Bonnie Fuller, head of HollywoodLife.com and former editor of multiple mags like Glamour and Marie Claire, has some thoughts about why most women's magazines have lackluster websites. While it should be noted that her most recent column for Ad Age is partially just a giant advertisement for her website and editorial skills (Sample quote: "Coming from magazines, I have to say that editing a digitally native women's site is incredibly freeing..." How nice for you, Bonnie!), she makes some good points. "Even though young women's magazines had owned the hearts and minds of their audiences on the newsstand for decades, anticipating and responding to their every need, they have not established themselves as daily indispensable online destinations for their readers," she writes. "The question is why?"
Naturally, Fuller has a few ideas: Most editors probably come from print backgrounds and therefore work in a monthly mindset, where snagging subscribers to the magazine is more important than page views. Their websites aren't technically structured for easy posting. There are staffing issues: a site like Fuller's employs fifteen staffers who post constantly, whereas women's magazines usually only hire a few staffers to run their websites.
The most interesting point she brings up is this:
I also believe it's hard for traditional women's media sites to flourish in the online arena when they may also be seen as competitors to their own mother magazine brands. If their parent organizations see their mothership magazines as the primary revenue source, then they might see investing in sites that draw readers' eyeballs but not the equivalent revenue as a bad investment.
I definitely experienced that uneasy dichotomy when I worked at print publications. At first, I was shocked by the animosity between web editors and print editors who were basically forced to compete against each other for attention and resources from higher-ups, but that's an unfortunate but obvious consequence of the type of mismanagement Fuller is talking about.
Fuller's piece inspired me to check out the sites she mentioned: Glamour.com, Cosmopolitan.com, MarieClaire.com and Elle.com. It's not that the websites are clueless about their web content; it's more that they're clearly not focused on becoming a breaking news destination. Marie Claire pretty much only promotes print content or related extras on their homepage, but the other sites seem like they're doing a fine job of producing regular, original posts. Glamour in particular covers a fair amount of celeb gossip and news, and someone over there definitely knows the value of an SEO-worthy headline: one of their most popular stories right now is "Kristen Stewart is reportedly dealing with the cheating drama by eating THIS. Is this your go-tobreakup food, too?" (Yes, I clicked. It's ice cream. BORING.) Cosmo's also got the hang of the clickable headline, with posts like "Surprising Foods That Can Eff With Your Sex Drive" and "Match The Sexy Olympian With His, Err, Bulge."
But clickable headlines might not be enough, or at least not enough to encourage subscription sales. The Wall Street Journal reported today that magazines' newsstand sales dropped 9.6% in the first half of this year, a worse decline than ever before. Even Cosmopolitan, America's #1 women's magazine, saw its newsstand sales drop 5.5% to 1.3 million.
"Lucky for us, it appears the women's traditional media sites have affectively [Sic. Insert sad joke about lack of proofreading online here] made the decision not to compete for their own readers — the millennial generation — in the online space," Fuller writes. "But with these print titles experiencing double-digit newsstand drops in the past year, can they afford NOT to get with the program." Will women's magazines follow the example of magazines that have successful, heavily-staffed digital sides, like The Atlantic and Wired?