Working at Men’s Health, I’ve often been struck by men’s emotional reactions when they find out where I work. They love the magazine. Been getting it for years.
Within a couple questions, you realize that they really haven’t dug into it in years. Instead, it’s found a comfortable spot on their coffee table, and in their life. A patient crutch. An easygoing friend. Waiting for when they need it.
Some will. Some won’t. And some will take it with them to the can, just as they have for the past 20 years.
It’s a familiar ease. A relationship they’re willing to part with $25 a year to continue.
It is, I’ve come to think, a kind of love.
I’ve been working as a digital journalist for almost 15 years now, and one thing I’ve learned in that time is that people don’t, by and large, love web sites. They find them useful, or engaging, but more often frustrating.
And until the advent of tablets, a web site didn’t sit on your coffee table. It didn’t wait, like a dog, for your attention to turn its way while you watched TV. It didn’t go to the can with you.
It’s that ease and familiarity, that relationship in your home, that marks to me the difference between print and digital. And I think that it’s among the reasons people won’t, in most circumstances, pay for a Web site.
I think of it in terms of physics, of weak ties and strong ties. Print is a strong tie medium. Digital is, usually, a weak tie.
I purchase a print magazine for an experience. I visit a web site to scratch an informational itch.
I don’t pay much to scratch.
Increasingly, I’ve been thinking about how to convert all these weak digital ties into something stronger, more durable, more profitable. And I think the key is to transfer the relationship out of the theoretical, weak digital realm and back into the real world, into action.
For publishers, the key is going to be to compel action from your fan base—including the act of reaching for one’s wallet, for an experience that you can’t find any other way. In that way, our business going forward is going to be relational, a matter of bringing individuals together with smart, charismatic thought leaders from every walk of life. Do that and people will pay you for making the match.
Don’t, and you’ll be lamenting why you can’t turn your audience of millions into a business.