When the website for men's magazine Maxim launched eight years ago, its architects didn't know everything. They tried offering e-mail, message boards, greeting cards. Didn't take. A site available just to subscribers of the magazine? Didn't take. "We killed all of that. We realized we had to be simpler," says Gene Newman, Maxim's digital editor in chief, who has been with the company since 1999. By focusing on the basics -- photos, video, text -- Maxim.com found its voice and its audience.
That initial experimentation has paid off, and now Maxim.com considers itself "the ultimate guy's guide," says Douglas Warshaw, chief digital officer for Maxim Digital, which also includes Stuffmagazine.com and Blender.com. "We've moved from a world of gatekeepers to a world of guides. There's so much stuff to read, so many things to get through. People want to know how they can get there quickly and efficiently," he adds. Between 2006 and 2007, the number of unique visitors to all three of Maxim Digital's sites increased by 15%. As of January 2008, the average visitor spends nearly 20 minutes on Maxim's website, as compared with nearly five minutes on CondeNet, according to Nielsen NetViews.
Mr. Warshaw emphasizes the importance to a digital evolution of spotting innate talent. And if that seems like an obvious point -- sort of like suggesting that one should always choose a restaurant that serves good food over one that doesn't -- he stresses that, contrary to popular belief, talent in the online world must come with a healthy dose of restraint. "People think a website is infinitely flexible, but it requires discipline," Mr. Warshaw says. "A key challenge is focus. Every day somebody out there on the web is doing something else, and you can't just be jumping around trying to do everything."
More often than not, the site culls new hires from the ranks of its interns, whom Mr. Newman watches closely for both ability and versatility. "We've gone through a ton of people to get the right mix," admits Mr. Newman. New hires need not be fresh-faced 20-somethings, but they must be adept at thinking on their feet and able to respond to rapid industry changes. "This isn't a teaching hospital," Mr. Newman says. "The site is always live."
As the website of New York magazine celebrates its 10th anniversary, its chief goal remains audacious: to be the ultimate authority on New York and how New York sees the world. And you can forgive publisher Larry Burstein if he speaks of the magazine's digital presence with an unabashed sense of pride. A full 20% of the company's revenue now comes from the digital side; the site receives five million unique visitors per month; and the digital staff has increased by 200% in the last two years.
"That's a phenomenon that people have to pay attention to," Mr. Burstein says. So when the company looks for new hires to aid its digital evolution, one of the most important criteria is an understanding of how those kinds of numbers alter the marketplace. "This is more than taking the magazine and shoveling it online. It's a whole different science," he says.
The website's steady growth has garnered significant interest within the company; a core group of employees moved to the digital side from the print side. To supplement that migration the magazine has looked outside company walls to bolster both the content and the sales sides, keeping in mind the necessity for a hybrid point of view from new hires. "We no longer look for people who are simply just web. We look for people who understand the marketplace, how people are getting information, what advertisers need and how they can put it together between the magazine and the website," Mr. Burstein says.
When Time magazine launched its redesigned website in January 2007, Time.com General Manager John Cantarella likened the first year to getting to base camp. He and his crew wanted to establish the site as a daily news destination. "It's a really crowded news space. We want to be on people's circuits when they're out there surfing the news -- we want to be part of the conversation," Mr. Cantarella says.
It's safe to say Time.com has not only arrived at base camp but has begun a rapid ascent to the summit. The digital presence enjoyed revenue growth of 400% from 2006 to 2007, and Mr. Cantarella attributes a lot of the site's success to the company's commitment to building a top-notch digital sales team. "We needed to take the time to do that, and to do it well," he says. Seventy-five percent of the digital sales team came from outside, and 25% moved over from the print side and learned how to sell online. "Because we do integrated sales, we had to make sure we had folks who really understand how to sell the Time brand," he says.
Time.com offers a big chunk of content that doesn't appear in the magazine -- 75% of it is original to the website -- and that meant that existing editorial staff also had to evince a great deal of dexterity. "We talk about it in terms of fluency. Everyone is fluent in both print and online," Mr. Cantarella says. "A lot of folks that write a weekly column in the magazine write daily for the website." When it comes to finding new talent, Mr. Cantarella points to a favorite adage of Time.com Managing Editor Josh Tyrangiel: "Fish where the fish are." So the company uses sites such as Craigslist, Facebook and LinkedIn, along with more traditional networking tools.
Moving forward, Mr. Cantarella says, Time.com's challenge lies is remaining fast and nimble while still managing expectations. "If we try to boil the ocean, we're never going to succeed," he says. "We're not afraid to fail. We may launch 10 things, and if two of them take off, we'll let the other eight go."