Stop Advertising in Photo Magazines – Head West to the Web – Stuck in Customs

Stop Advertising in Photo Magazines – Head West to the Web

HDR Photo

Let's all look at a pretty picture and zen out before we go down this path of no return...

A Great and Embarrassing Experiment

I did a scientific, controlled experiment in 2011 and here are the results.

This is a sad story and embarrassing in many ways, but it turns out there is both a happy ending (thanks to Scott Kelby) and an overall moral to the story. It’s also quite exciting for all the bloggers out there.

Video of the situation

Here’s a video where I talk about my findings and add many additional thoughts.

Any Bias?

First, you might be interested in any kind of bias in this report, so let me alleviate any suspicions. I am completely independent of the mainstream photography world. This blog is not owned by any bigger media company, and I have no kind of incestuous relationship with any advertiser whatsoever. I am completely independent.

For example, when I mention Nikon, it’s because I like and use Nikon equipment. Nikon doesn’t pay me or advertise on the site. I am always suspicious when anyone mentions any brand, unless they are clear about the relationship. You should be too.

I know full well that most traditional photography magazines will hate me after this, but that’s okay. I expect that my findings in this will help to take millions in advertising dollars that are wasted on traditional magazines and funnel some of that to the online world in the future.

What is this little blog anyway

High Dynamic Range Photo

Daily photos fluctuate but the numbers increase year after year as friends and families tell one person at a time. Thanks everyone!

And let me deflect a few spears right away from the naysayers. They’ll probably begin character attacks or say this blog is insignificant. It’s not. As you can see from the chart on the left, it shows that, on average, we get over 150,000 photo views per day. Per Day. I might have a slight touch of sensitivity here, since magazines often make such a big deal out of how important they are, claiming over 100,000 subscriptions per month. As you’ll see from the results below, I don’t know how many of their readers actively open the magazines every month. And, of those that are opened, I doubt many ads are given substantive consideration by the reader. In other words, the vast majority of people just flip through the ads to get to the meat.

So, perhaps you can keep this sensitivity in mind too as you read the results below. Of course, we all know that the web and Internet content is the future and that traditional magazines are dying. But, strangely, the magazines are still able to attract the biggest advertisers with very high rates. Now, even though I am sensitive to this issue, I’d like to think I am still objective about the whole situation. I hope you’ll agree.

The Experiment

This year, in 2011, I decided to try an experiment. We have a great product we sell here called the HDR Video Tutorial and I decided to experiment on “traditional” media. We know it is a great product because it already sells like hotcakes, HDR is popular and we have less than a 0.5% return rate.

I allocated about $30,000 to buy ads in magazines.

As for the advertising specs, I did the following to keep things consistent:

  • Full Page Ad
  • First third of the magazine
  • 3 months (1 full page for each month, for 3 months in a row)

I chose these three magazines with the following total advertising spend over the three months:

  • Popular Photography – $12,000 – April, May, June
  • Shutterbug – $6,000 – April, May, June
  • Photoshop User (NAPP – Kelby Media) – $8,000 – May, June, July

How I Tested

This is the add that went into Kelby's magazine with the special code "THANKSNAPP" to track sales.

We built a custom full-page advertisement for every magazine. Each one had a special discount code on the bottom for 10% off so we could measure response. For example, the Scott Kelby’s magazine got “THANKSNAPP”, and Popular Photography magazine got “POPPHOTO”. Note that it is possible that some people bought the product without using the code. However, we did not see an increase above our normal baseline sales for those months, with the exception of people using the code. By looking at the stats, it appears that 95% of people that could have used the code did use the code. Therefore, I believe this is a fair way to measure the results.

The Results

Here are the results. Note the asterisk on the last result because it is important.

  • Popular Photography: 10 Units sold = $870
  • Shutterbug: 11 Units sold = $957
  • Kelby Media*: 206 Units sold = $17,125.75

As you can see, Popular Photography and Shutterbug were a disaster. This was actually embarrassing to me. I have a business here, and it is embarrassing for those two magazine deals to lose a combined $16,000+ on a failed advertising campaign.

Now, I know I should not take things personally in a scientific test, but I did. You know, as a small business guy, I have to choose whether or not to save money for my kids’ education or to risk it with a giant magazine with an ad campaign. Just like Walter Donovan, I chose poorly.

But, thanks to Kelby Media, I ended up almost back in the black overall.

*Why did Kelby Media do so well?

There are many reasons, but the overall reason is they seem to really care about getting results for their advertisers. Their head of advertising was in constant contact with me, making sure things were going well. They also have ad rotation on their website, which is part of the package. I’m convinced that this is the reason that they did so well. Scott Kelby and his team are smart – they know that online is the future and they’ve always been fully diversified.

Other possible problems with the ad

Now, maybe people just don’t WANT to buy the video tutorial and that is why sales were so low. Well, of course this is a possibility, but very unlikely for these two reasons:

1) Objectively, HDR is a popular technique, and there are many people that want to learn it.

2) If you compare Popular Photography and Shutterbug to Kelby Media, you’ll see that the product was indeed in-demand. If no one wanted the product, then the campaign with Kelby Media would have also failed.

Ron Martinsen’s Blog – Who???

Okay, how many of you big advertisers have ever heard of Ron Martinsen’s blog?

Ron is an example of the thousands of bloggers out there generating real traffic and real sales, but advertisers largely ignore this and instead continue to put much of their money into paper magazines.

I bet not many of you. However, would you be surprised to know he has sent us $8,920.51 in sales this year through our Affiliate Program? He doesn’t have a big blog, but look how many sales he generates!  He’s just an example, and there are hundreds of blogs out there with amazing content.

Now, I’ve never talked to Ron about this, but I bet he has trouble selling advertising on his blog. Or, if and when he does sell, I bet he gets very low rates compared to these big magazines.

So, Ron is one of our thousands of affiliates. I don’t pay him to advertise there, but he gets a percentage of every sale. It doesn’t cost the buyer any more money, and, to me, it is the most fair way to do it. In a true meritocracy, people get paid on performance, not on guestimates that appear scientific.

So, Nikon, Canon, Epson, Sony, and the rest of you – what are you doing?

Why are you big advertisers wasting money on these big magazines? Is it just “branding,” or are you actually trying to drive sales? Or, perhaps it is more a function of, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done things.”

I know that there are smart advertising people out there in these companies that are trying to put together campaigns. There is something to be said for “Brand Awareness,” but I think this is losing the value it once had when Ogilvy wrote his masterpiece. Brand awareness was more important in the days when there was a big gap of time between when the viewer sees an advertisement and then makes the purchase. For example, in the 50’s a family might see ads in their newspaper talking about Whirlpool washing machines with no call to action. That brand would get into their heads, and the next time they went to Sears, they will remember that brand and logo. It was the same way with Coke and Chrysler and Braniff. But nowadays, the time between seeing an ad and making a purchase is very very quick. In many cases on the Internet, it’s instantaneous.

Look at what Ford has done in the online marketing world. They now advertise on Leo Laporte’s forward-thinking network; they advertise on many blogs and with social media stars; they sponsor fun reality-shows on the Internet. While other big companies might have a small “play fund” for Internet experiments, Ford has jumped in head first. They get it.

Another vector is that big product/service companies have bloated advertising departments with established relationships with magazines. Magazine editors give them all kinds of statistics so they can prepare nice monthly reports for their superiors that makes it look like their true reach is significant. But it’s all built on old, predictive guesses on the nature of the behavior of the audience.

Believing the readership numbers of these magazines makes about as much sense as believing Nielsen ratings. You don’t have to live in that old world of biased “guesses” any more. Now we live in a world where we can see website stats, YouTube views, and Google+ ripples. Also, the vast majority of people with disposable income spend more time on the Internet. They are more likely to make that purchase off the Internet after seeing an ad or reading a review from some place like


If I was consulting for one of these product companies that puts significant funds into magazine advertising, I would challenge them to try something new for six months: Try taking 50% of that money and put it into several hundred blogs, podcasts and review sites and measure the results. Cut the worst performers and find new ones.

Remember, I’m not doing this for the benefit of THIS particular blog; I’m doing this for the thousands of other bloggers out there that produce amazing content and have built up niche audiences that would be interested in your products. Advertise everywhere from Victor Cajiao’s blog to Scott Kelby’s blog to Ron Martinsen’s blog to Frederick Van’s blog to Catherine Hall’s blog to Thomas Hawk’s blog to Jim Goldstein’s blog to Olaf Bathke’s blog to Alex Koloskov’s blog to Kyle Marquardt’s blog to Scott Jarvie’s blog to Scott Bourne’s blog to Darren Rowse’s DPS blog and so on and so on… The future of marketing is not with paper magazines with biased outdated measurement techniques; the future of marketing is tied to trusted individual voices with measurable web properties that are experts and care deeply about their audiences.

What do you think?

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