by FOLIO: Staff

Digital magazines offer publishers and their advertisers a unique opportunity to engage their audience in the way they want to be served. But effectively using digital requires more on the part of publishers than simply pulling together an e-mail list or putting a sample up on the Web site;just because you’ve gone digital doesn’t mean anyone will automatically care.

Below is a list of common mistakes publishers have made with digital editions, and some suggested solutions. "There is a formula for print and we need to start developing a formula for online," says Marta Worhle, vice president of digital media at Hachette Filipacchi.

Failure To Provide Easy Access Some early versions of digital magazines require proprietary downloads before readers can use the system. Those systems have proven slow, cumbersome and in many cases, difficult to even use. Corporate firewalls often prevent such downloads. Early experiences with digital magazines that require downloads have soured some publishers, yet options are available from other vendors. "There are some platforms out there that are fairly proprietary and some publishers have really limited their opportunity to meet consumers because they’ve put up these roadblocks," says an executive at a major consumer magazine publisher. "Being exclusive prevents the opportunity for being best of breed."

Failure To Promote the Digital Edition The axiom "If you build it, they will come" doesn’t apply online. Users need to be aware that you have a digital edition and what it can do for them. Simply putting a few sample pages on your Web site won’t work. "We pushed house banner ads to let people know our digital version is out there," says the publisher of a small b-to-b magazine. "We came up with the catch-phrase: ムPaper or pixels, your choice.’ Our Web site is #1 for its terminology on Google and we also have bi-weekly e-newsletters going out to 16,000 people that heavily promote digital." Make sure potential subscribers can take action. "Some publishers will do a sample program but it doesn’t have much of a goal, or they’ll put up sample pages on the Web site flipping away for people to click on," adds a digital magazine vendor. "It’s okay to have a sample but needs to be a path that leads them to say, ムYes, I want to subscribe’ or get them to provide an e-mail address."

Failure to Add Value and Make Your Readers’ Lives Easier While search and quick links add value and make the readers’ lives easier, successful editions should do more. Archive access is one of the easiest and best ways to add value, and eliminates clutter and provides easy digital clipping and storage of information. One b-to-b publisher is using Texterity to digitize its archives going back to 1996. RSS notifications are a quick and easy way to extend your brand and give readers immediate updates, and rich media can significantly enhance the reader’s experience. "If I had a digital magazine that was truly searchable, it might work," says the publisher of a major technology magazine, under whelmed with his early experience with a system that requires proprietary downloads. Others advise publishers to avoid treating digital like print. "I like when digital magazines optimize the digital experience and don’t try for print metaphors," says one consumer publisher. "A print magazine displayed digitally is not the same as print. A rich media overlay is a highly interactive experience, instead of just putting little windows throughout."

Failure To Educate Your Salespeople and Advertisers

Digital editions enable publishers to sell sponsorships, blow-in ads, belly-bands and multimedia. But just because your advertisers have been clamoring for digital, don’t assume they’ll actually know what to do with it. "We were sold on digital and we thought advertisers would be up to speed on this, and even in front of us, but in fact they were behind us," says one b-to-b publisher. "It’s been an educational process to teach them about the additional functionality and feedback they can get. We put together specs with Texterity and went out to advertisers and people come back to us saying, ムWe love this but can we pay your art department to do it?’ At first it was like pulling teeth to get advertisers to put links in but a year later we have had to put together flash specs because a lot of our regular print advertisers now say they want to look into animation."

Failure to Commit It’s easy to experiment online because the costs are relatively low and if something doesn’t work, it’s easily removed (unlike in print). But if publishers really expect a digital magazine to work for them, they need to devote time and resources to it, and fully research their obligation, including costs. "A lot of publishers get to the point where they’re committed to doing a digital magazine and it comes down to whether there’s the necessary investment in photo rights," says one consumer publisher. "There have been circumstances when magazine was enthusiastic about doing a digital version but when they understand the total cost;including acquiring photo rights;they decided to wait. People see something and say that’s kind of cool, but don’t think through the implications. If you can’t commit to it, you should spend your energies elsewhere.