by FOLIO: Staff

One publisher’s advice for getting a successful digital edition off the ground.

With one-third of its 58,000 subscribers based outside the U.S. in more than 160 countries, VON Publishing faced a serious dilemma. "It got to be an incredible customer service nightmare," says vice president and general manager Maury Kauffman. "I was mailing to Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, and every country in Africa. If you can’t get an issue to someone who wants it, especially after they’ve paid for it, it’s a problem."

Sending a digital version was the obvious solution but how to do it?

VON first weighed creating one internally versus through an outside vendor. "We quickly realized that the most sophisticated thing we could do internally was create a PDF, that wasn’t nearly sophisticated enough," says Kauffman.

Many publishers have decided they need to do a digital version but are stymied by how to proceed. VON;which stands for Voice and Video on the Net;needed to define its subscriber requirements. "Our subscribers are some of the most technologically sophisticated people in the world, unfortunately," laughs Kauffman. "Therefore, they told us they could not download a viewer or any kind of software onto their desktop to view our magazine. That was absolutely critical." Any vendor that forced readers to download a viewer got crossed off the list. "It didn’t matter if they gave it to us for free, if that’s the way their system was set up, we weren’t interested," says Kauffman.

VON then spent several months putting together a spreadsheet of digital magazine vendors and their features and began asking for client references. "We weren’t so interested in the references the vendors were giving out," says Kauffman. "You can certainly use Google to find out who’s doing the magazines."

Ultimately, the deciding factor for Kauffman wasn’t so much the features but the business-focused solutions. "The feature sets matched up pretty closely between vendors and we were so new to this that I wasn’t sure what we needed or didn’t need beyond the viewer issue," says Kauffman. "The one thing that pushed me toward Texterity was when I asked them ムHow can you help me with my business, how can you help me generate income from this,’ and they gave me all sorts of ideas."

Revenue-generating suggestions included digital blow-in cards and selling sponsorships for the e-mail notifications of the digital editions. "These are easy things to do and it sounds like you should know to do them automatically, but we didn’t know to do them automatically because this was so new," says Kauffman.

Today, VON sends digital issues to 14,000 subscribers and, in the first year alone, saved more than $10,000 a year and a tremendous amount of time on the customer service side. Kauffman counsels other publishers looking at digital magazines to think through the pricing models. "There are different pricing models in the industry and you have to decide what works best for you," he adds. "I’m growing my international circulation by 500 new subscribers per month and my incremental costs are nothing as compared to print. There are other people whose circulation is considerably smaller than mine, therefore their cost-per-subscriber would be much higher. You need to think about which model works and push that with your vendor."