first_imgWhen Wenner Media plucked Steve Schwartz last December from Reader’s Digest to be its new chief digital officer, Gawker took a swipe at Schwartz’s previous company, facetiously referring to it as “that bastion of online innovation.”  However, Schwartz’s successor, acting general manager Jonathan Hills, and his team are working to change that perception of Reader’s Digest as a legacy print brand. He’s having some success: in June, monthly uniques to ReadersDigest.com rose 82 percent to 2.5 million while page views shot up 105 percent to 12.2 million, compared to 1.4 million uniques and 5.9 million page views in June 2008. Building off a redesign last year, Hills said the goal was to take the site from something basic to a robust presence. “At the top of the list was turning ReadersDigest.com into a meaningful destination site,” Hills told FOLIO:. “That meant offering engaging content that brings people back every day.”  That includes creating accessible, quick-hit content and pushing it out through viral channels such as Digg and Twitter. One of the top performing Reader’s Digest stories of the past year was  “13 Things Your Waiter Won’t Tell You,” which the RD team pushed out to different outlets, driving significant traffic to the site. ReadersDigest.com is also seeing a bump from folding in content from former stand-alone sites such as The Family Handyman.  Carving an Online IdentityHills said his team works closely with the print editorial group but that the focus needs to be less on the platform and more on the idea. “It really comes down to how content is packaged and how it’s positioned,” he adds. “We may take a story from the magazine that works great as a three or four-page story and repackage it online as a slideshow or video clip because that works much better for the online audience.”  “As a publishing company, there’s an inherent expectation that the Web site should be a companion to the magazine,” he added. “We’ve pushed the idea that in order to grow we need to create our own identity online. That doesn’t mean we have to be a completely different entity but we need some freedom to not replicate the magazine on the Web. That’s never going to produce any kind of growth for us or anyone else.” Working with the audience development group on SEO, social media and newsletter initiatives is a priority as well. “That’s empowering our growth rather than spending $100 million on a big ad campaign,” Hills said.  Next up is transforming the Reader’s Digest brand into a multi-platform experience. “We’re focusing on video,” says Hills. “Much of our content is perfectly suited for it, and it’s highly monetizeable. We’re looking at mobile carefully and we’ll see action there this year whether it’s on the iPhone or another device. One of our key concepts is to present people with quick, concise content on different platforms. That’s a big push over the next six to 12 months.”last_img

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