A stunning decision by one of Britain’s top publishing companies provides a perfect example of how not to use the Internet. The Hearst Digital Network is closing down several web sites of magazines published by the National Magazine Company. The magazines that are to lose their own web sites include Good Housekeeping and Country Living – two of Britain’s top sellers.

According to New Media Age magazine which broke this story, the decision to scrap several magazine web sites is because the company “needs to recognise that there are only so many brands it can make a success of online”. So, in order to do that they are relaunching “Allaboutyou” which is currently the online version of She magazine. But this relaunch will see the site include editorial content from She mixed in with material from Country Living, Good Housekeeping and Coast magazines. In other words, the Allaboutyou site will be trying to serve several different audiences all at the same time. Recognise any problems with that as a strategy?

At the same time as this about-turn on Internet strategy, the web site teams and the magazine teams are to be merged; so people working on a print edition will also be dealing with an online publication. And that’s rather like asking your plumber to do the electrics.

Online, people simply want an instant answer to the information problem they have at that moment in time. Branding is not even a secondary issue for online readers. However, in the print market, branding becomes a more important issue. We make decisions differently in the physical world to the way we do online. Guess what my prediction is? Next year they’ll re-launch their magazine web sites as separate sites – or they’ll give up the Internet altogether as a bad job, leaving a lovely gap in the online marketplace for some enterprising kid in a California bedroom to sweep up the millions they leave behind them.

So why are they making a huge mistake, in my view? They, like many companies, fail to consider the way people behave online. They expect us to behave online in the same way as we do in the “old media” world – and we don’t. We take one subject we want to know about and read about it in several different places, all at the same time. We do not take one favourite “brand” and use it for all our subjects of interest, as we do in print. For example, faithful readers of She magazine will scour each issue for stories on fashion, health, relationships and so on. But online, those readers will take their fashion interest at that specific moment in time and read about it in several different places. The brand is not important, the information is. By worrying about their brands, this is a retrograde move by Hearst Digital.

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