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National Geographic international VP on multi-product strategies

Yulia Boyle is senior vice president for international publishing at National Geographic Society. Her mandate stretches from managing magazines, books, digital editions to home entertainment, websites, digital portals and other publishing products in local languages across the globe. Boyle spoke to Piet van Niekerk about launching new print titles, localisation of content and multi-product strategies.

June sees the launch of National Geographic Traveler magazine in Germany. Is it likely to launch yet another print product in such a competitive market as Germany?

Mark Twain said “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” – and to paraphrase: reports of the death of print are greatly exaggerated. While we all recognise the disruptive aspects of digital, print is still the lion share of our work and revenues. What we see here is a comeback for print and National Geographic Traveler in Germany is an indication of how this is happening, especially in a market as competitive and mature as Germany. 

This will be a bi-monthly, featuring the core National Geographic traveller topics such as sustainability, responsible travel and the power of our storytelling, combined with our visual excellence. 

National Geographic Traveler Germany ()

When taking successful publications to specific regions, localisation is often key to success. What is your approach to localisation?

Our belief in the power of science and exploration, and impactful storytelling to change the world, resonates very well globally.  

But not all markets call for localisation. Take our Scandinavian editions for example – they have National Geographic readers who come to them to peek through the window on the world and don’t want to see local content.

That said, localisation and market relevance fuelled our success in the international expansion of National Geographic. In the context of publishing, we started localisation as far back as 1997. If we look at National Geographic Magazine around the world today, up to 40% of content is created locally – with local covers, side-bars, archival compilations and full features.  

Magazines like National Geographic Traveler and National Geographic Kids magazines are even more localised with market specific offerings.

National Geographic Kids Australia ()

Where – in terms of markets – is it necessary to localise more?

China and Russia. These are huge countries with diverse cultures and geographies so we need to satisfy diverse tastes. In Australia, our latest National Geographic Kids edition will focus on interests and needs of Australian kids, and even help them with their homework through providing fact-based educational, and at the same time, entertaining content.

But in today’s market localisation in isolation is not enough and it may not even be the most correct paradigm anymore. At National Geographic we don't just localise, we increasingly create editorial specifically for local markets. Together with our partners we come up with new magazine and brand concepts that enrich our portfolio, such as the sub-brand National Geographic History, which is the by-product of this approach.

You have already touched on another of these by-products: National Geographic Kids, with the imminent launch of National Geographic Kids in both Australia and New Zealand. This is all happening this month?

That’s right. National Geographic Kids is a very important part of our strategy. We are working with 20 publishers around the world and we have 18 local editions in 56 countries. Localised English editions started from our UK and South African editions about seven years ago and together with our UK partner we are launching in Australia and New Zealand as well, which is a huge achievement. It will be very suited to the local market and children’s audience and even provide assistance to the school curriculum in Australia. 

What will the online presence be of your new print products and how will you monetise on these?

All our products have an online presence. Our electronic editions are fully interactive, offering videos and behind the scenes content. If we look specifically at kids and how they consume the media these days we adapt to have websites with quizzes, geography competitions, puzzles, games and lots of videos of animals, which we find is very important for us to appeal to kids via multiple platforms.

As for monetising there are several ways. One is creating integrated advertising experiences for our clients. It’s very important that we remain independent and maintain our editorial integrity but we definitely work with advertisers globally to provide a platform for them to advertise.  

Another way is premium portal experiences where the members of National Geographic can access a special dedicated area that is only available to paid members. This membership strategy is based on three pillars: simplicity, concrete benefits and digital engagement. Memberships are gained through a tier structure. Tier 1 is community members who join free of charge. Tier 2 is supporting members who pay to join. These members get community benefits, newsletters, participate in daily contests and gain access to content not available to community members. Currently we have 3.2 million community members and 3.9 million supporting members.  

How do you maintain success across platforms with respect to international presence, impact and revenue generation? 

The most important goal for us is to have a deeply engaged conversation with our readers. We are not trying - on Instagram for instance (National Geographic has 17 million followers on Instagram) to sell any products. We are really trying to show the power of photography. As long as you remain honest with your reader I think you will be able to connect with them deeply and they will come back to you. One of the important principles for us is to provide the greatest content and to support our own goals. The platform through which we do this does not matter.

The challenge now is to ensure we have integrated digital experiences with our international audiences. In the United States we have very robust digital platforms with frequently updated content. Internationally we are still building those portals and one of our goals is to make sure that all of our partners in each country are connected to one digital space where all of our content - from television, magazines, entertainment properties, books, exhibits and events - can be accessible from a unified digital hub. From a consumer’s point of view people will see one unified National Geographic that offers the multi-platform and multi-product experience in each market. It is my goal to integrate the experiences and products in each market into one digital hub.    

National Geographic is a FIPP member company.

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