Journalist Q&A: John Newlin, Livingly Media

John Newlin, group editor-in-chief of Livingly Media, talks to Sarah Shearman about strategies for digital titles and how online publishers are embracing native-advertising concepts.

John Newlin, group editor-in-chief of Livingly Media, talks to Sarah Shearman about strategies for digital titles and how online publishers are embracing native-advertising concepts.

John Newlin

Group editor-in-chief

Livingly Media - Zimbio, Lonny, and StyleBistro
Preferred contact

How have you been able to grow audiences across your sites?

We learned a valuable lesson in May 2010. We had become reliant on very few streams of entrance and then Google changed its search algorithm.

We knew it could have a dramatic impact on the business. Now, we have entrances from social media, organic search, Google News, direct navigation, marketing channels, and content partnerships.

What devices do your readers consume content on?
There has been a big surge in mobile on the iPhone, Android, and tablets. Mobile is on fire. My take is that half of all Americans now have smartphones, so technology has caught up with ambition.

How have you adapted your digital strategy to account for this growth in mobile readership?

We built a low-scale photo app and a tablet reader, but poured most of our resources into mobilizing our websites.

We have built them with responsive design, so the websites behave like an app.

From an editorial perspective we are not creating content specifically for mobile, but are making our sites faster and redesigning aspects of navigation. We're relying on the technology to do the heavy lifting.

With content overload on the Web, how do you make yours stand out?
We have editors that are passionate about the subject matter they are writing about.

You can't hire an editor to write about food that wants to cover fashion - it comes off as unauthentic. This is more obviously the case now than five or 10 years ago.

Now, there is so much content. People are smart and can see right through your content if it is not coming from an authentic place. We have evolved beyond the notion of quantity over quality.

What is your social media strategy?
It varies from title to title. A few years ago, we were trying to harness the power of Facebook, but now we are not so focused on getting traffic from it and treat the platform as an extension of our brand.

Facebook knows how to keep traffic on its site and we have been getting quite a bit of traffic from Pinterest during the past 15 to 18 months. Pinterest is now our number one social media referrer on Lonny and StyleBistro, and for the latter, Pinterest is bigger than Facebook and Twitter combined. Social media allows us to pull the curtain and show readers a different, less formal, side of the brands and editors.

What are you doing with video?
Right now, it is not something we are investing in heavily. It is important, but the interest in pre-roll video has waned.

The time you spend on a website is different now compared to five years ago. If you have to watch a 30- or 60- second ad in order to watch a video on a site, the pay-off better be there - if it isn't, then it is infuriating.

We use video strategically, but we are not doing it at scale. But if you ask me this question again in two weeks that could have all changed.

Online publishers are increasingly embracing native advertising - what is your position on the subject?
There is definitely an opportunity for us with native advertising. It is very exciting.

This is one of the reasons I moved to New York from California. For a company of our size - we have about 50 people - it really levels the playing field and allows us to compete with big media brands.

In this new world, you cannot have walls between partners to be successful. Now, we work together to solve the same problem, which is how to please both the readers and advertisers.

In November we launched a sponsored-galleries, native-advertising product in partnership with Saks Off 5th to integrate promotional content across our sites.

What are your next major initiatives?
We are going to be focusing on the editorial side of the business. We have done things backward, because at first, we focused on proprietary stuff, such as building a solid Web architecture, because we are a technology-driven media organization.

During the next 12 months, we will build new templates and experiences.

We recently launched a personality-quiz feature and are working on several additional features all geared toward helping our editors tell interesting and engaging stories on desktop and mobile.

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