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Digital-Only Magazines Can Bring New Life and a New Strategy to Print Brands that No Longer Thrive

But is the loss of print as an impediment to understanding the opportunities?



By Jane E. Zarem
04/02/2008

Digital-only magazines are not common. Many of those that are popping up are custom publications or special sponsored issues that are produced as brand extensions of their print equivalents—often replacing promotional e-mail newsletters. Hachette’s Elle partnered with Project Runway, for example, to publish custom, digital-only mini-magazines focused on each episode of the show. And Yoga Journal is publishing a sponsored, digital-only spa guide.

Existing magazines that convert entirely from print to digital-only delivery are rarer still. Physicians’ Travel & Meeting Guide, a Quadrant HealthCom Inc. publication, moved from print to all-digital delivery effective with its January 2008 issue. “We’re a primary care journal,” explains Tom Cooney, director of multimedia strategy for Physicians’ Travel & Meeting Network. “In 2007, advertising revenue in the primary-care market dropped off significantly—to the point where five primary care journals went out of business. Physicians’ Travel & Meeting Guide was one of the five.”

Since the brand had been around for 25 years, Cooney didn’t want simply to cease publishing. “The economies weren’t there to print and mail 166,000 copies each month,” he says. “Digital delivery is a cost-efficient format and a way to keep the brand alive.”

Because there’s no print version anymore and, therefore, no expensive conversion required, Cooney can completely redesign the magazine in a full-screen landscape format and change the fonts to create a truly user-friendly experience. “If we had to redesign every issue to make it user-friendly,” he suggests, “that would also be a cost-prohibitive solution.”

The other huge conceptual change for the magazine is to change it from a monthly to several single-sponsor specialty issues that limit the content—and the circulation—to the therapeutic category that the advertiser wants to reach [see sidebar, below]. Cooney acknowledges that the new concept is still in its infancy, but advertiser reaction so far has been very positive. “We’re starting to sell the single-sponsor issues, offering full-screen advertising opportunities with video and flash animation. The jury is still out,” he says, “but I’m very hopeful.”

Reed Business Information took its Housing Giants, a trade magazine for high-volume builders that publishes 21 times a year, to the digital-only format. “Last year, Housing Giants—with a circulation of 50,000—was a print magazine that was only marginally profitable,” says John Blanchard, Reed’s VP of operations, “so, going forward, we’re pursuing a digital-only model. We’ve redesigned the magazine with digital technology in mind, using appropriate font sizes and optimizing the format for screen display. We’re loading each issue with rich media—streaming video, flash ads, animation, and so forth. It’s a brand-new product.”

“Clearly, the decision to convert the magazine to digital-only was to significantly reduce overhead,” adds Blanchard. “We also see it as an opportunity to sell a unique product to advertisers.”

Despite the financial headaches that convinced these two publishers to convert their magazines from print to digital-only, they can take heart from a comment made by Nxtbook’s Marcus Grimm. “Not one of the handful of our clients who have converted to all digital has failed,” he says. “It’s all or nothing. So through focus and dedication, they’ve been extremely successful.”

By Jane E. Zarem
04/02/2008







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