The Taunton Press' magazines, such as Fine Cooking, Fine Woodworking and Fine Gardening, have had an online presence for a number of years, with articles of past issues archived and for sale. And, they have an online store with more than 500 SKUs.
But in the last few years, company execs realized they had "a large body of great content that our subscribers and customers will consume in a lot of different media," says Interactive Marketing Director Michelle Rutkowski.
One way to offer readers more value while increasing Taunton’s revenues would be to create online paid products -- sites that offered some free content but that required subscriptions to access the rest.
The company created such a site with FineWoodworking.com, which rolled out in November 2005. "We built a big model and projected where we thought we would be, and we're pleased that we're where we think we should be in terms of a business," Rutkowski says.
She offered nine tips on the process of creating a hub:
-> Tip #1. Find a focus (not as easy as you think)
Even with a specialty niche, finding a focus is not simple. The site originally launched as FineWoodworkingNetwork.com, which included content from Fine Homebuilding.
But Fine Woodworking, as a magazine, had 30 years of content, along with a passionate subscriber base. Rutkowski's team realized it made more sense to offer woodworking fans a centralized hub that offered only Fine Woodworking content.
In April, they relaunched FineWoodworking.com, complete with the archives, Web-only content, online videos, projects from the magazine repurposed as slideshows and more, for a subscription fee ($4.99/month, $34.95 annually, $14.95 annually for Fine Woodworking magazine subscribers).
-> Tip #2. Keep current users in mind
FineWoodworking.com existed before November simply as the magazine's Web site, offering archives of past issue's articles for $3.50 (one article), $12.50 (five articles) and $19.50 (10 articles).
When the site relaunched as a subscription service, many customers had unused credit. Rutkowski's team sent them a series of email messages offering free access to the new site (including archives) for three months.
"Taunton has a very high-touch, high-value relationship with customers, many of whom have been with us for many years," Rutkowski says.
It was of utmost importance to treat the relationship with respect during the switch. Offering the three-month free access to the site was a value higher than what customers had paid for the archives, she says.
-> Tip #3. Don't skimp
Some publishers use services that simply take existing content and reproduce it online so it looks exactly as it does on the printed page.
"We thought that probably didn't have the functionality our subscribers wanted," says Rutkowski. Her team wanted to use the special qualities that make the Web exciting. For example:
- Video. For projects of a detailed nature, video can be priceless. Even the authors of some of the projects, woodworking experts themselves, have told Rutkowski how useful the videos have been.
- Navigation and taxonomy. Woodworkers have a special language all their own, with certain ways they want to search. The team made certain that the words that described the navigation, and the navigation itself, made sense for woodworkers.
Skilled woodcrafters often take a project and put their own spin on it. "They might take a leg design here and a corner from there," Rutkowski explains.
To make it easier for users, navigation had to be intuitive. So the site enables users to search by project, style, furniture period, skills, tools and more.
-> Tip #4. Use existing resources
The editorial staff of Fine Woodworking are all passionate woodworkers. So Rutkowski's team turned to them when it came to building the site. The team also dug through existing content.
"We had published several over-arching, illustrated guides to woodworking," she says. "We started looking at how we organized it in the broad sense."
Once the site reached a place of basic design -- when the programming was not finished but the basic interface was complete -- her team brought in a couple of dozen subscribers who lived in the area.
They were shown the site in an informal manner and asked for their ideas. That was particularly helpful when writing the copy, Rutkowski says.
-> Tip #5. Market it as a "dovetail" product
Rutkowski's team didn't worry about cannibalizing print subscribers; they felt that having both products for the price offered was far better than having just one.
The Web site offered more information, plus a way to index projects that can't be done in print. And the magazine itself is of such beautiful quality that it, too, can't be reproduced.
So that's how they marketed it, calling the two products together "The Perfect Dovetail." And, as the site has grown, the subscriber base of the magazine has seen no drop-off in subscriptions beyond the usual attrition.
-> Tip #6. Remember to keep some free content
Free content helps users unfamiliar with the brand or product to know the depth of techniques and information available. It also helps with indexing on the search engines.
How much content should be free? You don't want to give away the store, but you have to offer enough that someone who isn't familiar with the company knows what they're getting.
"It's a balancing act," Rutkowski says. "We have established certain positions in Google and Yahoo based on organic search results." Everything that is added to the site, then is monitored for its impact on organic search.
Monthly newsletter content is placed for free on the site, as are answers to questions the company often gets asked. But "we always look to see if we're hurting or helping.”
-> Tip #7. Trust your customers
The basic offer page shows the three subscription levels, and Rutkowski's team decided not to experiment with pop-ups or other pushes geared toward trying to make the subscriber jump to the next level.
"They're perfectly capable of choosing,” she says, pointing out that they can always upgrade to a higher level subscription or cancel at any time.
-> Tip #8. Use existing marketing vehicles
To plug the site, the team advertised the launch in Fine Woodworking magazine with a full page ad. There was an insert in the magazine, as well as a cover wrap, with the issue that hit people's homes in April.
Fine Homebuilding magazine also included ads. And Rutkowski's pay-per-click campaign expanded to include the FineWoodworking.com Web site.
She learned that when it comes to paid search magazine publishers must be clear on what medium they are offering. "Searchers are looking to get the content on the Web right then.”
With search ads, she is certain to make it clear whether the ad is linking to the Web site (content available immediately) or to a place where they can subscribe to the magazine.
The site also was advertised via in-package inserts in books sold through Taunton Press and at the biggest woodworking show of the year.
-> Tip #9. Test everything
When setting out on a project such as this, Rutkowski recommends constant testing.
"We've done A/B testing on shorter copy, longer copy. We tested different versions of our landing pages. We're always doing revisions and minor changes, and we'll continue to do that. These products, you don't put them up and they're finished. It's just the version that's up at the moment."Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from The Taunton Press’ emails:
The Taunton Press: