John Fahey on “the winning approach”

from National Geographic’s intranet:

Change, by John Fahey

Published: April 26, 2011

John Fahey

A short time ago, Conde Nast, the large New-York-based magazine company, announced with much fanfare its commitment to publish iPad editions of all of its titles. This week Conde Nast acknowledged that it was tapping the brakes on this effort. All the obvious reasons were mentioned, including the inability to generate enough scale, as of yet, to justify the investment.

I think there is something else at work as well. A magazine is packaged the way it is because it fits a particular business model well. When those attributes that work wonderfully for a print magazine are no longer critical, the entire formulation and presentation need to be reimagined.  An industry analyst, Robin Steinberg, observing Conde Nast’s recent move, states: “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model, it’s about delivering the right experience the consumer demands on these devices.”  She goes on to say: “Testing new approaches, experiences and opportunities as part of this evolution is exactly what they and others should be doing.”  In other words, the winning approach will not be simply taking what we’ve done so well in print and enhancing it for a digital platform.

I don’t believe there is a “first to market’ advantage for publishers in the digital realm.  It may sound trite, but it’s a “smart to market” approach that should be in place. To that point, I hope you’re able to join us for the May 5th “all hands” staff meeting.  We plan to present some ideas which should give you a good sense of the National Geographic of the future.

Change is unsettling on so many levels.  Despite this, I believe we are in an excellent position to embrace the new technologies and be one of the most vital and loved brands on a worldwide basis for many years to come.


Following the Money

Here’s a stunning statistic:

Which helps explain National Geographic ventures such as this:

This 20-year trend in personal income
also helps explain the growth of companies like Exclusive Resorts,
where membership fees start at $160,000

… and where NGS CEO John Fahey serves on the Board of Directors.


Dear John,

Do you think this income trend is sustainable?

Do you think it can be the foundation for
he growth of our Society — or any society?

Are other boutique services for wealthy travelers
coming soon from NGS?

National Geographic for Kids (Business edition)

Dear John,
Jake Adelstein is struggling to explain
the National Geographic Society

to his 10-year-old daughter.
Is there something you can do to help?
(For the backstory about Mr. Adelstein,
NGS & the Japanese mafia, see this.)

Dear John,
Will you help?

Subtracting Ads (or: Death of a Business Model)

What happens to National Geographic
when the online advertising model finally collapses?
Apps like Readability bring that future ever closer:

(No wonder advertisers are so hungry
not to surround the content, but to actually become the content.
Why does John Fahey let them? We’ll add that question to our list.)

Beyond [American] Idol Worship

Robert Michael Murray,
National Geographic’s VP for Social Media,
is hungry for more NGS fans on Facebook:

But here’s a very different approach
courtesy of….

Even Advertising Age, a publication that’s long helped businesses attract eyeballs, can see the writing on the wall.

Which makes us wonder what Robert & Co. plan to do with us 3.9 million (and counting) Facebook fans, none of whom are “paying for the product.”

{ Say it ain’t so, Robert. }

iPad magazines have already lost their luster?

“Digital sales dropped toward the end of 2010 for all the magazines that make those figures available to the Audit Bureau of Circulations,” says a recent report in Women’s Wear Daily. Among the titles losing their digital luster: Vanity Fair, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, and Wired.

Why the sudden drop in sales? PC Magazine says the main problem is the lack of a workable subscription model. MSNBC’s Technolog suggests that magazines need their own dedicated category in the App Store. And while we don’t know the sales figures for NGM’s iPad app, we have a hunch they’re nothing to brag about — especially if the following online review by “JimFeet” is a fair barometer of what most people are thinking:

via iTunes

After using the Wired magazine app I downloaded the Nat Geo apps with enthusiasm – waste of time. Both the Traveller and the Nat Geo mag apps are little more than online versions of the magazine – including splitting up photo spreads that span two or more pages into their equivalent multi-screens. This means that while you can view the entire image if you have the actual magazine open in front of you, you have to flip between screens in the app and try to visualize them assembled in your head.

AND, as for the claim of “interactive”, not so much. The only interactivity I found was a less than 1 minute video that can be played from the “cover” screen. Hardly interactive in my estimation.

Lastly, this app offers a VERY small sample of the magazine. You must register and subscribe to get the full edition. I have no problem subscribing but I couldn’t find any description of what it would cost without first registering.

Nat Geo would do well to subscribe to Wired. They might learn something.

Hey, David Griffin — any thoughts?

That Sinking Feeling

Paid circulation
(a.k.a. the number of National Geographic Society members)
has fallen south of 4 million.

In 1988, it was 10.2 million.

The nosedive continues….

per NGM, December 2010

It’s worth noting that an additional 1.3 million copies are “single-copy sales,” which includes the newsstand. While selling individual issues of NGM at Safeway is nice, it’s not nearly as reliable a revenue stream as membership. Far better for the Society to build its future around people who say: I belong. I’m a member. I’m with you for at least a year (and often longer).

Also: 360,000+ copies for “Office use, leftover, etc.”? That’s a whole lotta trees, especially for an organization dedicated to “inspiring people to care about the planet.”

The Art of Visual Storytelling (& Advertising)

NG blogger Robert Stone quit on Friday because he objected to how The Great Energy Challenge was being shaped by Shell, the project’s sole sponsor.

Before you evaluate Robert’s logic and his decision to leave, take a step back and ask a very National Geographic question: What’s the visual story here? What are National Geographic & Shell saying graphically? What’s the takeaway when you encounter a web page like this one?

Note the visual hierarchy — where your eyes go first, second, third… and, if you’re still paying attention, maybe fourth. Note the colors, too: Shell Yellow is almost the same hue as NG Yellow, which provides some chromatic glue for the “partnership.”

The screenshot (above) also reminds us of an inconvenient truth that’s long been common wisdom at National Geographic headquarters:

The words are just
the gray border for the pictures.

(That’s been a source of frustration for many National Geographic writers, but it always makes the Magazine’s photo folks smile.)


NG Blogger Quits Over Shell Sponsorship

Robert Stone, an award-winning film director, was recently hired by National Geographic to be a Featured Blogger for The Great Energy Challenge. Last night, Robert quit. Here’s why:

Robert explains his concerns in greater detail in Who’s Defining The Energy Debate, his third & final post which went up on Wednesday. Be sure to also read the comment by Alex Moen of National Geographic, followed by Robert’s withering response.

We feel Robert’s pain. We’ve never liked this NGS partnership with Shell. We worry it compromises our Society, and sullies Our Brand. We feel like we’re being used — no doubt for a handsome price. We think Shell’s participation distorts the debate, making our great energy challenge even more challenging. Which is why we hope these sorts of NGS “partnerships” will stop.

How will the project’s other bloggers respond to Robert’s concerns and his decision to resign? Bill ChameidesRaymond OrbachTimothy F. SutherlandFrank SesnoScott Bittle and Jean JohnsonJames BarrettPhaedra Ellis-Lamkins,  Martin Chávez, John R. Hickox, and Gregory Kallenberg — what do you all think?

For those of you following along at home, what’s your advice? Should the remaining bloggers stay or should they go?

[polldaddy poll=4265682]

[polldaddy poll=4265719]

More to come….

For Sale — Our Society’s Biggest Asset: You

Food for thought as National Geographic
continues to sell advertising “partnerships” like this one.

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