The Digital Magazine Frontier
When the internet rose to become a ubiquitous part of American life, it was not hard to envision the rise of digital magazines. In a world where information is only a mouse-click away, digital magazines represent another milestone in the digital frontier. But what makes a digital magazine work and why is it the best format for many readers?
To answer these questions, we need to understand why readers value digital magazines and how digital edition formats have evolved. Distributing issues via PDF was the first digital magazine format. Unfortunately, this format largely failed because the large files are often blocked by firewalls, the reader experience lacks numerous features and publishers want more flexibility to add exciting content. Standalone software applications were the next generation of digital magazines. These provided a nice reading experience for those people brave enough to weather the involved installation process, frowning disapproval from their system administrators for installing non-standard software on their computers and the inevitable crashes as the reader software conflicted with other applications.
Today, browser-based digital magazines are the rule because they pose little risk to networks, provide high quality graphics, are instant availability and have numerous value-added features. Browser-based digital magazine applications use any standard web browser so readers, and potential readers, can access the magazine with one simple mouse-click. This is the most flexible viewing method and enables publishers to use digital in creative ways.
Digital magazines have grown rapidly because they enable many readers to be more productive and to easily connect with advertisers. Most readers love linked URLs, email addresses, and page jumps because they make each issue into a highly efficient personal portal. The ability to easily search all back issues, connect more effectively with linked advertising offers and to have reader service forms that automatically pre-populate the subscriber's contact information, are some of the powerful productivity tools that digital editions provide.
For the sake of this comparison, we are focusing on the more flexible browser-based digital magazine environments. Some digital publishing partners can create a vivid digital edition that provides readers with an exact digital version of the printed edition with the same text, graphics, design, and page layout. However, under the covers, the browser-based magazine is represented in rich XML, incorporating key page information, document structure, and a powerful search database.
With a web-based page view, readers are not required to install cumbersome software to view a digital magazine. There is no screen name or password required; the user's e-mail provides a unique identification. This "no-download" solution reaches more potential readers than competitive products since many organizations do not allow the installation of additional software. Only a browser is required, so magazines can be read on virtually any type of computer. For subscribers, digital editions arrive quicker, are environmentally-friendly and are more cost-effective for international consumers.
Digital magazines have evolved and continue to evolve to meet readers' needs. Here are some of the advantages of digital editions:
Immediate access and timely information
Digital editions can reduce production and distribution schedule by several weeks. With news and information available almost instantly on the internet, digital magazines enable publishers to compete more effectively with even more timely information. Furthermore, digital editions are a push format, conveniently delivering information to a reader's inbox at regular intervals.
Depending on how each publisher chooses to provide access, browser-based digital magazines can be accessed by an email link or from a web site. With email distribution, publishers email a link for each issue to readers. Readers simply use the link to access the magazine - no passwords or screen names are required.
Unlike a PDF that requires users to download the entire file, even if they only want to view one article, a browser-based application allows them to access the article in seconds, with no downloading delay. In addition, the browser-based application offers a simple, flexible control strip at the top of the magazine, while the PDF reader displays an array of windows, menus, toolbars and other controls that clutter the users' screens. Many readers find that the multiple PDF control menus limit their viewing of the magazine and make a 2-page view unpleasant. The majority of readers simply want to read their magazine with a simple navigation bar and they report finding the multiple PDF tool bars distracting.
Digital search and storage functionality
Digital editions enable search capabilities that range from single documents to all documents in a collection. Many readers clip articles for reference and then spend considerable time sorting and filing the paper copies. With digital editions, readers can search the archives online for all relevant information and, if the publisher allows, download and save the issue. Readers save time and reduce clutter. Another time-saving features is the easy-click index that allows users to click directly to the article rather than flipping through the pages.
Digital editions are environmentally friendly. They save the paper, ink and energy used in the printing process and eliminate the paper magazine that eventually has to be recycled or disposed-of in landfills.
Most publishers allow readers to share the digital edition with friends or colleagues. A reader can quickly share an interesting article via email with co-workers or friends. This is especially beneficial for managers who can now immediately forward an interesting article to their entire group.
Readers can receive "instant fulfillment" of their subscription, since a publisher can provide a digital issue as soon as a membership or subscription request is approved. Subscriber no longer have to wait the six to eight weeks needed to fulfill a print subscription when the digital delivery option can immediately provide the reader with the current issue. Instant fulfillment boosts customer satisfaction and reduces the costs for both publishers and readers.
Digital editions provide an integrated usage system that enables editors to understand which articles are of interest to their readers. By understanding which articles or columns readers prefer, editors can tailor their magazines to reflect readers' preferences.
Stored viewing preferences
Readers can select their viewing preferences from zoom, single page or two-page spread and more. In addition, readers can choose to have the reader remember their preferences, so their digital magazine is always displayed exactly as they prefer.
Digital editions enable magazine to provide multilmedia enhacements such as embedded video and sound to provide subscribers with additional value-added features. These enhancements are commonly used as a full or partial page that plays automatically upon viewing or via a play-on-demand approach that enables users to choose what multimedia content to view.
Improved international delivery
Delivering printed magazines to international subscribers requires an expensive shipping surcharge for express delivery, or readers receive their information several weeks after domestic subscribers. With digital magazines, international readers can now receive their digital magazine instantly and at a much lower cost than the printed version.
Streamlined subscription renewals
Another benefit of digital editions is simplified online subscription or membership renewals. Publishers can add a link to the menu bar for membership/subscription renewals so readers can renew quickly and efficiently.
With the increase of blog use, publishers can also select to add a blog button to the articles or to the main menu bar so users can link directly to a blog for the magazine or the individual article. With this quick link, readers can immediately blog about an article after they read it.
With a host of options and benefits that are exclusive to browser-based digital reader technologies, digital magazine provide numerous enhancements and options that cannot be provided via a PDF or a website. Digital editions combine the high quality content and images of a printed magazine with the advantages of digital media. In today's information-age where efficiency and multi-tasking reign supreme, the convergence of these two media provides readers with another way to streamline their time commitments, while ensuring that they stay up-to-date on industry news and events.
Martin Hensel has worked in electronic publishing for 20 years and is widely known for his expertise in developing innovative publishing programs and platforms. He is president and CEO of Texterity, Inc. (www.texterity.com), the fastest-growing provider of systems and services for the creation, delivery, and tracking of digital editions of magazines. The company serves a wide range of publishers in the consumer and trade categories, including PennWell, Dow Jones & Co., Time, Inc., CondĂ© Nast, Hearst Magazines, Penton Media, CMP, Ziff Davis Media, and IDG. It is privately held and headquartered in Southborough, MA.