Designing a digital reading experience that goes beyond the magazine is a priority for publishers, particularly those launching the latest tablet apps. In December, Bonnier debuted a quarterly iPad-only edition of Parenting featuring exclusive digital content.
"The challenge of an iPad-only issue is it’s a lot more work," digital editorial director Rachel Fishman Feddersen told FOLIO:. "I’ve seen a lot of magazines take their pages and pin it to the iPad and that’s it. This is an entirely new magazine. We designed it just for vertical viewing. We think when someone wants to start reading, they don’t want to keep turning the device back and forth."
Designing specifically for the medium is key. "If I had a nickel for every time someone said they didn’t want to zoom in with a digital edition, I’d retire," said Nxtbook marketing director Marcus Grimm during a recent FOLIO: Webinar. "But you can’t do that unless you design for the medium."
Three main reasons for optimizing digital editions include 1) optimized content increases engagement; 2) if you have a more engaged audience, the yields for advertising go up; and perhaps most importantly, 3) readers expect it.
When looking at the digital editions it produces, Nxtbook sees advertising clickthrough rates jump from 5.1 percent on no-optimized editions to 15.3 percent on optimized editions, according to Grimm.
Which Platforms To Optimize For?
The iPad gets the glory (and most of the focus for larger consumer publishers) but for smaller consumer and b-to-b publishers, the iPad may not be where the majority of their audience is today.
Most publishers are trying to optimize for one (or more) of four platforms:
Advantages: It’s still where much of the audience is. "All the native app talk ignores what happens in the browser experience," says Grimm. "For most publishers, that’s where most people will be right now. You’re not beholden to Apple if your work is on PC/browser. There are no technology restrictions."
Drawbacks: The browser-based approach requires readers to be at their desk or on a computer. It’s also a little…antiquated. "It’s not 2008 anymore," says Grimm. "The browser doesn’t leverage tomorrow’s technology and it doesn’t offer some of new marketing possibilities. A lot of people say it doesn’t position you as a leader."
Mobile Web Browser (Safari on iPad or browsers on mobile devices)
Advantages: It requires no additional marketing (marketing of apps can be tough, particularly with Apple’s restrictions). You can avoid Apple storefronts and maintain all metrics and revenue possibilities.
Drawbacks: If you’re avoiding storefronts, that’s one less place to sell. It can also be less dynamic depending on connection speed. "This increasingly is a defensive move," says Grimm. "It’s a way to get on devices, but not truly leverage them."
Advantages: It works with prominent devices, such as Blackberry and eliminates the need to zoom. "It sounds silly in this day and age but Blackberry still has 27 percent market share and users are still used to text-based content," says Grimm.
Drawbacks: It’s text-based content.
Advantages: A truly branded platform with additional sponsorship marketing opportunities and a superior reading experience. "This is the closest thing to laying on couch and turning magazine pages, says Grimm.
Disadvantages: Cost and ROI. The median cost to develop a native app can range from $15,000 to $50,000, according to Lima Consulting. For most publishers, the return is currently measured in gaining experience rather than significant revenue.
Designing for Digital
Network Media Partners is a custom publisher that works with Nxtbook to produce a digital-only publication called Matrix for the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity.
"There’s a lot that’s new here in this medium but it doesn’t require a new way of thinking-just a little tweak or twist to what you already know as magazine designer or editor," says creative director Jen Smith. "The good ideas in print are still good ideas, but you need to reinterpret them."
Allow for as much functionality as you can, says Smith. "At first, we were as adamant as everyone else that reader shouldn’t have to zoom but we decided we should let them zoom if they want. If it looks like you can click on it, you should be able to click on it. People are trained and prone to click these days."
There is a significant difference between what is "interactive" and what is "dynamic." "People prefer interactive-something that is dynamic tends to have things moving for their own sake and that is distracting. Something that is interactive makes them want to engage with it."
Each issue of the Matrix offers a "Big Question" in the TOC and readers can look for a symbol throughout the issue that offers answers when the reader "hovers" over that symbol. "We tend to include three or four of these throughout the issue and it can happen wherever there is a byline," say Smith. "It’s a good way to bind readers to staff."
Stories for digital may be graphics-only. "Editors need to think like visual communicators," says Smith. "What if you could only tell story with infographics?"
Premium ad positioning also needs to be rethought, according to Smith. "In a digital edition, C4 and C3 may not be valuable anymore," says Smith. What spaces can you create that are valuable? If your book is one page up, a full-page advertiser may not be opposite content any longer. That’s not the best place to be in digital magazine so you need to create spaces so they can be beside content. What they decide to do with that space is another topic."
In one hybrid magazine, Network Media Partners move C3 and C4 advertisers toward the front of the book and even gave the C4 advertiser a spot opposite the cover. "In a pub that’s digital-only, look for ways to include advertisers on pages with hot content," says Smith. "A chunky news section that allows for fractionals will give advertisers a better position in front of readers."
Anoher exclusive option for Network Media’s professional partners is the "tab" function of the Nxtbook interface. ‘We customize those tabs (which are like virtual Post-It flags on the page) with the partner’s logo," says Smith. "On click, the tab brings you straight to the partner’s ad."