John Loughlin, CEO of Next Issue Media, oversees the strategy and operations for the world’s largest all-access magazine streaming service, Texture. Here he shares the importance of robust, premium publishing brands in a digital environment that’s littered with free and diluted content.
Texture is a streaming subscription service from Next Issue Media LLC that delivers premium magazine content to its paid subscribers. Now five years old, Next Issue Media was founded and funded by the industry’s largest publishing players, including Hearst, Meredith, Time Inc., Conde Nast, Rogers Media and News Corp. Since then, the company has enhanced the service and rebranded its unlimited-access digital magazine product from “Next Issue Media” to “Texture.” The platform both preserves the traditional magazine reading experience and allows readers access to individual stories, collections from different titles and the ability to save and share articles.
AAM: How has the relaunch of your product as Texture engaged consumers?
John Loughlin: Our research has shown that consumers often use their smartphone during the morning commute, especially in the big cities with public transportation, and end the day on their tablet. Of the consumers who we interviewed, many expressed that they would often see an article but not have the time to read it, so they would then lose the article. That is something we’ve addressed with Texture. With one tap, consumers can save an article to their “collection” of stories to any device that’s registered to their Texture account, so when they get home that evening they can read it on their tablet. Plus, now we indicate the estimated amount of time it would take to read each article, a feature that has become a useful cue for our subscribers.
The big focus for 2016 is to make a great experience specifically on smartphone devices, a challenge that virtually every magazine publisher faces. Most magazine content is output into PDFs, but they are not very flexible and cannot be optimized for a three- or four-inch screen. You have to fundamentally redesign the page. So we’re working on a process that converts a PDFs into HTML to present a superior mobile experience.
AAM: What role do you think unlimited-access digital programs play in the growth of magazine audiences?
JL: Magazines are incredibly important. They carry curated, premium and fact-checked content that is finely designed and editorially and aesthetically engaging. We know that there are tens of millions of consumers who are interested in this content and have enormous value, and that is why we’re working with AAM.
I believe publishers have made a huge mistake by making so much of their branded content available for free. In their headlong pursuit of gaining consumer attention for advertising at any cost, they risk diluting their brands and exposing them to the issues of ad blockers, viewability and click fraud, which raise additional red flags. I think it is fascinating to look at today’s landscape and see who is creating subscription services. The companies that initially provided their content for free like Spotify are now selling subscriptions to consumers to pay for access to that content. Why are these big, free channels that are hugely successful now moving to subscription models? They know they have an engaged audience who is willing to pay for their content demonstrating a “wantedness” and engagement that makes their brand more valuable to advertisers.
Streaming magazine subscriptions really have an advantage because they provide premium content that consumers will pay for and is completely measurable.
AAM: What does media transparency mean to Next Issue Media? Do you think it’s important for measurement platforms to be third-party verified?
JL: Transparency is especially important when promising the delivery of audiences to advertisers. To support these promises, it is important to have a third party confirm that your platform is capable of what it claims and to ensure that the data it generates is accurate. But I believe the real challenge is around the normalization of measurements across services, platforms and devices. For magazines there continues to be differences in definitions between e-editions delivered in the Apple App Store versus Amazon versus what we do at Texture. All of these services are legitimate and of high quality but they all produce slightly different types of data. One challenge is to come to a common set of definitions and standards.
AAM: What metrics are important to Next Issue Media? What key interactions do you measure?
JL: “Time spent” is perhaps the ultimate measure of engagement. I think it is interesting that banner ads have the same value as a video interstitial. A consumer could spend three seconds on a banner ad while the consumer could spend a half a second on a video interstitial and click away from it. I am a firm believer that advertisers should focus on time spent because it is the truest way to gauge consumer engagement. By focusing on time spent, we offset the industry’s issues of viewability and click fraud because it measures what the consumer is actually doing with the ad.
The other thing that we look at is frequency of engagement, meaning the number of times the person comes to the app and uses it, as well as how many magazines a consumer reads over the course of a particular period of time.
AAM: Can you explain the recent decision to implement a new “Multi-Title Digital Program” category in AAM magazine reporting?
JL: The new category helps legitimize data from streaming content services such as Texture and makes it readily available in publishers’ AAM statements. We do not determine what gets reported — that is between buyers and sellers — but this category shows that AAM is acknowledging this new experience and form of reading magazines has value and speaks to the future of the industry.
I’m delighted that there has been a constructive, open and ongoing dialogue about these new magazine reading experiences and that Texture has been leading the way in helping contribute to AAM reporting. There is increasing comfort with Texture, which is good because our service is growing substantially and will become, I believe, a much larger part of the industry landscape. We are excited to be working with AAM because we do think that we are going to be a very attractive outlet for advertisers due to the nature of Texture’s audience and interactive experience.