Achieving a Dream of Mine

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Years ago, back when I was directing the trade books and market annuals for Writer's Digest, I would often have a conversation with author Christina Katz that went something like:

CK: Hey, you guys should bundle together XYZ!
Me: Yeah, I wish we could! We're not set up to do that, though.
CK: You should also sell combined subscriptions to the magazine and WritersMarket.com.
Me: Yeah, that would be great! We're not set up to do that, though.
CK: Have you ever thought about creating XYZ package of services for one low price?
Me: Sounds cool. We're not set up to do that, though.

Back then, Writer's Digest operated in fragments, depending on what division of the corporation it belonged to (book division, magazine division, education division, event division, etc). Each division focused on selling a particular book or product or service, rather than developing an integrated community serving up solutions directly to an audience of writers.

When I talk about publishing changing, this is what I mean: We (authors + publishers) must have conversations with audiences/readers to learn how to serve their needs, rather than try to push a specific product-widget. And "serving needs" is that remarkable mix of content, service, packaging, design, personalized interactions, digitized or interactive formats, conversations, community—whatever it is that offers the best solution.

But it's hard to do that when you're a magazine focused only on selling more magazines. You look at everything through the lens of how to keep the magazine alive.

And it's hard to do that when you're a book line only focused on selling more books, and are rewarded only by book performance.

And so on.

A year ago, F+W took the step of reorganizing its business based on interest area. And I took the lead for the the Writing Community.

It's been quite a year, and many things have changed behind the scenes, including how we run our eCommerce and direct-to-consumer business. (E.g., we no longer have a mail-order club, but we do have Writer's Digest Shop.)

And now, as of this week, Writer's Digest has integrated its two most popular services into one full-service plan (with perks!).

We're calling it the VIP program and it includes a one-year subscription to the magazine and a one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com. As a VIP, you get 10% discounts all year for WritersOnlineWorkshops.com and Writer's Digest Shop (which already offers Amazon-like pricing), plus a free webinar recording on marketing/promotion. (VIP price tag: $49.99. Amounts to 75% discount off retail, monthly rates.)

It may seem like a small thing to people outside of the business. But it's a symbolic step on our path to a truly audience- or reader-driven approach. And it's light years of progress from when I started at F+W Media in 1998. Consider what's changed:

  • Our reach is widest through online channels, which didn't exist in 1998.
  • Writers can have conversations with our staff instantly through social networks, which didn't exist even a couple years ago.
  • Our editors work on content and service, rather than focusing on books or magazines. They are also active partners in the conversations that market and promote those products.

From this perspective, it's a good time to be in publishing. There are unlimited opportunities for those who can directly reach their audience, have the energy to engage, and are willing to experiment with new business models.

John B. Thompson | Book Wars

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