web hosting media

Keith Duncan of Ping! Zine: I’m Always Looking To Do Better

Posted by hosttycoon On May - 17 - 2012

Keith Duncan is a publisher of the longest running print magazine in the hosting industry – Ping! Zine. I know him from one of the web hosting conferences I attended, I don’t remember which one actually. He looks serious, but at the same time is an easygoing guy, who takes time to talk to anyone, during those IT gatherings. He listens to you and my impression is that he’s always ready to help if he could. I’ve met other people involved in publishing in different media niches and industries and I can tell you that most of them speak to others with the sole purpose to sell. Keith looks quite different. If you need him to do something for you, he’d do it. I have always thought of talking to him and publishing an interview in B10WH. Here he is!

Hi Keith, in our previous conversations I’ve never asked you how did you enter the publishing business. It is a good time to tell me how did you start?

I have been in the publishing and print industry since the 1980’s, long before the Internet. We had a company that produced gaming modules and marketing for clients.

Did you do any printed media or magazines at the time?

We designed a mini-magazine for a client and produced our own newsletters. Mainly we were involved in other marketing areas dealing with print.

When you look back, can you say how did print industry changed within the last 20 years. Was the change driven by the Internet? Was a generational change or it affected readers of all ages?

The print industry was affected and changed by each in different ways. One leading to another, creating a domino effect. The economy affected the print industry with constantly rising prices on paper. The advent of email raised prices on mailing. With many magazine companies struggling, a lot of publishers looked to online as the answer and gave up on print too early. Magazines are geared to certain ever-changing demographics and if you do not continue to evolve with your demographics, you lose site of your objectives and eventually fail too. Staying on top of the evolution cycle has kept us in business.

Why did the publishers go online? Just to cut the expenses or to explore and use Internet as a new way to grow their audiences and to profit?

Most did it to cut expenses. Others did it because they thought it was a quick buck… and hastily threw stuff online. In the beginning, the technology wasn’t ready for true online magazines. Even now, it is in its infancy.

Why, please explain. I think that with all those tablets, the publishers or newspapers and magazines can finally come to something very different, than the standard desktop website editions?

With the iPad, Nook and Kindle, the options for digital magazines is actually becoming a reality. Many publishers are shooting themselves in the proverbial foot by taking their print magazine and just uploading it. The font is too small, the content is too much and it is not an enjoyable product for digital. You really have to understand both industries to do it correctly.

HostingTech is a fine example. They knew everything about the Internet and nothing about printing. So by overspending needlessly, they went out of business. You have to design for the medium. Our Digital magazines have separate content than our print magazine, with different designs and options. And as technology grows, we will adapt with it.

But you can finally make a story as long as it needs to be without complying with the limitations that come with the print. At the same time, one would add any kind of related content. Are you happy that people move from PCs to tablets?

Very happy. A print magazine is still a necessity in the fact that people want a product they can take with them to the park or even the bathroom to read. Laptops are too cumbersome and when I added a PC in the office bathroom, they weren’t reading magazines with it. There have been many ebook readers available in the past and a text version of Ping! Zine was downloadable for each format. But the early generation readers all failed until the iPad launched. We have seen a lot of success with our iPad digital versions

When did you launch Ping!Zine and was it the first magazine that covered IT hosting industry?

Launching Ping! Zine was a major chaotic time in our lives.


I got into the hosting business because our clients wanted websites and hosting for along with their other marketing needs. I enjoyed reading Web Host Magazine by Isabel Wang and HostingTech. Towards the end of 2002, Isabel decided to shelve the print version, going for more of a news site and little did i know, HostingTech was about to go completely belly up.

Based on mine and my partners publishing backgrounds, we thought we could pick up where Isabel left off by providing a fun hosting magazine to compete with the serious HostingTech and development was underway. Isabel even came on board in the beginning, with tremendous advice and friendship. We were 75% into the development when all of the sudden HostingTech employees announced they had been locked out of their offices and the magazine was shut down…

What do we do now when we were going to present ourselves as the competition to something that no longer existed.

Wasn’t something you needed to deal with at the start of a new project?

After bouncing around the idea of going with a more serious tone, we found out that Robert Marsh had bought the rights to HostingTech and knowing him, he would have changed it into a fun styled magazine. We felt defeated before we ever got to launch. But we were too committed and crazy to stop now and launched the first issue early 2003.

Did I mention Robert hired Isabel with the idea of her running HostingTech?

No! You didn’t!?

Rather than stepping in place to fill a void, it looked like we were going to compete with an already captured audience. Robert also bought WebHostingTalk and a few other properties at the time too.

Well, needless to say, Robert didn’t launch the revised HostingTech of Web Host Magazine and we were able to corner the market for a brief time. Thereafter we became very established and a leader in readership. That is the chaos I referred to…

Who’s reading Ping! Zine. Can you share any demographic data? Is the audience the same as it was within the first year after you’ve launch it?

The audience has evolved and expanded over the years.

Sure, but did it changed and how? Did most of the readers from the first years still with you, still subscribers?

We have never been strictly a web hosting news magazine. Our content has been has been about technology, hosting, design, and even gaming. Once we launched a quality digital magazine, we gained a new audience, interested in the technical articles and such. We have many of the same readers but have lost many to the same reason. The reason i got yesterday from an unsubscriber… let me get that

“Jonothan R. : Can you remove my name and company name from the magazine subscription? I know longer in the industry?”.

Over the years I have seen many companies fail, grow and be bought out. What was once a bunch of kids creating control panels and web hosting services in their parent’s basements is now a multi-billion dollar business, run by executives and college educated staff.

Do the readers and subscribers loose interest over the publication, if they exit the industry?

They lose interest over the hosting and tech industry in general. The largest provider of dedicated hosting services now operates and real estate investment company. Some are looking for the next big thing, others just suffer from burnout. The hosting industry is truly a 24/7 job. I remember doing 48 hour shifts when our servers were hacked.

You mean the founder of EV1 and RackShack?

Ha-ha, no names are mentioned or animals harmed during this interview.

You have already did it anyway!?

Gabe created iNet and when he sold to Troy, he became a major real estate investor.

Fine. Let’s continue talk about Ping! Zine. Do you know which are the best performing ads published in the pint edition? Is it hardware, software or service providers?

The great thing about a magazine is the banner doesn’t expire. When you buy an online ad banner, you need to capture that instant ROI but with a magazine, you get your product in their face multiple times and when the potential client needs it, they remember your name. Opening an old or new copy of a magazine is a lot quicker than going to a web site and hoping to see that certain banner again.

Because our readers aren’t just owners of hosting companies, they need to know about quality hosting plans tooл our readers may not need your services immediately, but they will need them and we create a long term marketing option for the sponsors to reach them… want to ask me why i call our advertisers sponsors?

Didn’t I asked already?

The only thing that keeps Ping! Zine alive, is out sponsors. Without them, we couldn’t stay in business and provide quality entertainment and education to our readership.

Sure, but why “Sponsor” sounds better than “Advertiser”?

Through their generous sponsorship, we can provide that and in return, get their names and products in the faces of our readers. We never just sell ads. We are constantly looking for “advertisers” with products our readers want. If it was about the money, i’d be in real estate investing.

Well. Are you saying the the market value of the Ping! Zine and the customers it drives to vendors and service providers isn’t enough? Or you just want to show appreciation to your advertisers and emphasize their importance?

We love Ping! Zine with a passion… show appreciation… meaning if it was about the money, we would be jamming each issue with nothing but ads offering every product under the sun.

You have used the word “real estate” business a couple of time during this interview. Don’t tell me you have never considered to move to this business?

LOL. If I had my real estate license when Hurricane Katrina hit us, I’d be a very wealthy individual. Property values around us doubled over night and demand was increasingly higher than supply. I was too busy trying to save my own company, while watching many of my peers close down for good. We were without power for months, our office ceilings were caved in, etc. We were able to survive and grow from that episode. Thanks to our sponsors and friends!

I understand that! Tell me is Ping! Zine best for consumers or for small-business owners or probably for larger companies?

It is best for the consumers, SMBs and employees of large companies. The mid to little guy.

All of them?

A: People who are running servers for their non-hosting related bosses, small to medium hosting and tech companies, and employees of large companies looking to get new information. We can’t educate the owner of a large company on how to grow his business when he is already at the top.

What kind of companies advertise most – hardware vendors, software apps and solution providers or service providers?

Hardware and software providers, Commerce, DDOS protection, Server support, Colocation facilities, etc.

How hard is to create good content in times that content depreciates very fast. Do you often see your publications copied?

I hope they at least reference us, and that makes us happy. For those that don’t, well us rednecks down south know how to deal with you when we find you. For those that don’t, well us rednecks down south know how to deal with you when we find you.

Isn’t it very expensive to send one overseas?

Very, that’s why our digital option is so appealing

Were you involved in any other niches of web hosting industry, except media publishing?

Yes, we were running a semi-successful web design and hosting company at the time.

Why did you decided to leave this business, Was it because you felt like you needed to do something you would do better… or just web design and hosting, especially web hosting is quite boring… ?

My background is in publishing, so it was natural to do this magazine… and i never left the hosting and web design industry. I still have a hosting and design company, mainly to keep me on my toes. What affects our readers, affects me too. I have to care about the industry, because I am still in it.

I saw cPanel bought a small Shared hosting provider to use it for testing. It is actually a good idea to have a business on the side, which could be used as a lab?

Yes, my feelings too

I have been always curious why the media in the web hosting industry are not critical to hosting providers and their business practices in a way that journalists do when it come to politics?

Personally Ping! Zine has always had a policy of looking for positive things on the tech/host industry to report about. We have covered things such as when The Planet data center caught on fire, but in a way to inform readers what was happening and what was being done. When something bad happens in the hosting industry, they cover it up well. Plus do you really care if hosting provider CEO “A” is sleeping with his assistant or whether he is taking care of the latest DDos attack?

We do cover any political items that affect our industry though.

Sure. But I didn’t see any web hosting media to say anything critical about Yahoo’s overselling or about other “Shared Hosts” that claim everything “unlimited”. There are many providers that mislead consumers and it is not like that the IT media would do anything to give publicity to such practices?. I’m just trying to understand why the IT journalists and writers look like they are always on the providers’ side by default, unlike political reporters who are always critical in their effort to protect the public interest… or maybe I’m wrong?

We covered overselling and “unlimited” issues many times in the beginning, but how many times do repeat yourselves?

So it pretty much depends on consumers’ judgement?
Yes, plus the fact that we run news related items on the website and article content in the publications. Breaking news in a magazine is old before it leaves the printers. We work on providing entertaining and educational articles in the magazines. A lot of our articles are worth reading a year from now.
Are you focusing on creating content and adapting the Ping!Zine for mobile readers?

That has always been our policy, always looking for good content and new ways to reach readers. Our digital issues have been a great success. We launched our iPad app last year.

Are you launching a version of the Ping! Zine website optimized for browsing on mobile devices?

Yes! The current website does well on multiple resizable formats but we are not happy with the cell phone veiwing, just yet. We are never completely satisfied with anything and always looking to do better.

Well This was a pretty much expected but a happy end of the interview?

Thanks for interviewing me. It was a blast!