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All-Digital Magazines:

New Opportunity or Last Hurrah?



By Jane E. Zarem
04/03/2009

Publishers still have reasons to start up new print magazines, but the cost of launching an all-digital magazine is dramatically lower than launching print. Publishers still want to try new projects and need to try those projects despite the economy. All-digital delivery provides a cost-effective approach.

Some publishers are using the all-digital model to launch multimedia supplements or special editions of their magazines. In early March, for example, Mark Jannot, editor in chief, announced The PopSci Genius Guide, a quarterly, all-digital special edition that will act as a “test bed” to figure out how best to produce digital magazine content and, as magazine-optimized readers become available in the next couple of years, how to move readers toward acceptance of the mobile platform.

The PopSci Genius Guide is a multimedia manual of how-to advice; each issue will have a theme—home entertainment, cars, tools. The content is entirely fresh, created for this specific product and for the digital platform. It’s laid out in the two-page spread convention that magazines use but then allows the reader to delve deeper into the content by clicking boxes that open up new content within the page. “It’s very cool,” says Jannot.

People can read the publication online or download it onto a desktop. It is not available on e-readers at this point. The inaugural issue is being sold on the PopSci.com Web site and via Zinio’s digital newsstand for $2.99. The publisher hopes the first four issues combined will reach 900,000 readers.

PC Magazine Goes All Digital

PC Magazine was an early adopter of digital magazines—one of the first to partner with Zinio back in 2002. Its digital circulation fluctuated over the years, but the magazine generally enjoyed a tremendously loyal and digitally savvy following. With that in mind, the transition after 27 years of print publication to a 100 percent digital format, effective with the February 2009 issue, was a very obvious move forward, according to Steve Sutton, general manager of interactive at Ziff Davis Media.

“This is the culmination of a long strategy for the PC Magazine brand,” he says. “We knew better than most publishers that print, at least in the technology space, was a mature category. And we knew that there were significant growth and revenue opportunities online. So we made incremental investments in the digital side of our business over the years, while letting print kind of ride out the market as long as we were confident that it would be profitable for us to do so.” The publisher finally made the call to move to an all-digital format in November of last year and delivered the magazine’s last print issue in January.

At the time, the company had few digital-only subscribers as a percentage of the file—only about 3 percent. “We didn’t make an aggressive push to build up a lot of digital circulation before the cutover,” says Sutton. Current subscribers were all notified, and the 97 percent not already receiving digital delivery were given the option of switching to digital, canceling and receiving a refund for unfilled issues, or transferring the balance of their subscription to one of 10 different publications.

“We made sure we reached everybody in our file,” he says. “We used e-mail if we had an e-mail address. We put a notice on our Web site. We polybagged a notice with the January issue and included a letter from the editor on page 4 of that issue, explaining what were doing and letting them know the next steps.”

Nothing changed for those already receiving the digital edition, and those contacted via e-mail were told they would automatically receive the digital edition unless they requested a different option.

The response so far has met expectations, and the all-digital magazine is on track for a circulation level in the 150,000, range according to Sutton. (The print rate base had been 600,000, a portion of which was single-copy sales.)

As for advertiser interest, Sutton believes the change has been well received. “Our print advertisers, by and large, were already clients on the online side,” he says. “But we want to let the circulation settle before making a really big push with the advertising. First and foremost, we’re thinking of this as a publication for the readers.”

What’s next for PC Magazine? “I expect we’re going to be up on Kindle soon,” says Sutton.
 
Outside’s Go Becomes a Hybrid

Outside’s Go is a travel and style magazine targeted to active, affluent men and published twice a year, in spring and fall. The current guaranteed rate base of 235,000—80 percent married males with a median household income of more than $185,000—includes 25,000 paid subscribers and 10,000 single-copy sales. The balance includes sponsored sales, partner requests, and strategic placements.

In 2009, Outside’s Go will, for the first time, publish two digital-only issues (in summer and winter) in addition to its two regular print editions for a total of four quarterly issues. The digital editions will be distributed to subscribers via an e-mailed link, as well as to an e-mail database of active, affluent men who meet the magazine’s income criteria.

“The digital format is ideal for travel content,” says Christine Salem, managing director. The publisher has more exquisite photography from each shoot than it can ever use in the print edition and now will make those images available in animated photo galleries in the digital version. Also the editorial content in the new digital editions will be enhanced with interactive components, expanded stories, and video, along with hyperlink capabilities, text search, notation, and sharing.

“We believe that digital magazines will be an important part of the future of magazine publishing,” she concludes.

Fallback Position Only For a Few

As far as all-digital publications being a last step before folding, Nxtbook’s Marcus Grimm says that he has seen very much the opposite situation in the past two years.

Among the all-digital titles that Nxtbook serves at the moment, about 90 percent were new launches—publishers looking to enter a specific category or reach a certain audience or country.


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By Jane E. Zarem
04/03/2009







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