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?
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 equivalentsâ€”often replacing promotional e-mail newsletters. Hachetteâ€™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. Physiciansâ€™ Travel & Meeting Guide, a Quadrant HealthCom Inc. publication, moved from print to all-digital delivery effective with its January 2008 issue. â€śWeâ€™re a primary care journal,â€ť explains Tom Cooney, director of multimedia strategy for Physiciansâ€™ Travel & Meeting Network. â€śIn 2007, advertising revenue in the primary-care market dropped off significantlyâ€”to the point where five primary care journals went out of business. Physiciansâ€™ Travel & Meeting Guide was one of the five.â€ť
Since the brand had been around for 25 years, Cooney didnâ€™t want simply to cease publishing. â€śThe economies werenâ€™t there to print and mail 166,000 copies each month,â€ť he says. â€śDigital delivery is a cost-efficient format and a way to keep the brand alive.â€ť
Because thereâ€™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. â€śIf we had to redesign every issue to make it user-friendly,â€ť he suggests, â€śthat would also be a cost-prohibitive solution.â€ť
The other huge conceptual change for the magazine is to change it from a monthly to several single-sponsor specialty issues that limit the contentâ€”and the circulationâ€”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. â€śWeâ€™re starting to sell the single-sponsor issues, offering full-screen advertising opportunities with video and flash animation. The jury is still out,â€ť he says, â€śbut Iâ€™m very hopeful.â€ť
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. â€śLast year, Housing Giantsâ€”with a circulation of 50,000â€”was a print magazine that was only marginally profitable,â€ť says John Blanchard, Reedâ€™s VP of operations, â€śso, going forward, weâ€™re pursuing a digital-only model. Weâ€™ve redesigned the magazine with digital technology in mind, using appropriate font sizes and optimizing the format for screen display. Weâ€™re loading each issue with rich mediaâ€”streaming video, flash ads, animation, and so forth. Itâ€™s a brand-new product.â€ť
â€śClearly, the decision to convert the magazine to digital-only was to significantly reduce overhead,â€ť adds Blanchard. â€śWe also see it as an opportunity to sell a unique product to advertisers.â€ť
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 Nxtbookâ€™s Marcus Grimm. â€śNot one of the handful of our clients who have converted to all digital has failed,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s all or nothing. So through focus and dedication, theyâ€™ve been extremely successful.â€ť