by Marrecca Fiore

Custom publishing is booming and it’s not just limited to print. VNU’s Progressive Grocer designed custom Web sites for Anheuser-Busch that supply beer lovers with a variety of news and information, and give the client a format to promote its products."We’re in a market that is not traditionally ready for the digital age," publisher Judith Princz said at a recent ABM event. "But my company is very ready for digital and we can connect in a variety of ways."

Primedia recently designed a micro-site for Ford Motor Co. that combines promos for the Ford Expedition with content from Primedia’s outdoors group. "We work with Ford and their agency on what type of content would be best for a site like this," explains David Fireman, director of business development for the outdoors group. "Then we reach out to all our publications. We have a huge event content component and we also tap into our video capabilities."

Custom publishers of all stripes;both within existing companies and boutique firms;are finding that Web sites often are cheaper to build than a custom print publication, costing somewhere in the high four-figure or low five-figure range to build, say those who design them. "The use of interactive is a cost-effective medium in which one can get extremely relevant and contextual," says Redwood Custom Communications CEO Eric Schneider, whose company sees about 15 percent of its overall custom publishing business come from custom Web-site development.

Cost Comparison
"You’re going to pay the same amount for the content whether it’s in print or online," says Craig Waller, chief management officer for Pace Communications. "Our way of making money is through our design and editorial expertise, so that’s not going to change regardless of the method of delivery. It just happens to be more expensive to put that content in print because of the printing costs, which get passed along to the client."

For a publisher like Primedia, a micro-site or custom Web site could be offered as an add-on value to a package purchased by an advertiser. "It’s a multiplatform program," Firemen says. "There’s an editorial component, a video component, an events component, so it’s all those built together that determine what the cost will be. If it’s an add-on, it could be free. But it also could be very expensive."

Still, advertisers should first make sure they have an online audience before launching a site, said Waller, whose company recently designed a site for outdor apparel manufacturer The North Face.

Unlike a magazine, a Web site can’t be dropped in someone’s mailbox so there must be a way to get people to the site. "They’ve got to be online and their customers need to be online," he says. "In North Face’s case, they had a reasonable acquisition of e-mail addresses. They had a lot of existing Web site traffic and they have a very loyal customer base. And they thought this would be a great way to communicate with them."