What’s Your Digital Business Worth?
Publishers grapple with app pricing and bundling options of the digital now.
In between last week’s DMA Circulation Marketing Day and the upcoming MPA Digital: Swipe conference on March 20, I thought it may be appropriate to reflect on a pattern forming in the magazine publishing industry. It doesn’t require expert sleuthing skills to deduce how much the industry has changed over the past year; a massive shift in focus is evident.
Digital used to occupy a session or two at any given conference, though the open Q&A’s at the end of panel discussions showed this is where audience concerns really lie. In 2012, by hosting and participating in a plethora of digitally focused events, publishers are confirming digital is not an add-on or afterthought, but a necessary part of strategy (albeit a frustrating one, as publishers attempt to pin revenue models on the slippery suckers called apps).
I don’t think this means that print is doomed in 2012, as the rest of the world is predicted to be. What I do think it means is that print is a medium the magazine industry has more or less mastered, and peers are looking outward for guidance in the new digital terrain.
And one of the biggest concerns is digital revenue. At Circ Day, Meredith’s chief digital officer Liz Schimel explained her company’s app portfolio is a mix of paid and free offerings.
“Where they are free: we believe that getting scale to platform is most important, rather than monetization upfront. We monetize through advertisers, upselling packages and sampling for our magazine,” says Schimel. “We’re looking at contribution to circ, advertising details and discreet paid content. Getting out to the broadest possible audience is the main driver, rather than getting the most money up front.”
Katelyn Belyus, circulation fulfillment manager of The Nation, says their app is available to subscribers for an additional $10. She says the publisher is considering creating another paid non-replica app, but explained, “We’re not convinced apps are the future.”
Nina LaFrance, vice president of consumer marketing at Forbes, broke down Forbes’ current digital strategy. “Our digital strategy is different than the rest of the community. We don’t have a tablet app for the magazine. The apps we have in market are free apps designed to support Forbes brand content,” LaFrance said. “We have to decide which platforms will be paid or free. With the size of our audience, we can’t drive them through a paywall. The question is, is ad revenue high enough so Forbes Web content can remain free?”
What may be more interesting than current rev models is the uncertainity of presenters at DMA’s Circulation Marketing Day. Those winning in the digital space looked visibly relieved their strategies are actually working; while others revealed how fluid current digital models are.
In the midst of all the reflecting and forecasting of the conference, it was refreshing to hear Bonnier’s Bruce Miller (who was inducted into the DMA’s Circulation Hall of Fame) reinforce what the industry sometimes seems to overlook, "We can do what we want in digital. We write our own ticket."