While many publishers simply turn PDFs of print content over to the vendor to create a digital edition—music magazine Spin has a dedicated digital edition manager in Nick Pandolfi.
“We saw a lot we could bring to a digital edition that we couldn’t do with a print edition,” Pandolfi said earlier this week during a presentation at the Folio: Show Virtual. “We’re now trying to expand readership as advertisers start seeing the benefits.”
Many publishers continue to use digital magazines as a straight replica of their print product and Pandolfi advises them to take advantage of the medium, including adding in multimedia and widgets. “You have to make the digital edition much more engaging—as a basic replica of the print product, there’s not much value.”
That requires educating readers on the capabilities of the digital issue. “If you’re trying to convert print readers, they’re used to just flipping through the pages,” Pandolfi said. “We try to offer a call to action, including a menu of interactive features.”
Spin’s digital version recently featured a spread with track listings of an entire CD and a volume icon that allowed readers to hear the songs. “This was the best performing spread in our last issue,” said Pandolfi. “It had the most views and the most time spent. The pages that performed well and had a ton of engagement were also the pages where the value was really spelled out for the reader.”
Spin is also leveraging e-commerce with its digital editions. “Advertisers will occasionally try to do this in print with targeted URLs but it’s hard to track,” said Pandolfi. “Here we can see who is looking at which pages and what products people pick up on.”
The magazine creates e-commerce widgets as part of a partnership with Amazon.com. “With every artist and every song mentioned in the magazine, the reader clicks on their name, all of sudden a box pops up and you hear a preview of the song,” said Pandolfi. “The widgets update automatically and we can layer them on top of the page like a Flash element. We saw a huge jump in the amount of time spent on our digital edition and the more widgets we put in the issue, the more page views we got.”
Existing elements from both print and Web can be used in digital edition. In conjunction with a special anniversary issue about Prince, Spin took all the relevant print archives, scanned them in and created a custom digital edition.
Still, Pandolfi warns publishers against just dumping multimedia features into the digital edition. ‘It can be hard to tie MP3s and multimedia into the design and make them fluid,” he added. “You want to have a Flash platform. You can design Flash files to lay on top of the PDFs. Rather than having video sitting on top of a pre-designed page, you can have menus and things that can expand and it looks smooth and becomes very usable for the reader.”
The drawback is Flash can be very expensive, and often requires hiring another skill-set, according to Pandolfi. A basic Flash ad could cost between $1,000 to $2,000 to create and the price goes up from there depending on the complexity of the design.
Digital Distribution Can Be Biggest Challenge
Managing distribution of the digital edition is the biggest challenge for Spin, according to Pandolfi. “There are digital agents similar to print subscription agents but we wanted to stay away from that,” he added. “We want subscribers to be passionate and engaged with the product. We sought out partners that had a like-minded audience, such as Amazon.”
While Spin’s ABC statement includes 390,860 print subscribers, it also includes 14,653 digital edition subscribers. Publishers need to be aware of is the difference between digital edition users and subscribers. “It’s a little hazy—what’s being reported on the pink sheets and what advertisers are looking at are subscribers,” said Pandolfi. “But what’s being reported with traffic metrics is users. It’s really important to clear this up with your advertisers. We’re starting to see some advertiser RFPs exclude digital editions or say if a certain percentage of the rate base is digital edition traffic, they won’t track that.”
The counter-argument is to demonstrate how engaged the audience is and the value of users beyond subscribers. That can be accomplished with metrics and tracking available to digital editions that aren’t available for print, including audience visits and page views, content metrics (such as which stories and elements are performing well) and engagement metrics. “The digital edition can often be more valuable than the print magazine because the specifics are there,” said Pandolfi. “A lot of our clients deal with print buying agencies that have a very technical way of looking at magazines. It’s important to show what this platform is capable of.”
The rise of virtual storefronts from retailers such as Barnes & Noble will also go along way toward legitimizing digital editions with advertisers, according to Pandolfi. “Hopefully it will come across to advertisers that the digital edition is a relevant product,” he added. “There were no big retailers pushing digital editions to this point, so advertisers didn’t have the clear story. But when you have retailers like Barnes & Noble getting behind it, you do get the sense that this is important.”