Digital Editions Come of Age
How Macworld, PCWorld went from 600 monthly downloads to 8,000 on the iPad.
IDG’s Macworld and PCWorld magazines have had digital editions for years but they’re just starting to realize the potential of the platform, thanks to the iPad. While Macworld and PCWorld averaged 600 monthly downloads combined for their digital editions, the iPad versions are generating 8,000 monthly downloads combined and a Macworld special edition about the launch of the iPad has generated about 90,000 downloads (and growing) over the last three months. The Macworld and PCWorld digital editions (including iPad app) are supported on the Zinio UNITY platform).
"Digital editions were an idea waiting for a platform," said Jason Brightman, director of Web design with PCWorld and Macworld, at a FOLIO: Webinar yesterday called "State of the Art in Digital Magazines." "The iPad is great for magazines and eliminates many of the problems the Kindle had. The Kindle is not good for magazine layout. People could also read our digital editions on the computer screen or on mobile phones but that wasn’t a great experience either. With ‘swiping,’ the iPad can replicate that tactile experience you have holding a magazine."
The success of the iPad version is not hurting traffic to PCWorld.com or Macworld.com, either. "PCWorld and Macworld are making half of their revenue from the Web sites and we haven’t seen any drop from the digital editions," said Brightman. "We bundle our digital editions with the print magazine, so all revenue and downloads count against the magazine bottom line and are separate from the Web sites, We have seen huge numbers of print subscribers asking to change their subscription to digital."
Still, the iPad isn’t a magic wand and Brightman offers four areas to focus on for developing a successful digital edition (including being ready for the wave of e-readers about to explode onto the market).
1. It’s About Reading. "That seems academic but look at some of the apps getting press right now like Wired and Popular Science," said Brightman. "They have lots of rich media and interesting things but if you look at the reader feedback online, it’s not that good because the reading experience is compromised by their over-reliance on multi-media. It’s important that you have it but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the content. Make sure you can pinch and zoom to make the content easier to read. It’s important that the vendor offers a text layout that offers a text-only view."
While the development of the iPad app should be a group effort, the design team should have final say, according to Brightman. "The ad side has specific needs and the edit side has specific needs but if you look at the way editors look at content, it often isn’t the same way a human being interacts with content," he added.
2. Navigation. While it’s still early days and conventions are still being developed, don’t require readers to learn a completely new navigation process.
"Look at what vendors offer for different navigation," said Brightman. "Readers may want to hold it horizontally or vertically but they always want to get back to get back to the core navigation. If the layout opens to a spread with more than one article, the reader will be prompted for which story they want to read. If most vendors are doing it one way and another one is doing it completely differently, you probably don’t want to go with that vendor. Online, conventions work well. You don’t want your user to have learn a new way of navigating for your digital edition."
Right now, page flip software is the convention in digital editions. "If you look at iPad apps you will see a lot of experimentation and variation," says Brightman. "The one I’m watching and like is Financial Times-which just won ‘Best iPad App’ in the 2010 Apple Design Awards. Rather than have button to go to the next page, it will slide to the next page. That allows you to hold the device in any way and let’s you cap with your thumb. More publishers will start adopting that."
Navigation can include revenue opportunities. Macworld includes tabs that open up to a commerce page that feature products discussed within the article. "Close that window and you’re back in the digital edition," said Brightman. "It’s great instant gratification experience and additional revenue for us."
3. Advertising. Macworld includes an interactive ad from Kia that can be accessed via a large red button in the digital edition. "Those extra bits make advertisers happy and enhances content rather than takes away from it," said Brightman.
However, the Kia ad is supplied to Macworld via an ad network (Zinio’s ZPAN product) and Brightman recognizes that it may be several years before interactive ads become the norm for publishers and even advertisers. "Most advertisers are not going to take advantage of the functionality for the short term and we don’t have the bandwidth to create such ads for them," he added. "Interactive ads will be lead by bigger advertisers with the means."
4. Reach. While the iPad is a fantastic device—selling 500,00 units per week according to some sources—don’t limit digital editions efforts here, said Brightman. "Over the next two quarters there will be no less than seven new devices launching using the Android system, the Web OS that HP just ought and even Windows 7 is working on their own. Whatever vendor you go with should have a road map for working on all these devices because you don’t want to be just on the iPad."
E-readers and tablets will evolve into a distinct medium from Web sites and magazines, according to Brightman. "At one end you have the Web site with daily updates and on the other end you have the magazines with highly curated content," he said. "The iPad is going to fall somewhere in between where it’s updated more than once a month but not quite daily."
And even while much of the content available on the iPad edtion is already available for free on the Web sites, Brightman says subscribers are willing to pay. "We’re building a product that’s coming to life and creating something of unique value," he added. "Our push with digital editions is about user revenue. We’re creating a different experience on an immersive device. That has value and people will pay for it. We’re trying to come up with a bundled price that includes the digital edition, the iPad app and exclusive access on the Web site."