Mail-Order Journalism

As traditional magazine publishers struggle to stay afloat, mail-order catalog publishers are in a unique position to carve out a new position as thought leaders and conduits for the future of niche journalism.

I am a big soccer fan, so I’ll be using EUROSPORT, the leading North American soccer equipment catalog, for a hypothetical look at how the right content strategy could turn a mail-order catalog into a must-read publication that drives sales, grows brand value, and increases consumer loyalty.

Eurosport catalogs 1984 and 2013. What's changed? For one, you apparently used to be will to pay $2 for it. All hail short shorts.
Eurosport catalogs 1984 and 2013. What’s changed? For one, you apparently used to be willing to pay $2 for it. Also short shorts.

The Catalog

First, let’s set the stage. Today, EUROSPORT is the print catalog face of soccer equipment ecommerce site Soccer.com. The catalog (and its name) are older than the ecommerce platform, and the discrepancy in names probably results for the fact that the domain Eurosport.com is owned by a European Sports TV broadcaster. The fact that the EUROSPORT name still graces the print catalog (but is all but gone from the website) is a testament to the strength of the brand relationship consumers have with the 40-odd page catalog that graces their mailboxes monthly.

The current EUROSPORT catalog is similar to any other. Pages and pages of product occasionally interrupted by a full page ad for specific manufacturer or product. Whether these ads are paid placements or some other distributor/manufacturer value-add is unclear. In addition to the main, general catalog there are separate, thinner “goalkeeper” and “team” versions of the catalog.

Typical spreads; lots of product and the occasional full page manufacturer ad.
EUROSPORT catalog spreads, February 2013; lots of product and the occasional full page manufacturer ad. After about three or four issues it all start to look the same, and the catalog gets only a cursory glance before heading into the recycling bin.

The Big Idea

Quite simple, really. EUROSPORT should be setting aside a small number of pages per catalog issue to feature articles from soccer’s leading independent bloggers. This content need not be exclusive, first-run content, nor should it attempt to be breaking news. Print cannot compete with digital when it comes to breaking news, but it can compete when delivering insightful journalism once the breaking news dust has cleared.

The key here is that this needs to be high-quality content. Not me-too articles like “Premier League Season Preview 2014″ or a profile of the latest manager at Chelsea, but unique, insightful, evergreen perspectives on the sport. Getting the RIGHT bloggers involved is crucial. This content cake take risks, as we are not competing for magazine rack sales based on the most trending headlines. We have, and will continue to have, a dedicated readership, which provides a home for atypical content unique in the marketplace.

Blurring the line between catalog and magazine: A magazine-inspired cover.
Blurring the line between catalog and magazine: A magazine-inspired cover.
Blurring the line between catalog and magazine: A magazine-inspired cover.
Blurring the line between catalog and magazine: A catalog and journalism side-by-side.

It’s a win-win. The bloggers get the content they’re already producing distributed to a vast, highly-targeted audience; EUROSPORT improves the reach, value, and profile of their catalog, builds relationships with influencers, and opens up new revenue stream opportunities.

Why it Will Work

  • Increases catalog engagement frequency and duration.
    Consumers will read the articles, spending far more time with the catalog than ever before as well all keep the publication for a longer time
  • Requires minimal new investment.
    Bloggers will be willing to contribute content for no charge; their pay being the dramatic increase in traffic and awareness for their blog platforms. an affiliate program could share ecommerce revenue with contributing bloggers.
  • Influences the influencers. Bloggers will promote to their networks regarding appearing in next month’s EUROSPORT catalog. This grows EUROSPORT awareness and distribution.
  • Provides additional analytics opportunities.
    Readers can be encouraged to follow a QR code or URL to read the rest of an article – these actions can be tracked through to ecommerce platform interactions.
  • Opens up new revenue stream opportunities.
    Once the catalog audience expects and engages with content, paid and sponsored content is an easy sell or value-add for manufacturers represented in the catalog.
  • Provides social media fodder.
    Content is the key catalyst for social media interactions.

Call me, EUROSPORT, we can make this happen.

Close, but Off-Target

It is worth noting that around 2010-2011 EUROSPORT was distributing a “EUROSPORT Newsletter“, which did indeed blend catalog and content, but it missed the mark, and has since been discontinued.

EUROSPORT Newsletter circa 2011. The right idea, the wrong content strategy.
EUROSPORT Newsletter circa 2011. The right idea, the wrong content strategy.

Why did it fall short?

  • It was me-too content.
    Consumers already have relationships with traditional and digital publishers like ESPN FC, Four-Four-Two magazine, and others. EUROSPORT’s content must be different. Articles like Can Anyone Beat Barça? or Premier League Season Preview are too similar to content already widely available.
  • It was a distraction.
    Consumers already engage with one EUROSPORT publication, why another? Probably because it was an attempt at producing a EUROSPORT “magazine” with ads. EUROSPORT is a catalog first, build on that instead of trying to compete with “real” magazine publishers.
  • Print is valuable.
    I may be wrong, but I believe the newsletter was digital only. A digital “publication” is too easily forgotten, whereas print has a habit of hanging around on coffee tables and next to toilets.

Bonus: For Your Consideration

A couple extra thoughts and links…

Run of Play dotcom.
Run of Play dotcom.