Premier Accounts – The future of publishing?

by Mark Alker 0

It’s a bit of a long one this.. Sorry

Premier Accounts are our answer to the growing and rather worrying trend in the publishing industry for people to stop buying magazines and newspapers. It’s an odd phenomenon because if you ask people if they prefer a printed mag over an online version in the main they all vouch for paper. “You can’t take a pdf file to the bog, now can you!”. Which is very true, but it doesn’t alter the hard fact that the entire print/publishing industry is currently in a bit of a panic, and sales of magazines and newspapers in particular are in decline. The Murdoch Empire seems to have set the blame squarely on websites (including their own, in an ironic twist) and so the plan is to make everyone pay to access the news on their websites. Advertising revenues just aren’t covering the production costs of the papers and magazines anymore.

But here’s the kicker…

The simple business solution seems obvious. Printed publishing is becoming unprofitable, so don’t print. Doh! Isn’t that what the highly paid consultants would say? Look at your business and if parts of it are not making money then get rid of them until what you are left with are the parts that do make money. Simples!

Unfortunately publishing is a complicated thing and despite the falling sales, paper media still retains a huge kudos with both readers and advertisers that gives it an inflated sense of its own power. To see something in print, actually on paper, commands much more respect from the reader than the same words published on a website. After all, anyone can publish on the web and what you read on the web is free. Paper costs money and there is a psychological trick that goes along with the simple fact of handing over cash to read something – It instantly gains credibility and respect. If you paid for it, it must be better. Right? The same principal applies to reviews of products. If you paid for it you have to fight the natural urge to validate your purchase by saying nice things about it. To say it is crap is to admit you made a mistake in handing over money for it. It’s a principal to be born in mind when reading user generated reviews. It’s the ‘well you would say that wouldn’t you!’ syndrome. This is not to say that reviews from people who have been given things for free (us for example) are not subject to other pressures and psychological issues, but what I’m trying to illustrate here is that when you pay for something it aquires ‘value’ over and above something that is free. Currently you pay to read the magazine and the website content is free. This is why manufacturers place a higher value on products appearing in print even though their product will be much more widely viewed online. There’s even a rational hypothesis that a review in print is likely to be much more ‘respected’ than the very same review published online. It’s an odd state of affairs really. Funny how our minds work 🙂

For this reason I firmly believe that PRINT IS NOT DEAD. Those that think it will die are probably related to the Tomorrow’s World inventors of the 70’s who reckoned on us all travelling to work on anti-grav skateboards by the nineties. Technology and how we use it, even in the short term, is notoriously hard to predict but it is rare that new technology completely replaces the long established methods. Print is clearly an enduring medium and it will live on for a long time to come (Has anyone really been attracted to the notion of reading a novel on a digital book?). New technology will compliment it and there will be ever increasing ways for us all to access it via technology, but for a long time to come I reckon you will find a tattered copy of Singletrack magazine stuffed down beside the toilet in most of your riding mates houses for many years to come.

So. That said. Why are we ploughing so much time, energy and money into getting you all to read Singletrack online? Well, we are simply using new technology to offer you new ways to access the mountain bike content that it has become our business to produce. You see that’s what we are fundamentally – We are a producer of mountain biking content and just like any producer of any product it has to be distributed to the consumer. Our new Premier Account system is simply a new method of distributing the content we produce. We distribute in print; via the website in the form of news stories; and now also via Flash and PDF. We are also currently about to start work on an iPhone app too.

But the beauty of all these new and interesting ways of delivering the words and pictures we come up with is that technology allows us to link them all together in interesting and clever ways. This means that if you are a subscriber to the mag and also a member of our website, we can now link both of these ‘accounts’ together into one single Premier Account. This allows us to let these account holders see new content exclusively for them. This Premier Account content has already started to appear with our first Premier story on our website. Issue 53 contains a travel feature, written by me, on the Basque region of Spain. Now one of the biggest perks of this job is the opportunity to travel and as you would expect we always come back from these trips with hundreds of shots. The printed mag can’t fit them all in and so Sim cherry picks the best dozen or so to be designed into the final feature destined for print. This leaves an awful lot of great images that have traditionally languished unseen in our images library. Like deleted scenes from a movie, our Premier system allows us to let you see this extra content. So you can think of a Premier Account as the extra features section from the DVD that is Singletrack magazine 🙂

We’ve always tried to make sure that existing subscribers continue to get added benefit so they don’t lose out to the special offers we have to employ to entice new subscribers, so all existing subscribers can become Premier Print accounts for free. But we can only do that if you contact us by phone. You see you are the key to enabling us to link your web user account to your subscribers account. We need you to verify your username and also the details we have in our subscription database. Once you do that we can join the two accounts together into your single Premier Account.

We have lots of ideas for new content that we will provide exclusively for our Premier users and we are working on them right now – not all of the ideas will be related to content in the mag, so you don’t have to be a reader of the mag to benefit from a premier account. Sorting out the classifieds forum so that Premier Users get an enhanced service is high on our list for example. This is just the beginning, as they say, and we are open to ideas from you lot too.

Now for the money part. Apart from existing subscribers who just want to be able to read the extra features content on our website, we are charging everyone to become Premier Users. We have to. Print is expensive and despite the hardcore of loyal readers who subscribe or buy it regularly from their local shop, there are virtually no magazines that are currently increasing their sales on the Newstand. Any mag that says they are increasing sales is doing strange things to their numbers. This is a simple reality of the publishing industry at large. But we aren’t too worried about that. More and more people are prepared to read mags online. This also opens up the mag to a whole new range of readers who have never really bought magazines at all and for us at least this new online reader is replacing the one who isn’t buying it in WHSmiths. But that lost WHSmith reader is lost money. Money that we need in order to keep doing what we do and so we have to make sure our new online readers make up for it. But the great news is, as you have now heard, we can offer online readers so much more than just a printed mag. Online versions have extra stuff like video embedded in them so you certainly do get more for your money.

It’s important to make clear too that we are not taking anything away from the website and sticking it into our Premier area. Everything Premier is new content that we’ve never provided before. News stories will always be free. Forum access will stay free. If you have no interest at all in this new Premier stuff then your use of our website will be as free as it always has been. This is where I think Murdoch has it wrong. He’s taking content previously available for free and charging for it. A cynic may liken that strategy to giving a junky his first hit for free and then charging for more when they are hooked. I don’t think that’s the case here, even with the global money machine monstrosity that is the Murdoch publishing empire, but that sort of money model will certainly not win any friends amongst the readers. If you have offered something to your consumers for free for a long time, it will be a major struggle to convince them to pay for it in the future. That’s what we believe and so what we are providing now is simply the option to get more. If you want it. It does mean we are rather insanely, having to increase our own workflow here in the office to think up new ideas, and for us this is going to be the hardest part. So, you may notice a few more worry lines on the brows of Singletrack staff over the next few months, so be gentle. Please? 🙂

Comments (0)

  1. The other thing about the web is that I tend not to read long things…

  2. Well Singletrack has always aimed for those with a reasonable attention span. Sorry we couldn’t cater for you there Brant 🙂

  3. Meow! I started skimming at about one-third through as well – and I’m really interested in this stuff.
    Sounds like a good idea though. A bit like a VIP area at a nightclub, but with a virtual velvet rope.
    Not sure how much take-up you’ll get if the onus is on the user to give you a bell though.

  4. It’s only existing print subscribers who need to give us a ring.

    If you are a lapsed subscriber or never been one the process is a couple of minutes tops and you are in and reading mags 🙂

  5. Video add ons are bugger all use if not got a fast broadband connection

  6. Neithers a vet if you don’t have a cat, but some people do have cats ;p

  7. What about an “annual”, where all the longer articles in the mag get printed in one issue, that’s available to anyone, but is part of a digital subscriber package?

  8. looking forward to the iphone app 🙂

  9. But there is no way for anyone who likes to buy physical mags from a physical store to enjoy this “premier” content. That sucks.

  10. I think I have it. I give you a call and confirm my details. You do some computer voodoo and hey presto! I get access to some neat new content. I like it!

  11. I think that magazines will move towards the audio podcast, where the articles are read out. Now that is something I would buy. Sometimes you cant be arsed reading stuff, but if someones going to read it for you….

  12. al- I think you can sign up for just the digital bit, so, I guess you can?
    Also looking forward to the iPhone app (as long as it works on an iPod touch anyway).

  13. Interesting. What happens if someone is “banned” from the website and they’re paying to be a Premier user?

  14. Genuinely curious as to where all this great, new, extra content is going to come from? Are there really that many leftovers from the stuff you are producing now? Or can you really generate more high quality content than can fit into the mag and onto the existing parts of the site? I have to say I’m sceptical. Extra functionality that improves the user experience, such as the classifieds, sounds like a great idea though. How does this all relate to the on-screen adverts? If we pay can we have an advert free version? Even a flash advert free version would be a good start 🙂

  15. Glen,
    You can only be banned from the forum. The forum is free for anyone to use and always will be. If you are banned from the forum that’s not anything you are paying for anyway.

  16. ‘Premier Users’? It just sounds… I dunno, a bit like an adult porn site or something.

    How about re-naming it in a mountain biking lexicon kinda way… How about ‘Pimpy Version’.. oh, but hang-on – ha ha – that kindof has porn overtones! ..But you get my gist?

    ‘Premier Users’ doesn’t sound like something I’d really want to buy into or even become.

  17. so…if you have a digital sub, where does that fit in?

    I see much talk of print subscribers, what about the digital ones? do I just get in touch to ‘upgrade’ to premier?

  18. N_E_D – ‘blingtastic’ version?

  19. I’m confused… premier content aside, am I going to be able to get what I want, namely a digital subscription to the magazine which provides me with a Flash or PDF facsimile of the printed mag but without using any dead trees?

    If so, can I get this for less than the cost of the printed mag?

    If not, why not? Lots of print mags are doing it now, Sound On Sound magazine have been doing it for years, and New Scientist brought it in fairly recently too.

  20. Doctor – yes, we’ve been offering that for a while now. The £15 option is for Flash. The £20 is for PDF.

    Chris – we currently have too much stuff to fit into the paper magazine. Especially tech/product stuff. And what words/pics make it into the mag features are just a fraction of what is written/shot. There’s loads of stuff that gets done at the mo that doesn’t see the light of day in the magazine – that’s one of the biggest reasons for us doing this Premier thang 🙂

  21. “I see much talk of print subscribers, what about the digital ones? do I just get in touch to ‘upgrade’ to premier?”

    Digital subscribers who used to get access to the PDF files via the online shop (Which was quite an inspiration to come up with this new much easier system) will be transferred over to the Premier Digital Extra account.

    Premier = Exclusive online stories and content
    Digital = Access the Flash versions of the mags
    Extra = Download the PDF files too.

    So, old digital subscribers who could only download PDF files will now be able to read the Flash versions online too. Bonus! Extra stuff for nowt for you guys..

    Just call us up to get your website account matched up with your subscription account 🙂

  22. Good Effort Mark I think and a great idea. I prefer hard copy (as well as Vinyl rather than CD’s so am showing my age here) but the online version is a practical necessity for Singletrackworld so the very best of luck to you on it, especially given that you’re taking the time to ask opinion – a barbed choice on these forums :-).

  23. Good explanation. Just called to upgrade mine mainly to be able to read all back issues in PDF online + get the extra content.

  24. Look forward to the iPhone app also.

  25. suppose it will also get to the point that the print volumes and distribution will decline to a point that it is not economic to sustain

  26. I very much doubt that. Certainly not in the foreseeable future. I think there will always be a demand for print but it’s not a growth area, that’s for sure. It will shrink and print technology will change to accommodate it. Personally I think that at some point in the future print technology will develop to the point of print on demand. So we’ll supply subscribers copies as normal but then shops with a small limited quantity that can be topped up as stocks run low quickly and easily via a print on demand service. That will keep waste down to a minimum and so it will be economically viable to keep producing print, even if the quantities are small.

    At the moment digital print technology isn’t at the point it can compare to Litho printing (Big giant presses like you see newspapers being rolled out on).. But I think it’s only a matter of time before short run digital print reaches a comparable quality and at a comparable price per printed mag.

  27. Thanks Mark – emailed Sarah details.

    The idea of not faffing around with the shop cart is the bigger bonus for me TBH; it was the one negative of the Digi Sub.

  28. I think it’s great that you’re evolving, taking a brave confident attitude, and are testing and piloting different things. That’s great for all of us that enjoy your content.

  29. Oh, one other thing. I love the videos on Vimeo that you do. I would pay for more of this. Regular ‘shorts’, snippety interviews and (ideally) ridey stuff. 10-minuters.

    I would also consider paying for you to ‘curate’ the world’s MTB video content, by which I mean you guys spend time finding the best MTB videos published by anyone, wherever they are, and then create a neatly condensed list or signpost to the ‘best of the week’ or whatever.

  30. I’ve been taking to digital subs for a bit because I was getting fed up with all the paper copies lying around, and it’s not available at the airport WHSmith which is the main place I buy printed stuff.
    But I’m just not managing to read it PDF and enjoying it less. So will probably go to paper subscription next.

  31. Buzz, you can start with a premier Digital Extra sub at £20 and if you don’t get on with it you can simply upgrade through your account and for an extra fiver it will be converted to a premier print sub and you will start getting the printed mag.

  32. Signed up for the full £35 worth, the back numbers alone are worth the money…and I can always send the paper copy to my grandson when I’ve read them..
    Is there any chance you can somehow embed links to the ads in the frames, so we can click over the ads and go direct to the ad shop site..should be some click to go cash for you in such a development.
    Also second the best MTB video of the week spot..although I can see if readers are not retired like me..it could get to be a big distraction…
    Finally as a newbie to Singletrack am a bit disappointed you have no routes listed in Northumberland..no mention of Kielder either..

  33. One of the reasons people are not buying magazines so much is because they cost ~£4. That’s a lot of money for something with not much actual content.

  34. How much content would you want for £4? There’s the same number of actual words in most mags as a smallish paperback novel. It’s just cut up into many slices and written by many people. Ah.. yes.. many people.. Not just one author.

    Like ALL magazines, Singletrack makes no profit whatsoever on the cover price of the magazine. That’s what it costs to produce. In fact, in the current climate the cover price is not high enough and it costs more to print than we recoup in copy sales. Traditionally that’s meant a price increase.. However, we’ve decided not to do that and try and develop this new side of the business with digitally delivered content instead.

    The one thing I can’treally understand about peoples’ sense of value is how come a ring of rubber that you put in your tyre, which most of us these days (sadly) don;t even bother to repair when they puncture, can happily have a fiver forked out on it with little complaint for the majority of buyers, but a magazine that costs less, has taken over a dozen people 6 weeks to produce, is somehow massively over priced at £4.25? (£3.99 in bike shops or £3.12 including postage if you subscribe).

    In fact.. if you subscribe each issue costs you about the same as a decent pint of southern beer! Is that too much? Really? And in that context, knowing how hard we all work here to produce these issues I find your ‘not much actual content’ comment really quite insulting!

  35. Is there any chance you can somehow embed links to the ads in the frames, so we can click over the ads and go direct to the ad shop site..should be some click to go cash for you in such a development.

    You’ll be seeing that as the next few issues go digital ; ]

  36. I have to say I’m as pleased as punch to be a Premier Print Digital Extra user (my, what a mouthful). I like receiving the hardcopy as I can drag it around with me, read it on the bus, train, whatever when my laptop’s battery has died, and I like the thought of extra digital content. As other people have already said, the availability of the back issues is more than worth the extra money (one of the reasons I went print + digital in the first place).

    Carry on regardless chaps, and well done for making the decision in the first place!

  37. I upgraded for free, also got a free tshirt and cheaper renewal 🙂

    Could you expand a little on the iPhone app?

  38. Can’t really give much away at the moment as our idea is pretty unique and ‘others’ are watching 🙂

  39. I think people are just too lazy and spoilt these days to put it bluntly. I mean seriously, when has purchasing a magazine in the past been so much of an issue? So much of an issue in fact that they would rather look it up on the net, try their best to get the content for free and only then will they just SKIM over it!! I sound like an old fogey, but im only 27, for me getting a new copy of a magazine is like buying a vinyl record, the feel, the smell, the fact that this has been worked on passionatley and here is the finished product, work of art if you will. The whole thing is just sad, and the comment about podcasts, because sometimes you just cant be arsed to read…grrr.