Read Like Your Enemies Will: Lessons in Magazine Editing From AARP’s Bob Love
A transcript of the ASME-award winning editor’s keynote at the Folio: Association Media Summit.
Editor’s note: In March, editors, publishers, marketers, and other professionals from membership associations all across the country gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for the second annual Folio: Association Media Summit. Among the full-day event’s many highlights was the breakfast keynote delivered by Bob Love, legendary editor of AARP The Magazine, and a 35-year veteran of the magazine business whose ASME-award winning career has featured stops at eminent titles like Rolling Stone, New York, Playboy, and Reader’s Digest, among several others.
Below, enjoy a slightly abridged and lightly edited version of Love’s keynote address, full of invaluable wisdom on the inherent challenges involved in publishing an association magazine, and how they are different — and similar — to those faced by their counterparts in the mass consumer space.
Good morning, and welcome to the National Press Club. With your indulgence, a little story about Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa dies and appears at the Pearly Gates. God says, “Welcome to your heavenly rewards for a lifetime of work with the poor and the sick. It’s your turn now, Mother T, and I’m here to help. Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to do . . . Maybe something in cloud-computing?”
The little nun considers this for a moment or two, looks up at God and says:
“Well,” she says, “I always thought I’d be a great magazine editor.”
And there you have it folks, everything you need to know about our work in a single sentence.
On days when the copy is singing, your headlines are genius, your deadlines are met, and your art director is being angelic, the job feels like heaven.
On other typical days, you’re never far from being reminded — by a reader or a board member — that many people believe a deceased Albanian nun with no journalistic experience could do a better job than you running the magazine.
The organizers of this event asked me to talk to you about my long experience in the trenches of consumer magazines: Something like 35 years now that I think about it. To see what lessons I may have learned that can be transferred to you and your publications, which like mine, now have the advantages and drawbacks of a built-in audience — membership.
Here is a list of common terms used by magazine management professionals. Make sure you are communicating correctly by checking out the lingo and their definitions:
- Audience: The people for whom your publication is produced.
- Funding phase: A stage in the life of a magazine when funds are raised to launch the publication.
- Launch phase: A stage in the life of a magazine during which publication begins.
- Business strategy: A plan that defines what you want to do (your purpose), where you want to go (your vision), and how you want to get there (your goals).
- Rate base: Refers to the level of circulation; the number of subscribers and/or single copy purchasers for each issue.
- Vision: A written statement that defines where you want to go or the effect the publication should have on your target audience at a certain time in the future.
- Employee: A paid staff member who regularly works on the publication.
- Freelancer: A person who does work for the publication but is not a staff member.
- Cross-tabulation analysis: To compare the readers’ answers on surveys with two or more variables. (Example: how all males answer question number three versus all females.)
- Open-ended question: A question that suggests no answer but leaves space for the reader to write out an answer.
- Ancillary products: Same as publication-related products.
- Back issue: Any issue produced before the current issue.
- Bulk sales: The sale of multiple copies of each issue to one location.
- List rental: The practice of allowing other organizations to use your magazine’s subscriber mailing list to present their products or services. Usually money is charged for such a privilege.
- Budget: A written financial plan showing how money will be spent and income received for a specific period of time.
- Circulation: The various people who receive a particular issue of the publication (whether they pay for that issue or receive it free).
- Circulation source: Any method used to obtain subscribers or readers of the publication.
- Cover price: The price to purchase one copy of the publication.
- Soft Offer: An offer on a subscription promotion that allows new subscribers to receive a trial issue of the publication without having to include payment until they decide they like the magazine.
- Subscribers: People who pay in advance to receive a specific number of issues of the publication.
- Frequency: The number of times each year a publication is produced.
- Media kit: A collection of all information about advertising in the publication (rate card, advertising guidelines, sample copy of the publication, etc.), usually sent to potential advertisers.
- Niche market: Any specific market that has a narrow focus, such as the markets of “pastors,” “book publishing companies,” etc.
- “Rack” rates: The standard quoted and written rate at which advertising is charged. Actual advertising rates may vary from rack rates if the advertising staff choose to charge a price different from the standard.
- Rate card: A written list of the type, size, and cost of advertisements that are acceptable in the publication.
- In-room copy: Marketing pieces left in the rooms of a conference center for guests.
- Package insert: A small printed marketing flyer or card that is inserted in the boxes or packages sent out by a book publisher.
- Positioning: How the publication compares to other publications and its unique qualities.
- Trade publisher: A publishing company that produces products primarily for other businesses, churches or companies.
- Universe: The total number of people who fit your target audience, whether they are subscribers or not.
By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial
Conversations among writers, editors and publishers about the state of publishing often turn to the short attention span of readers. While I understand the concern and realize that complex topics take more than 140 characters to develop, there are benefits to short, focused content.
Writing short forces the writer and editor to carefully focus the main idea and judiciously choose words, as extraneous details are cut. This results in clear, direct content.
Writing short gives the reader a clear takeaway. Rather than wading through multiple examples and ideas, the reader can access one memorable nugget.
Writing short allows space for additional graphics to carry a message. While writers and editors might consider themselves “word” people, they are communicators. Words and graphics together communicate. By keeping content short, there is space for graphic elements to reinforce the message.
Looking back at magazines I edited more than 10 years ago, word count on a page was often 800 – 900 words for an 8-1/2″ x 11″ page. Now my target is 500 – 600 words per page with much more space for graphic design. Did people read every word of an 800 word article and remember it all? Does the reader even notice that the content is shorter?
Short, focused content communicates! This blog is 215 words.
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By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial
Why use a professional editor when there are electronic editing tools that highlight spelling and grammar errors? Besides the obvious answer that electronic editing tools do not catch all the errors in any document, an editor brings precision to content.
For example, on a recent editorial project, the writer was talking about children, and he kept using the adjective “small” children. After reading through all the content, I discerned that he was actually talking about the age not the stature of the children, so I changed the modifier to “young” rather than “small.” This minor changed added precision to the word choice. To which some of you might ask, “Who cares?”
The changes that an editor makes to good content might seem insignificant; however, the difference between good content and great content is in the details. Spell check or grammar check will never tell you that there is a better word to use to express meaning. Nor will these tools help you use a colon or semi-colon correctly. Why care about such precision?
Designers have various terms and jargon that go with the profession. Here are just a few of the commonly used terms and their definitions.
architecture: Underlying structure of a page.
asymmetry: Disproportion; lack of symmetry.
bleed: Type or imagery that extends beyond the trim edge of a page.
byline: Author’s credit line.
CMYK values: CMYK refers to the four-color printing process inks. C=cyan, M=magenta, Y=yellow, and K=black. CMYK values refers to the combination of percentages of each color. For example, true red is 100% magenta and 100% yellow.
color palette: The selection of colors or hues that will be used exclusively or regularly in the magazine.
contrast: The relative difference between elements on a page or spread. May refer to tonality, color, texture, or size.
corner splash: A triangle of color in the upper right or bottom right of the cover containing special editorial content.
design parameters: The self-imposed boundaries of the design to ensure the integrity of the style and personality of the magazine, such as a limited range of typefaces and colors.
display text: Refers to headlines or other text intended to draw the reader into the article.
eyebrow line: Short, pithy blurbs which give readers a quick look at a magazine’s content; mostly placed above the name plate.
focal point: The primary and specific area within a composition or design to which attention is drawn.
format: General appearance or style of a publication including its size, shape, paper quality, typeface and binding.
grid: A measuring guide used by designers to help ensure consistency. The grid shows type widths, picture areas, trim sizes, margins, etc.
gutter: The inside margin where two pages of a publication join.
hierarchy: Relative importance of objects on a page.
house sheet: Paper a printer keeps in stock and buys in large quantity.
limited palette: The self-imposed restrictions on choices for design elements such as typefaces and colors.
master pages: In Quark Xpress, InDesign, or any page layout program, master pages serve in a similar capacity as templates. Users can create master pages for frequently used elements such as folios, text columns, and ruled borders. More complex master pages may be created for departments and features. Then, the user can drag and drop them into documents without having to recreate the repeating elements.
negative space: The empty space created on a page by the placement of type and imagery. Awareness and use of this element is an important, but often overlooked, design consideration.
rivers: Streaks of white spacing in the text, produced accidentally when spaces in consecutive lines of type coincide.
screen: Uniform crisscross lines which break an image into a pattern of dots which, in turn, simulate gradations of gray.
second color: When using only black and another color in printing, this refers to the other color.
sidebar: A short article related to the main article and placed next to it.
standing head: A headline used in every issue with a regular column or department.
symmetry: Similarity of form or arrangement on either side of the dividing line of a plane; correspondence of opposite parts in size, shape, and position.
teasers: Another way to refer to pull-quotes—any piece of text pulled from an article to highlight some main point or to draw readers in. They are often quotes, but may be any piece of compelling editorial.
utilities (referring to the magazine cover): UPC codes and address labels placed on the cover, which require special design attention to ensure the necessary space is available.
well: Refers to the section in a magazine containing the feature articles.
Purchase one of our manuals that cover writing, design, management, and editing. Each manual contains an extensive glossary of terms.
It’s Christmas in July! As you plan ahead and look at what the rest of the year holds for your magazine, consider how to ask for gift subscriptions. Christmas is often a good time to solicit gift subscriptions.
There are multiple ways you can do this:
- A package insert is a card or brochure enclosed in a package sent to potential customers. Often, package inserts are enclosed in packages mailed by book publishers. However, some fliers are inserted in a clear plastic bag inside the mailer containing the subscribers magazine.
- Gift subscription renewals must be handled differently from normal subscriptions. Publishers normally notify the donor first. If there is no response, they may then notify the gift subscription recipient.
- Issue wraps are a second cover on a magazine. They are not usually put on magazines to be displayed for single-copy sale. However, they are sometimes used on magazines mailed to subscribers. They provide extra protection for the cover, and serve as a tool to advertise special offers to subscribers, to welcome new subscribers, or to announce subscription expiration.
- Many magazines have traditionally relied on direct mail solicitations as a primary means of building circulation. These may take a variety of forms.
Blow-in cards are inserted in magazines either by hand or by a machine which “blows” them into the magazines. Publishers may sell these cards to advertisers or use them to advertise their own magazine. They are one of the most effective methods of gaining new subscribers.
By D. Eadward Tree, Publishing Executive
Fraud. Ad blockers. Mobilegeddon. Slow page loading. Low ad rates. Let’s face it: Digital advertising, which was supposed to rescue us from the decline of print, has run into a mess of problems this year on the way to saviorhood.
We magazine publishers have competitive advantages in dealing with these challenges, if we pay attention to our history and what we’ve learned from the print side of our business. After all, our industry has had a couple of centuries of trial-and-error with print advertising to find solutions to the same challenges that now bedevil the digital side of the house.
Here are few relevant lessons:
They Hate You; They Really Hate You
A recent Hubspot study found that the ads consumers hate the most by far are pop-ups and mobile phone ads, while magazine ads are the least objectionable. Hatred is rarely the beginning of a beautiful customer relationship.
Over the decades, magazine publishers have figured out ways to put advertising messages in front of readers without annoying them—and sometimes delighting them. Maybe that’s why the same publisher that’s happy to get a $2.50 CPM for programmatic ads wouldn’t dream of charging less than a $60 CPM for a print page. (Unfortunately, our mobile page views are booming while our print page views are shrinking.)
By Eric Shanfelt, Publishing Executive
As media companies, we pride ourselves on building long-term content relationships with our readers. Our audiences are the lifeblood of our businesses driving advertising, subscription, event, lead generation, and other revenues.
But despite our reliance on our audiences, we often struggle at developing them. It seems increasingly difficult for us to get more email subscribers, build print and digital subscriptions, drive event registration, and create more leads for advertisers.
Why? Because most media companies are actually lousy at audience development.
Our first mistake is that we don’t realize that the number one job of our website is audience development, not content delivery or monetization. Think about it … an average visit is only 2-3 pageviews. That doesn’t equate to much revenue.
If somehow, someone finds our website through a search, social share, or link, doesn’t it make sense that our number one priority — before monetization — should be to entice them to give us their email address? Now we have an actual relationship that we can use over and over again to drive repeat traffic as well as reader and advertiser-side revenue.
In order to help an editorial team come up with article ideas, many editors use an article planning worksheet. It is a great tool to use during team planning meetings.
Tips for a successful planning meeting:
- Ask your staff to prepare for the meeting and give them plenty of advance notice—at least one month.
- Give them a list of questions to answer (see Article Planning Sheet). Or, have them ask questions of people they know who are similar to your readers.
- Get away from the office. Hold your planning meeting in a conference room in a hotel. Or meet in someone’s home, or a local church, or even go to a park. It is important to get everyone away from ringing phones and the pressures of immediate responsibilities. A new environment promotes creative thinking.
- Consider going on a field trip. Take the staff to a bookstore, a library, or a newsstand for one hour. Ask them to write down 10 ideas that could be adapted for your magazine.
- Ask the staff to pray ahead of time for God’s wisdom, guidance, and creative ideas in the meeting.