On advertisers, accountability & trust


Read the whole thing here.
Brain Pickings is here.

From Society Matters in November 2011:

From Society Matters in December 2010:


Today at the top of National Geographic’s home page:



John Fahey National Geographic

Membership & the future of journalism

Back in 2006, I asked John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of National Geographic, this question:

Q: Does the word “Society” have any value to you when you market National Geographic? Or is the word just a vestige from the old days that gets in the way?

John Fahey: It mostly gets in the way. Nobody wants to belong to anything….

I respectfully disagreed with John back then. And to his credit, John is beginning to come around. (See this post about Mission 2015.)

For more evidence that building the Society’s membership should be priority #1, consider this piece, posted yesterday, from Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab:

Read the whole thing here

What’s that stomach-churning odor?

Read the whole thing here.

John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John,
Do you have any major revenue-generating ideas 
other than turning over our Society’s future
to Rupert Murdoch?

We do.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch
if you’d like to hear the details.

Fahey v. Shirky: The future of book publishing

John Fahey, CEO of the National Geographic Society

“We feel pretty good about what’s happening
in the book-publishing environment,
where Kindle book prices are approaching print prices.”
— John Fahey


Clay Shirky of NYU and of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society

“Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away.
Because the word ‘publishing’ means a cadre of professionals
who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense
of making something public.

That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button.
There’s a button that says ‘publish,’ 
and when you press it, it’s done.”
Clay Shirky

John Fahey: The future is… blog aggregation?

John Fahey

John Fahey says it’s time for National Geographic Magazine
to turn a new page

Updated April 3, 2012, 9:06 p.m. ET


Digital expansion has become the buzzword for the yellow-bordered flagship of 124-year-old National Geographic Society, long known for its riveting photography, atlas maps and tendency to accumulate in readers’ basements.

English-language circulation has fallen by roughly half since the magazine’s 1980s peak, to about five million, though the company has added 2.5 million subscribers by introducing more than 30 foreign-language editions.

Mr. Fahey, who took over as CEO in 1998, has dedicated his energies to expanding the magazine’s reach on multiple platforms, launching a website, forming joint ventures with television networks—where programming now comprises 56% of total revenue—and experimenting in the videogame market.

Still, Mr. Fahey says he must continue reinventing the society’s oldest asset—stories and pictures—with blogs on the news, a tiered subscription model and offerings for the iPad, Kindle and Nook readers.

The 60-year-old former chairman and CEO of Time Life Inc. spoke to The Wall Street Journal about his digital efforts, and why the print magazine may cease to exist someday. Edited excerpts:

WSJ: What’s your vision for the magazine?

Mr. Fahey: The media mix will be much richer: more photographers, video, better maps. The magazine was on a once-a-month basis, but what we envision is a magazine that’s alive and organic on a day-to-day basis. So, if you have an iPad app subscription, every day you can find out something new and cool that’s happening out in the field.

WSJ: But overall, it sounds like you’re veering away from long-form magazine features to blogs.

Mr. Fahey: Yes, that’s exactly what it is: blogs that we do, blogs that others do, and blogs we commission. We’ve got about 1,500 full-time employees, and we have hundreds and hundreds of contract employees who are out in the field doing filmmaking and photography and even some production work. The blogs would be from full-timers, contractors, people who don’t work for us, amateurs. Think of game rangers who are taking people out on safari rides. They see incredible things every day.

WSJ: How do you monetize that?

Mr. Fahey: We started selling a digital “Triple Play” of the magazine, which means you get the print edition, the digital edition, and access to our archives. As we move ahead and begin to offer more things, we’ll figure out what we can put behind a paywall, and what we can’t. There’s a lot of experimentation that will come on the pricing front.

WSJ: Does that involve raising prices?

Mr. Fahey: We’re testing a raised price. For instance, if you subscribe to just the print issue of the magazine as a new subscriber today, it’s going to cost $15. If you subscribe to the “Triple Play,” it’s $19.99. It’s a little bit more, but you get a lot more. As we go ahead, we’re not sure what’s going to be best for us. We feel pretty good about what’s happening in the book-publishing environment, where Kindle book prices are approaching the print prices.

WSJ: Digital currently comprises just 3% of your revenue. How much of the pot are you hoping it will comprise?

Mr. Fahey: It’s going to be a very large piece of the pie. If you think about the fact that our print business will become largely digital, there’s no doubt that in the not-too-distant future it will become over 50% of the revenue. The cable networks will be under siege a decade from now, but they’ll still be our main contributor for the next decade.

WSJ: Who is your current subscriber?

Mr. Fahey: The average subscriber is about 56 years old, white and leans a little bit more male. The average reader, because each issue is usually read by more than one person, is about 10 years younger. For the most part, our readers are well educated, and their household income is relatively high.

WSJ: What do you want your audience to look like in five years?

Mr. Fahey: We can migrate younger. It’s hard to do, because the reality is that there are a couple decades between the age when your parents are no longer buying for you, to the age when you have enough discretionary income to buy a lot of things that you like but don’t need. So we hope we can ultimately trade up as people become older and have more discretionary income.

WSJ: This isn’t the first time that National Geographic has had to adapt.

Mr. Fahey: Our second president was Alexander Graham Bell, around 1900. Our magazine was very academically oriented, text-heavy with very long stories. He wanted to popularize the journal and make it more accessible to the general public. His solution was to make the stories shorter, make the language more accessible, include more photographs and illustrations.

WSJ: What’s your business model abroad?

Mr. Fahey: In a number of other countries, newsstand and kiosk sales are much higher than they are here in the United States, and in some cases even higher than the subscription sales in those countries. That’s largely due to local preferences in terms of how people buy magazines, and also the strength of the postal systems in those countries.

WSJ: Has National Geographic felt the impact of declining advertising revenue that is affecting the rest of the media industry?

Mr. Fahey: In 2008, when the economy soured, advertising revenue came down significantly, and although it did come back a bit, we never came to the levels we were at before. It’s pretty clear that advertising is migrating to different places, and digital is one of those places, and another is cable television, fortunately. But unlike most magazines, our circulation revenue is a disproportionately large part of our revenue base.

WSJ: When are you planning to raise prices?

Mr. Fahey: It all depends on how digital billing works. If we can get you to be a digital subscriber, you will be billed automatically year after year. That whole process of renewal doesn’t exist anymore. On the other hand, if we want to increase the price, we probably have to stop and ask customers if they want to go to the new price. So there may be reason to stay at the lower, current price for some time if we can get that subscriber to stay with us for a while.

WSJ: Will the print magazine cease to exist at some point?

Mr. Fahey: Yes. When will that day come? I’m not certain. It’s hard for me to even imagine that it’s 10 years from now. We’re going to try to move people to digital from print as fast as we can, because we think there’s a certain inevitability that will happen.

WSJ: How many digital subscribers do you have so far?

Mr. Fahey: In all our digital platforms, we have 181,000 subscribers to the magazine. That’s including the iPad, Kindle, Nook, Web and digital newsstands like Zinio.

WSJ: What are they reading?

Mr. Fahey: The thing on our website that’s clearly the most popular is science news that’s either really interesting or entertaining. Past the news, the most popular categories are animals and photography. With the print magazine, oftentimes readers will tell us they’re interested in stories about the environment, but the fact of the matter is that’s often not what they read.

≡  photo of John Fahey by Joe Schram/The Wall Street Journal

Emphasis on “almost”

Ezra Klein

One of the most mind-bending facts of our information culture is that almost every major medium of information supports itself by advertising.

Radio? Advertisers. Magazines? Advertisers. Television? Advertisers. Google? Advertisers. Facebook? Advertisers. Twitter? Advertisers. Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books, which are supported by sales, and Wikipedia, which is supported largely through donations.

— from “Information Is Free but Only Because Advertisers Pay,” by Ezra Klein, Bloomberg View, January 4, 2012  (emphasis added)

Another prominent exception: National Geographic magazine. Advertising once represented only 10 percent of the Magazine’s annual revenue; now that number is closer to 30 percent (if not more).

Which makes us wonder: Why has our Society rolled this one-of-a-kind publication in with all the other ad-driven media at NGS? Why take what’s been a unique relationship with the Society’s members, and turn it into the same old business that everyone else is trying desperately to sustain (ad dollars for viewer eyeballs)?

Why have we voluntarily sacrificed the relationship with members that’s long made the Society special?

The Photo Society

Do National Geographic contributing photographers need to get paid for their work? Of course they do.

But do they need National Geographic magazine to share their work with you? Of course they don’t.

They all have websites of their own. And now they have a communal showcase for their images. Introducing The Photo Society:

You might argue that much of the work showcased at The Photo Society is possible only because National Geographic paid for it — and you’d be right. But that pool of money is disappearing as Society membership continues to fall. Yes, some revenue can still be generated via corporate “partnerships,” but, as we’ve repeatedly suggested, that’s a losing game.

Which is one reason why The Photo Society… Emphas.is … Kickstarter … IndieGogo … Burn … and others are saying: The work itself ultimately matters more than The (Magazine) Brand, especially when The Brand itself engages in so much self-abuse.

BTW: We love the “Society” touch (for obvious reasons) and look forward to how this community will take shape in the year to come. We just hope The Photo Society won’t rely on the old model — we’re the Photo Gods on Olympus, while the rest of you are and forever will be anonymous supplicants with disposable income. That idea still animates NGM (the Our Shot / Your Shot silliness), but it certainly won’t sustain it.

Best of luck to Randy, Michael, Matt, Paul, Mike, Bill, Melissa, Tyrone, Gerd, Jim, Brian, Amy, Steve, Vince, Ed, Joel, Ami, Tim, Richard, and George. We hope TPS is a huge success.

What if NGS was owned by its members?

By Jeff Bercovici, Forbes Staff

September 7, 2011 

… With some 112,000 shareholders, the Packers are the only publicly owned team in America. Add to that Green Bay’s distinction as the country’s smallest major league sports market and they seem a nostalgic aberration amid megamoneyed rivals like the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots. The longstanding line among football aficionados pegs the Packers as a charming welfare case that exists thanks only to the sufferance of other, richer NFL franchises. They allow the team to stay put in tiny Green Bay as an emblem of the league’s working-class roots.

The problem with that story: It isn’t true.

In reality the Green Bay Packers are an emerging financial power in the NFL. Despite their minuscule market, revenues for fiscal 2010 hit an alltime high of $259 million, 11th out of 32 teams and well above major-market franchises like the San Francisco 49ers ($234 million) and the Atlanta Falcons ($233 million). The Packers are regularly one of the 15 teams that pay into the league’s reserve fund rather than draw from it (so much for welfare). Their Super Bowl win, coming enhancements at the stadium and the league’s new collective bargaining agreement with players will make them stronger still.


But if leaguewide TV deals and salary caps help the Pack stay on par with rivals, it’s their unique relationship with fans that puts them in the top tier financially. From the first of four public stock offerings in 1923 (shares are nontransferable) through the Vince Lombardi era to last year’s Super Bowl win, the team has crafted deep ties to their followers. When FORBES ­recently ran the numbers on which NFL faithful were the most passionate (comparing television ratings and Internet traffic to market size) the Cheeseheads emerged on top. Every home game since 1960 has been a sellout, and the waiting list for season tickets is 88,000 strong. In 2010 the Packers led all NFL teams in merchandise sales, and they lead  in local per-fan revenue at $312 (the league average is $41).

Read the whole thing here.



The Magazine withers away….

The Center Will Not Hold (part 5)

(from Redefiners: Capturing Media Growth Dollars, by Activate
View the entire Slideshare here.)


Dear John,
How are you helping us create media?

You still seem to treat our Society as a vehicle
for a seemingly endless stream of critter pictures.
Which, taken to the extreme you’ve obviously approved, is boring.
Or so says Variety.

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.