It’s hold your hands up time

I never did statistics at school. Those of us doing science A-levels were made to study ‘maths with mechanics’; if you want to know how a parallelogram of forces works, or how to calculate angular momentum, I’m your man, but ask about standard deviation and margin of error and I’ll look shifty and start talking about the weather as I try to Google the answer.

But I’m numerate enough to know when figures just don’t smell right and so it is with this table doing the rounds on Twitter. It’s been posted by Andrew Hawkins, the Chairman of one of the polling companies ComRes. It tries to show how all the polling firms were within the appropriate margin of error (+/- 3 percentage points) for their final polls when you take an average of how much they were out for each party. (more…)


It was Twitter wot dun it

Back in 1987 Labour fought a brilliant election campaign. They’d recently rebranded with their red rose symbol and all the people I hung out with – twenty-somethings in media, public services, the arts, the NHS, – were convinced that despite what the polls said, Labour was on a roll. The Conservatives won their third term with a swing to Labour of 1.5%.

In 1992 even the polls were in Labour’s favour and we all – late twenties, early thirties, canvassing for Labour in Haringey and Hackney – could tell that this was the end for the Conservatives. John Major won the fourth consecutive term for the Tories because the swing to Labour was under 2%.

Fast forward to last night and the six weeks of campaign preceding it. The polls were all pointing to a hung parliament, but on Twitter the feeling was that the polls were calling it wrong, that Labour was almost certain to be the largest party and would be able to put together an anti-Tory coalition. Yes, well, up to a point Lord Copper.

Because there are two things in play here. The first is that (although the figures are hard to be precise about) Twitter only has around 10 million UK users, who fall mainly in the 18-34 age groups. Now this ain’t bad – it’s considerably more than buy a daily newspaper for example – but it’s not as important as we in media and marketing think it is, especially if we also factor in that many of those ten million aren’t that engaged with the channel. (more…)

Dovetail Subscription Conversion workshop

To the Dovetail Subscription Conversion workshop held at the conference centre of the British Library (an excuse for a plug for my review of the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty Legacy exhibition).

A short afternoon, but with several presentations on different aspects of ways in which we can maximise the return on subs efforts. For each I’ve got links to a blog post which has a copy of the presentation, as well as a link to a longer ‘Guide‘ which has a bit more background and context. Most of what was discussed was at a basic or intermediate level to match the differing knowledge levels of the audience, but it’s always helpful to be reminded of stuff we already know (or think that we do).

  • Ecommerce Top Tips (presentation here; more detail here): Ways to improve ecommerce performance through better understanding of the customer journey, improving the user experience and testing different approaches.
  • Using Customer Service better (presentation here; more detail here): Many of us don’t take full advantage of the knowledge and experience of our CS teams, but involving them early in the set up of new promotions can reduce the number of errors that occur later.
  • How reviews can boost SEO performance (presentation here; more detail here): Climbing up the search engine rankings is a tough old game, but adding reviews and ratings to your product pages can help. It also gives invaluable feedback on your products and services.

These are the first bits of a new project I’ve been asked to do by Dovetail to provide extra content for their site. I’ll post up more links as and when I do them.

Don’t read all about it

There’s a lot of sound and fury over the newspapers’ coverage of the election, so as a bit of fun on a Friday lunchtime I’ve dropped some ABC figures into Excel. What they show is the diminishing importance of “the press”, as we have always thought of it.

Between the last General Election and this the sales of the national daily and Sunday titles is down by a third overall to what must be the lowest figures since the early Victorian era (Here – from p16 – are post war UK newspaper trends). (more…)

Probably the most widely-read magazine you’ve never heard of

Last week I went to the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition and, amid talk of King John, Edward Coke and the banning of fish weirs on the River Medway, I had a chat with a chap whose travel magazine (called TRVL) has been going for around four years and has something approaching 2 million subscriptions. 2 million! – how many have your digital editions had in that time? The galling thing for a marketer is that most of these have been generated through word of mouth.

It doesn’t follow all of the ‘rules‘ that I think should apply to a digital magazine, but it was purpose-built for the iPad, not reverse-engineered from some print title. And because it was conceived in that way it doesn’t have any of the messy compromises that magazine apps have – it doesn’t feel the need for every issue to appeal to every reader; it can focus on long-form content, its content is not time-sensitive.

What it doesn’t have yet is a significant income stream, nor much of a website to speak of – there are premium subs and some advertising (although they face that classic problem of being read internationally, but with advertisers who book ads nationally) – and I don’t know what the level of engagement is, but it shows that there are people out there doing things in a way that traditional print companies are not, and achieving the sort of reach that digital editions of print magazines are not getting close to.

How thrilled are you with the sales of your PDF page-turner now?

PDF editions – why they’re rubbish, and why you need them

If you’re at all concerned with digital editions of magazines you should follow @david_hicks on Twitter. You do have to endure a succession of tweets about Man United (a once-successful association football club m’lud), but between these he says some very sensible things about digital magazines.

“Sensible” in this context means of course “stuff I agree with”, and his criticisms of PDF ‘page-turners’ are generally right on the money.

These ‘digital facsimiles’ were devised as a solution to publishers’ problems, not to meet any need of consumers. They allow a magazine to pretend they’ve ‘gone digital’, when in reality they’ve done nothing of the sort. They tie a publisher and a consumer to a publishing and content schedule that dates from the days of movable type. And I don’t care what your reader survey says, people don’t like reading facsimile editions – if they did you’d be selling more of them.

A ‘proper’ digital edition will have been built from the ground up so that it works in the way a user of a digital device consumes content. It wouldn’t be issue-based; it should be updated constantly and able to draw on all the content of the title. Your magazine might support several editions or apps for different types of content, or you might have one app that pulls in material from multiple titles. The key is to identify the need and build around that, not create a clumsy facsimile and hope to drag current readers across to it.

Having set my standard firmly in the ground, I’m now going to tell you why every title should have a PDF version.
For consumers who don’t want print, produce a proper digital experience rather than a rubbish compromise. But because page-turners are simply an extension of the print product, give them away free with a print subscription and leverage the marketing benefits that this allows. (more…)

Recent projects

I’ve been rather busy over the past few months and have been neglecting this blog. I hope to put that right in the forthcoming weeks.

In the mean time, I’ve added a ‘recent projects‘ section to the site to give an idea of some of the things that have been taking up my time since the summer (and, of course, to give you ideas about how you can employ me to help out with your ecommerce projects).

You will find this under the ‘about me’ tab on the menu, or the direct link is here.

A different perspective

A chat last week with the Head of Data at a big media company. He’s got somewhere north of 11 million individuals on his files and he and his (growing) team spend their days slicing and dicing this database to provide insights into customer behaviour and promotional data for marketers.

He was very complimentary about the marketing people he worked with. They ask intelligent questions, they make appropriate data selections based on propensity to buy, likelihood of repeat purchase, probable AOV and so on, and are as interested in the minutiae of the results as his analysts.

What he thinks they do wrong though, is look at things through the wrong end of the telescope; they start with what they’re selling and focus on the likely market for their product – “find me customers for product x”. What they should do is use the data to tell them what their products should be – “what will sell to more of our 11 million people”.

That’s something so obviously true that I feel pretty dumb that I hadn’t thought of it before.

The Magazine Diaries

Screen-Shot-2014-06-05-at-08.32.23And how is the magazine industry treating you these days?

The Magazine Diaries is a project by Peter Houston of Flipping Pages to try to capture what it’s like working in an industry that’s in the middle of a huge disruption. The goal is to have 100 people each contributing 100 words with the entries being collated into a book sold for the benefit of MagAid, a charity promoting literacy.

The entries to date seem to split between “wow, it’s exciting” and “hell, it’s scary” – although the two emotions aren’t mutually exclusive of course.

I’ve just done my 100 words, where I take an eeyoreish view of the business; I’ve seen too many magazines close, too many people lose their jobs (including me of course) and too many companies struggling to survive to view the proliferation of small titles as anything other than a sideshow. (If I hear anyone else talking about a ‘golden age of publishing’ I won’t be responsible for my actions.)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are people producing fantastic quality magazines on subjects they love, for people who love those subjects, but the number of copies sold/readers acquired for all of these titles combined wouldn’t match the lost sales of just Readers Digest over the last five years.

Print, as a mass medium, is on its way out.

It won’t stop completely of course – you can still buy vinyl, let alone CDs – but the industry as I have known it for 25 years is moving closer to the exit. Something will replace it, and the process will be both exciting and scary.

If you think different – or even think the same – you should send your 100 words off to Peter.



But does it work?

IMG_0570Some objects and systems are so well designed that they’re beautiful; some work so perfectly they’re virtually invisible. Others are so badly put together that their flaws are obvious.

Then there’s the upgrade process from Windows 8.0 to 8.1.

This is a system so poorly thought through, so appalling executed, so brutally ugly and inefficient that it must have been designed by a vengeful Greek god. Sisyphus, Tantalus, Prometheus – all condemned to vicious and recurring punishments – would consider themselves fortunate never to have had to endure the torments that Microsoft have inflicted.

To begin at the beginning. (more…)