Why Time Inc.’s People magazine is platform agnostic

The People magazine brand represents 18 per cent of Time Inc.’s total revenue. The print edition sells slightly more than 2.75m copies per month and a mere two months after Will Lee took over as editor in October last year, the People website started breaking record after record. By November, 72m monthly unique visitors logged onto the site – a 26 per cent increase in only two months. Online growth has been relentless with mobile browser growth year-on-year from January 2014 to 2015 rising by 147 per cent and video streams from the site over the same period increasing by 259 per cent.

Every second counts

Lee is unsurprised by the growth of people.com. He has, after all, increased the velocity of content on the site dramatically. But past performance, as they say in the investment industry, does not guarantee future performance. Hence the fact that Lee decided to set the bar even higher. “We have to increase the amount of content that we do on a daily basis and on an hourly basis.”

People who consumed the print edition weekly now need to migrate to a mentality where they have the ability to consume the brand whenever and wherever they go. Or as Lee describes it: “Every second counts.”

But then the question of quality and quantity becomes acute. To be able to get quality content online in an environment where seconds count, he needs to have the best journalists in the world. “And we do,” says Lee. “They can make judgments much faster than people who don’t have the experience. It means the things we post, even if we post them quickly, we get right. And we continue to do it in a way that remains appropriate to the People brand.”

In this sense the success of People has bred good fortune. “Good people want to work for People. They respect the brand and our 41 year history of accuracy, access and authority.”

Vying for video

Part of Lee’s desire to improve velocity of content on people.com is his decision to increase the amount of hours of video accessible on the site. This is because video monetises better on mobile than readable content. “Video is core to the audience experiences today…we have to be much more focused as a brand on creating video at speed. We need to vastly improve the amount of hours of video per year, and then beyond that have a much better defined programming slate for it – not only for our audience but also our advertising team to understand what we are doing.”

People has a head-start, says Lee: “We have unbelievable access to talent and incredible access to events. We will use all of this to make sure that we provide video content quickly.”

Mobile and mobility

Not too much can be read into the increase in mobile browsing, says Lee. It’s a predictable behavioural practice because it’s one the most convenient ways to consume the news. Social media has also played its part. “I think the arrival of social networks is a jumping off point – or a point of origin – for news. What works for People is the increasing immediacy and the increasing need for people to know exactly what’s happening at that moment and the fact that we are addressing it with high velocity publishing and the stories that really matter…People as a brand not only wants to be on every device and every screen, but what we are looking for in the next couple of years is to be on every surface.”

The future examples Lee refers to are of people consuming People’s content in their cars and outdoors. “We will be there: on watches, wearable devices, every surface that we can be on. People will be platform ambiguous.”

Sense and sociability 

Social media have proved to be extremely People friendly. The latest statistics show more than 13m followers across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Twitter. Yet, every derivative of social media – and those not yet spawned – needs to be saddled to maintain and build the People brand. “We have to be everywhere the audience is. People is such a big brand that we cannot afford not to be. Our social strategy is very crisp and direct. We will be doing much more video on Facebook. In fact we are already doing more video on Facebook. We will also work very closely with Facebook to make sure that the People brand is as big as possible on that platform.”

Yet, Lee’s view of social media is also starting to change. The mere notion to refer to social media in a specific frame of reference has become “vaguely quaint” he says. It’s almost old-fashioned to talk of social media anymore. Today ‘social media’ is merely one of the places where people consume news. It’s exactly the same for messaging apps.

When it comes to messaging apps, Snapchat Discover is a case in point. “We have been very successful on the Discover platform. We have seen that certain things perform better on Snapchat than they do elsewhere. Again it is down to the audience and how that audience is composed.”

Print – the corner stone

Despite the growing appetite for People content across various platforms, there is no talk of abandoning print. In fact, Lee describes the print edition as the “corner stone” on which the rapid growth of the brand across all platforms is being built. “The history of this brand is very much built on the fact that People magazine has been a cultural phenomenon and still is and then always will be. It (the print magazine) is incredibly important to the brand and as we build all the other things it is really inspired by, and in many cases driven by, print.”

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