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4906582_sEvery winter I get on a non-fiction reading kick. With the new(ish) year underway, now feels like a great time to think a bit about our industry and best practices, to catch up on methodologies and alternative approaches we should be thinking about, and to explore what other thought leaders are publishing.

Creativity and inspiration may not necessarily spark from dense textbook surveys of the market research landscape, but they’re a good place to start. There are two books I would recommend for anyone interested in what we do and how we do it:

  • Ray Poynter’s The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research is a helpful introduction to online research, how it’s evolved over the past ten years, and how researchers reach out into the world in different ways to consult with consumers and business constituents in various categories.  This book is a great place to start learning about marketing research and some of the newer and interesting ways in which consumer insights are being culled (social media, communities, etc.)
  • Naresh Malhotra’s Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation, now in it’s sixth edition, is an excellent textbook for in-depth understanding of how market research can provide businesses with strategic value – exploring how insights from market research studies can be applied toward bigger picture business questions, hypotheses, and problems. This text is comprehensive, providing an overview of how many diverse market research methodologies contribute to feed into the channel of consumer feedback.

In addition to these resources, the field of psychology continues to contribute meaningful “food-for-thought” to market researchers. For a fifth (!) year in a row, Dan Ariely’s name and works have come up in our conversations around rational and emotional drivers for consumer behavior. Start with the famous Predictably Irrational, if you haven’t already, and if you find it engaging, follow his thinking through the more recent The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, on the shelves in many bookstores now.

As Marty mentioned in a previous post, the new Delicious design is a little wonky, and no longer pumps content to our blog and Twitter account. So here’s a roundup of articles I’ve stumbled across over the past month that you may find interesting:

Jeff Ely, economics professor at Northwestern University and contributor to the Cheap Talk blog, recently wrote a great article about titles, or names.  His examples focus on bank names, and how they engender trust, and the names of legal documents, which could perhaps be simply skimmed to get a sense of utility or relevance. But the article is an interesting reminder and idea spark, for researchers and marketers.

There are varying degrees of scope and sophistication in our wildly different projects and initiatives. Our work is passed to our clients, to internal teams, to executive management, to various partners and outside parties. The names of studies, reports, presentations, tools used in the process, task force teams, strategic plans, products in development, etc. do matter.

Names should be clear and communicative – presenting the topic but also the considering the audience. Names should not be overly technical or detailed. Names should be intuitive, parsimonious, and should be readable (and intelligible) “out loud.” But names should also hold up over time, regardless of how related issues change or evolve. Future researchers should be able to refer back to your work, referencing a name that still communicates something to them. It’s somewhat a lofty challenge, if you think about the implication of the choice of title. The goal is to strike a balance between communication and brevity – if the name simply “fits” in these terms, it will likely carry and communicate as desire.

Interesting little infographic from Newsweek about the differences between books and e-books.

Few fans of the magazine Gourmet expected the November issue of 2009 to be its last. However, a struggling economy, along with the internet, has made it hard for many magazines to survive.

After nearly 70 years, publisher Condé Nast abruptly stopped production of the monthly magazine due to lack of advertising sales and a shift in consumer interest. At the time of Condé Nast’s decision, both Gourmet and its sister magazine, Bon Appétit, were struggling with ad sales. Bon Appétit made the cut. Gourmet didn’t. Bon Appétit was offered as a substitute for Gourmet for the remainder of almost one million subscriptions.

Since then a slight margin (a slim 20 percent to be exact) of past Gourmet subscribers have chosen to switch to Bon Appétit. This seems odd for such highly dedicated and long-term subscribers. The lack of transferred subscriptions poses a hard question. Why did Condé Nast choose not to research the niche market of such an obviously successful magazine like Gourmet in order to keep those dedicated subscribers?

On the cover, the magazines look similar. Both share great recipes. Both feature articles about food, culture, and politics. However, the audiences of each magazine differ greatly. This is evidenced through both magazines advertisements as well as their contrasting takes on good living. Gourmet was luxurious and indulgent. It stressed extravagant travel and an elitist lifestyle. Bon Appétit stresses a comfortable home life, centering on family cooking. It offered complex, yet more accessible recipes.

While many Gourmet readers feel heartbroken about no longer receiving the magazine each month, Condé Nast’s decision makes good sense, especially when considering the economic forecast that sunk Gourmet. Foodies aren’t paying for exotic trips to experience food anymore. They’re cooking at home with their families, growing their own gardens, or buying local food.  Despite a large fan base, Gourmet’s attention to life’s luxuries and hefty subscription fees failed to keep advertisers interested. In the case of Gourmet and many other magazines, ad money trumps readership and loyalty.

But after loosing 800,000 subscribers, it seems that Condé Nast missed a really great chance to study their Gourmet readers. The magazine may have been out-of-touch with the current economic reality, but its subscribers were still writing checks every year. If Condé Nast saw the end of Gourmet magazine in sight, why not find out what it was that appealed to readers and kept some subscribing for decades. That sort of insight would have been exactly what Condé Nast could have used to align Bon Appétit toward the views and preferences of Gourmet’s readers in order to boost the number of subscription transfers and keep those loyal consumers.

Just before the holidays, BERG and Bonnier R&D published articles and a great demonstration video on a new concept for electronic magazines. It seems this concept could be easily applied in both the e-reader and tablet format in the very near future, offering smarter design and a better reader/user experience than currently offered by online magazines.

Sports Illustrated and Wired also proposed e-magazine concepts recently, but the BERG/Bonnier concept seems to take a best of both worlds approach and suggests ways in which this approach can be easily adopted. The interactive control features and the modern take on presentation of content really add to the reader’s experience – hinting at engagement beyond mere push-button page flipping, pdf scrolling, zooming, and flash animation.

Related links:

BERG article
Bonnier’s MAG+ Blog Post

When we write market research screeners, to ensure research respondents or participants are qualified for our studies, we sometimes craft questions that include misleading “red herring” answer options. The idea is to include some answer options in the set that do not relate to the research topic. We then randomize the presentation of the answer options for each respondent so that it is harder to pick an answer just to continue on towards a participation incentive. This obscures the topic of the research, helping to ensure respondents/participants are truly qualified.

For example, we may pose a question similar to the following for a textile category survey:

For which of the following purchases are you the primary or secondary decision maker in your household? Please select all that apply.

  • Clothing (continue)
  • Automobiles (red herring)
  • Groceries (red herring)
  • Toilet tissue (red herring)
  • Fast food (red herring)
  • Laundry supplies (red herring)
  • Over-the-counter medicines (red herring)
  • Home textiles (continue)

But where does this expression come from?

For a long time, it was thought that the metaphor had something to do with either fox hunting tradition, food preservation on overseas trips, horse training, and/or prison breakouts.  In 2008, the Oxford English Dictionary clarified the etymology of this expression, as explained in this totally mental article in World Wide Words by Michael Quinion.  I recommend clicking through and reading the full article when you have a few minutes and need a weird break in your day, but here’s an excerpt (and a quick answer):

OED now trace the figurative sense to the radical journalist William Cobbett, whose Weekly Political Register thundered in the years 1803-35 against the English political system he denigrated as the Old Corruption.

He wrote a story, presumably fictional, in the issue of 14 February 1807 about how as a boy he had used a red herring as a decoy to deflect hounds chasing after a hare. He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon; this caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters: “It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”

This story…was enough to get the figurative sense of red herring into the minds of his readers, unfortunately also with the false idea that it came from some real practice of huntsmen.”

Okay, now you know!

Kudos to The Awl for two fairly recent charts featuring publishing statistics from the past decade.  The images are too tall to just recopy in a single post here, but click through to check them out.  This trend data, sourced from the Magazine Publishers of America and Audit Bureau of Circulations, respectively, is very interesting, but I’m particularly fond of how they’ve crafted the charts – in a tall, blog-friendly format rather than on a standard wide frame: