Forget the digital facsimile of print. Today’s digital magazines offer much more in the way of specialized benefits.

Financial Engineering News is the epitome of "new media transformation." The publication has enjoyed a tremendous jump in overall global readership;thanks to a booming digital-only reader base that leapt from zero to 8,500 over the past year. "We’ve gone up 50 percent and in my mind that’s due to the fact that we’re now reaching a true global audience and we’re making it available to everyone," says publisher Jim Finnegan. "That wouldn’t be possible without the digital version."

While some publishers are attempting a full conversion from print to digital (United Publications made its free regional parenting magazines digital in spring 2005, enthusiast publisher Bridles & Bit made the switch in December 2006), digital magazines in their current form have so far only enjoyed pockets of success as a complete replacement for print. Digital editions have become part of the core lineup for b-to-b publishers, from driving circulation to offering targeted content to providing actual feedback on advertising performance. They are also gaining ground as a circulation-building tool for consumer magazines. "Digital magazines work well as a technical tool for sampling, promotion, for renewals and for first copy delivery," says Peter Meirs, director of alternative media at Time Inc.

Targeted Content and Delivery

Many publishers are leveraging digital editions as a way to get timely and targeted content to select audiences faster than in print. UK-based ideomag is a digital music magazine that let’s readers choose the music categories that interest them, and then get content devoted specifically to those categories. That tactic has special appeal on the b-to-b side. VNU’s Hollywood Reporter is phasing out its print newsletters in favor of digital versions that can reach key readers faster and more reliably than print.

For Financial Engineering News, digital is where customers want the content. "Our audience is tech savvy and they spend a lot of time in front of the computer," says Finnegan. "For them, digital is good fit between where they’re located and how they work, and it’s an easy channel to get their attention. If people read print, they’ll read it on a plane, the train or maybe take it home. Digital is a much more effective way to reach them at their desks. Most of the time they’re hooked into monitors."

Rather than follow the typical magazine department format, many publishers are anticipating using digital versions to send the most relevant content. "I don’t think there will be print magazines at all in five years," says Gloria Adams, senior vice president of audience development at PennWell. "It will be all bits and bites."

Reaching New Readers;And Saving the Day Digital magazines allow publishers to reach readers more reliably and affordably than print. The Hollywood Reporter paid $7 per copy to have its print newsletters delivered to entertainment executives who needed that information before the start of their work week;but could never could be sure if the issue really got there. While Financial Engineering News’ readership was historically based in the major money markets of the world;New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong;"It was prohibitively expensive to mail internationally," says Finnegan. However, delivery of the digital edition costs about 30 cents compared to $3 to $5 dollars per print copy, he adds. Bridles & Bit saw production and mailing costs shrink from $30,000 in print to about $300.

Digital is also enabling publishers to expand their reader base. "In addition to allowing us to reach international readers more cost effectively, it’s also opened up huge markets for us in China and India," says Finnegan. "There’s huge interest in our subject in emerging economies but we never accepted subscriptions to places like China and India, partly because of the cost, but also because you were never sure of delivery. In some of these emerging economies, they’re more developed than developed economies in terms of things like high speed Internet, which makes a digital magazine a perfect fit."

Few examples of digital saving the day are as dramatic (or as literal) as when the CommunicAsia conference was cancelled because of the SARS epidemic in 2003. Advanstar Communication’s Telecom Asia faced a potential loss of more than $200,000 in revenue from the show dailies.

The publisher went ahead and produced five digital versions of the dailies, which drove thousands of page views for sponsors and salvaged more than $60,000, recouping about 25 percent of the originally booked business.

The Multimedia Solution

The static "landscape" version of digital magazines has produced the best results when used as a companion to print, as a circulation-building tool and to reduce costs or improve customer service for international subscribers. But the evolving model is now offering some intriguing opportunities for publishers and their advertisers with rich media. "We’ve able to get a higher CPM with video," says Jason Pontin, publisher of Technology Review. "Advertisers rightly or wrongly assume there’s a higher intensity of interaction with the reader."

Financial Engineering News has used rich media to make its content come alive in its digital version, particularly as a live introduction to its columnists. The actual columns are featured just as they are in print but with a button that readers can click on to see a two-minute introduction from the writer. "It’s almost like being back in the classroom with someone saying, ムHere are the key points to take away from this column,’" says Finnegan. "It’s been wonderful. Video and animation on the edit side are great tools to take people who are extremely busy and give them on-the-job education. That interactive learning is probably the next step for publications like us."

Time Inc. has had huge success with converting the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition to a digital version, complete with rich media. "There are consumer expectations with the digital model," says Meirs. "They expect they can search the issue, that they can play with rich media. Advertisers like having the ability to convey more information, being able to run some sort of flash that may make the reader more interested in spending time with that ad. It’s really about the multimedia opportunity and the connection to editorial content."

Custom Digital While print display advertising continues to sag, custom publishing is booming and publishers are making the most of it with digital. Marta Worhle, vice president of digital media at Hachette Filipacchi, says that Woman’s Day was able to create digital editions of its Countdown to the Holidays recipe program for Unilever in a much more cost-effective way for the advertiser than in print.

A single-issue sponsor is pricy in print but affordable and effective in a digital magazine. An advertiser could send an article or entire issues with content they think is relevant to their constituency and include a link to the advertiser’s landing page. "The technology has evolved to the point where readers can go directly into an article from a link in an email or on a website," says Meirs. "An automotive advertiser could see an article that mentions their brand and, in partnership with the publisher, send a link to the digital issue to prospects on their mailing list. The person receiving the link could read the article as well as everything appearing before and after the article."

Are You Ready To Go Digital? Advertisers have demanded more information on advertising performance and with digital magazines they can get it. In a case of "be careful what you wish for," that’s a scary proposition for some publishers and advertisers. For others, it’s an essential tool in re-defining themselves as a publisher. "Advertisers appreciate the fact that when they run an ad, they can measure the effectiveness and clicks," says Finnegan. "We can go to the control center at Texterity a week or month after the digital edition has been sent, and say ムThe page where your ad ran had this many people look at it, and here’s the average time they spent on it.’"

And as digital editions gain popularity with readers, they gain more traction with advertisers. "Early this year we only had 2,000 subscribers," says Finnegan. "Now as we move toward 10,000 subscribers, advertisers are saying ムOK, this is not just a fad, this is for real.’"