The Launch Dilemma: Print or Digital First?
As magazines continue to expand their Web sites to include original editorial content, video, podcasts, Webinars and more, the roadmap for aspiring magazine publishers and editors has become a little less clear. Should a magazine launch first in print or online? What are the benefits? What are the risks?
In April 2007, seven months before launching the print version of the Avenue Report-a fashion and business magazine for African-American men-editor and publisher Toyin Awesu launched the magazine’s Web site, www.avenuereport.com. "My main reason for launching the Web site first was to serve as a means for introducing Avenue Report," Awesu explains. "I understood that despite the fact that I did not have an actual print copy I could still begin to build a brand and even get subscribers. We were able to use our Web site as a marketing tool. Our Web site still enables readers who have not seen a print copy the opportunity to see what Avenue Report is all about."
Eric Easter, chief of digital strategy at Johnson Publishing Company, helped launch www.ebonyjet.com, the Web site for Ebony and Jet magazines. There are a number of factors, he says, that publishers need to consider before launching in either print or online; the initial investment, the cost of paper and also the magazine’s potential audience and reach. "If you’re launching locally, I’d say there’s still a lucrative market for niche print publications," says Easter. "There’s still a large body of local advertisers, small and medium businesses, for which the Web can be one strategy for reaching consumers, but whom still rely on print. Nationally, however, unless you have deep pockets or a very tightly focused niche, I’d say go digital."
Don’t Undervalue the Print Launch
Print still rules at Dallas-based D magazine. Online editorial director Adam McGill says that if he were to launch a magazine today he’d start in print first. "I’m biased. I still enjoy the tactile nature of magazines," says McGill. "But discounting the dwindling numbers of old-school readers like me, I still think magazines create communities of like-minded people much easier in the real world versus the virtual one."
For McGill, online distractions like e-mail, instant messaging and other Web sites would make him wary of launching a magazine online first. "Having a start-up with a print version is like meeting the reader on a blind date-intense and one-on-one. The online version would be more like meeting someone at a very loud party with many others looking to interrupt your conversation and introduce themselves."
The Best of Both
Unless a new magazine’s customer base is focused on the digital medium or its concept is specifically web centric, the magazine should start with both a print and online presence, according to David Renard, analyst and co-creator of magazine consulting group MediaIdeas. Renard spoke at an American Society of Business Publication Editors panel this month called Dare to be Digital, about how b-to-b publishers are digitizing their print publications.
"It can cost next to nothing to output a magazine in a digital format when the same one for print has already been created, using PDF for example," Renard says. "And, though the functionality is not what you would get with a DME [digital magazine enablers] vendor, it will be, for some, a way to get into the game. And, better to start from the beginning by incorporating the digital edition output into the workflow, training employees to create for the new medium, and steering advertisers towards the benefits of digital editions."
Right Tools for the Trade
For aspiring magazine publishers who are ready to launch online first, Johnson Publishing’s Easter says that in addition to having quality editorial content, utilizing the right technology will drive the opportunity to make money online. "Most key is choosing a content management system that will allow you to expand to do some of the Web 2.0 things that users expect," he says. "Just as important is an ad server or third party agency that can make sure you’re delivering on your advertiser’s expectations."