reader attention and writer fatigue. If you run less material, then readers with attention to spare will just go read more on someone else's site. Hence the temptation to write more and more and more and try to milk pageviews.

The same math works for direct marketers and brochures. Since it's free to keep writing or to make that video ever longer, it's tempting to do so. Might as well keep talking until the reader surrenders and buys something.

Here's the problem with that math: people like to be done.

Sure, there will always be a few who want more, but you're often better off giving the majority a sense of mastery and a platform to take action.

Just because you can write more doesn't mean you should.

Announcing first dates for the road trip (Boston, DC, MN and Chicago)

Shubert As mentioned before, I'm bringing my New York seminar on the road. I've found that people can really benefit from direct and personal interactions, and so I'm bringing the seminar to a select group of cities over the next year (more if people show up).

My favorite concerts have always been the acoustic tours. Instead of fancy production, dancing rabbits and lip syncing, it's one person, one microphone and a human-scaled interaction. (Or sometimes five people plus Jerry).

So that's the way I'm approaching this tour. No slides, not so many carefully rehearsed bits, just me and a focused audience, talking through issues that matter. The goal isn't to deliver twitter-sized sound bites, but instead to immerse participants in a different way of thinking about the work we do and how we spread our ideas. I want to urgently and persistently change the way you do your work.

This is the one and only public seminar I'm going to be offering in any of these cities, so I hope you'll let people who might be interested know.

  1. First goal is a lot of Q&A. Sometimes my answer won't be about your question, but most of the time it will. I've found that hearing what other people are puzzling over (and seeing how it might be addressed) is actually a great way to find the insights you might be looking for.
  2. Second goal is to make it easy to find each other. All attendees in each city will have the option of being listed in a digital directory that all attendees will receive. Hooking up with others on the same road you are on can prove really valuable. New resources, new business. In addition, everyone gets an invite to the closed triiibe online group as a way of continuing the conversation.
  3. The nature of the economics makes it impossible for these events to be as small as we'd like and still include everyone who wants to attend. To make up for it, they're off the record, intense and fast-moving. I've run sessions like this in New York and people leave satisfied and more than a little overwhelmed with how much there is to think about and do.

Today, we're announcing events for the next four months, one a month beginning in June. I built a page with all the details: Boston, Washington DC, Minnesota and Chicago. The one after that is Atlanta (details to follow).

If we get a great response to these five, in coming months, we'll announce LA, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Nashville and some other cities. (So even if it's not your city, I hope you'll tell people who might be interested). The goal isn't to be cheap, it's to give you more than you pay for and to create a new lens on how you look at the world. Hope you can join me.

Read the link carefully for student seats as well as a chance to volunteer and get a free seat. And for anyone who is a truly regular reader of my blog, there's a $100 discount for the full day seat if you type the discount code Linchpin when you book a ticket, but it's only valid for twenty four hours from the time this post goes live.

No new customers

What if a rift in the time-space continuum changed the universe and it was suddenly impossible to get new customers, new readers, new donors or new viewers?

How would that change what you do all day and how you spend your money and what you measure?

What if you tried acting that way now?

[What I meant: if you can't get new customers or new friends or new colleagues, perhaps you could take really good care of the ones you've got? Cherish them, in fact.]

Do you have a media channel strategy? (You should.)

Twenty years ago, only big companies and TV stars worried about media channels.

Oprah was on TV, then she added radio. Two channels. Then a magazine.

Pepsi set out to dominate TV with their message, and billboards and vending machines. Newspapers, not so much. The media you chose to spread your message mattered. In fact, it could change what you made and how you made it. [Stop for a second and consider that… the media channel often drove the product and pricing and distribution].

Today, of course, everyone has access to a media channel. You can create a series of YouTube videos, or have a blog. You can be a big-time tweeter, or lead a significant tribe on Facebook.

Harder to grapple with is the idea that the media channel you choose changes who you are and what you do. Tom Peters gives a hundred or more speeches a year, around the world, for good money (and well earned). But this channel, this place where he can spread his message, determines what he does all day, impacts the pace of the work he does, informs all of his decisions.

Oprah lives a life that revolves around a daily TV show. Of course it would be difficult for her to write a book… that's a life dictated by a different channel. And she's a lapsed twitter user because it demands a different staffing and mindset than she has now.

This applies to non-celebs, to people with jobs, to entrepreneurs, to job seekers. We all spread our ideas, at least a little, and the medium you choose will change your ideas. If you only pay attention to the world when you need a new job (your channel is stamps and your message is your resume) you'll spend your day differently than if you are leading a tribe, participating in organizations or giving local speeches all the time.

We've come a long way from a worker having just two channels (a resume and a few references) to having the choice of a dozen or more significant ways to spread her ideas. Choose or lose.

Odds and ends

Can't decide which are the odds, and which are the ends:

Right now, go buy this hard drive and do a bootable backup of every computer you care about. $60. If you spend six minutes a month (set it up before you go to bed), you'll thank me one day.

This blog makes me smile every day. If you're not in the habit of reading blogs by subscription, now is a great time to start.

If you're remotely serious about cooking, you should buy a cast iron fry pan. Your grandchildren will fight over it when you're dead.

Great writing matters. Here's my favorite blog about shaving (!) and here's a shaving website (no, there's no theme developing) that cops an attitude with their copy and pulls it off. And it helps the shaving cream is aces.

There are deep and magical micro-tribes online, and they're maturing. Check out this one before you buy a stereo. Wherever early adopters go, there are opportunities.

While I was waiting in (a long) line to see Shepard Fairey's pop up shop in New York yesterday, an enterprising gallery owner walked down the line and handed people postcards promoting his new show. The titles of the paintings are killer, and even better is the idea that people in line (wherever they are) are desperate for distraction.

And finally, the world's most famous book cover designer is also a killer novelist, writing about the prosaic world of advertising and art. The original is extraordinary and I just discovered that there was a sequel. (for $6!). I loved it and was moved by it. Thanks Chip.

Bad behavior

Bad behavior and irrational decisions are almost always caused by fear. If you want to change the behavior, address the fear.

And yet we don't.

Instead, we impose an embargo or throw someone in prison. We put a letter in the permanent file or put the employee on a performance improvement plan. We walk away from a prospect or blame a lack of sales on our advertising.

"What are you afraid of?" is not just a great line for a movie trailer. It's a shortcut in understanding what motivates.