Are Your Digital Editions Making Money?
The launch of the iPad has put a renewed focus on digital media applications, and early evidence suggests the impact of Apple's new product on the digital editions market will be profound. With its portability, interactivity and high-resolution color screen, the iPad seems taylor-made for magazines, and audiences have responded enthusiastically—as widely reported, the most downloaded free news app in the wake of the tablet's launch was a magazine reader.
In light of this promising development, Publishing Executive sought tips from several publishers on what drives digital-editions revenue.
Ron Matejko, Owner, MVP Media (MVPToday.com)
Phoenix-based MVP Media produces its own digital-only sports magazines and provides custom digital publishing solutions.
1. Follow the news. "Stay on top of the latest and greatest things" in digital editions, Matejko says. "Almost every other week there is some new technology coming out. … If you … [have] a good grasp of what's happening in the digital world, you should … be able to make [a] connection between what you offer and what these new technologies are going to enable you to do to monetize it."
2. Avoid the "standard … ad mentality." Be creative with digital editions ads and supplements, thinking "multimedia," Matejko says. Allow users to click through to a catalog and then to the client's website, for instance. "I've found that advertisers are not only very willing … but impressed that you can come to them with that kind of approach," he says.
3. Encourage knowledgeable salespeople. Salespeople with a passion for digital media do the best job of conveying digital possibilities, Matejko suggests.
4. Cross promote your services. Digital editions provide an opportunity for cross-promotion. MVP Media provides third-party digital services to some media partners along with custom publishing, and has created catalogs for advertisers that could be featured as part of multimedia ad packages and for clients' independent use. "We're … almost acting … like an ad agency," Matejko says.
5. Pay attention to what works—and what doesn't. Don't assume that just because it's getting buzz, it needs to be part of your digital editions strategy. Offer features that truly dovetail with your audience, and listen to feedback.
Cam Brown, Presiden, King Fish Media
Custom publisher King Fish Media has focused on measurable, design-driven results applicable to any publisher looking to attract advertisers.
6. Focus on metrics. Digital editions have been central to providing meaningful metrics to clients, Brown says. A good example is the "forward to a friend" feature often included in King Fish products. "We can … track that, see who forwarded it to someone else, who then went on to make a purchase. That's a pretty good use of media."
7. Utilize strengths unique to digital editions. Websites function best as search mechanisms, a means to look at one element at a time, while digital editions offer design elements that emotionally connect readers through a more linear, storytelling approach. "We talk to our clients about how they see [a] product being showcased," Brown says. "Design is a big part of it. Content is a big part of it."
A good digital edition offers advertisers "storytelling on top of commerce": sophisticated design advantages along with instant click-through to e-commerce websites.
8. Don't go overboard. Throwing in every feature you can think of can be confusing to a reader, Brown says.
9. Customize client solutions. Whether the goal is brand building or impulse buying, digital editions offer flexibility in ad layouts and advertorials.
Angelica Jeffreys, CEO, Distinctive Homes (DistinctiveHomesMagazine.com)
Distinctive Homes is a luxury real estate, design and decor magazine.
10. Think SEO. Take advantage of the "plain text" section when converting the issue, Jeffreys says. "This is … where you can strategically add keywords to help with SEO."
11. Let readers browse issues. "If your digital provider does not provide a "library" of digital editions, … create one and promote it on your Facebook … page, your website, … employee e-mail [signatures], etc.," she says. "Market [them]wherever you can."
12. Incorporate social media. Distinctive Homes incorporates a Facebook and Twitter "like" or "recommend" button for each page, allowing readers to post to their profile when they find an article or page they'd like to share.
13. Advertisers will expect more from a tablet. "The iPad/iPod application brings the digital conversion to a new level, taking what was once a vertical reading experience … and making it portable and truly a unique content-driven offering," Jeffreys says. Advertisers, therefore, will want to be able to utilize features such as video, animation and links to social networking sites, and publishers should be prepared to provide them. The payoff? "Once we can prove higher click-through rates when these engaged readers are diving down into content, then we'll be able to charge for added content."
Currently, Distinctive Homes publishes digital replicas of its print editions and includes digital ads automatically in all ad sales. Jeffreys anticipates more advertisers opting for digital-only advertising or upsell-to-digital opportunities in the near future.
John LaMarca, Group Director, Audience Development, Crain Communications (Crain.com)
In the digital editions realm, Crain has been able to leverage its position as a go-to source for in-depth information on marketing and advertising, offering supplemental products that serve to both enhance and drive readers to the new medium.
14. Rich content drives new revenue. "We have had great success … selling subscription Ad Age whitepapers …," LaMarca says. Crain's digital edition platform links to whitepapers while providing security options. "We've found that 70 percent of [whitepaper] purchasers … are not currently magazine subscribers, so it's been a great way for us to reach a new audience and capture additional subscription revenue," he adds.
15. Use digital editions for promotions. "... We've been able to use digital editions to increase profitability … by serving digital copies instead of print … to some of our best prospects," he says. "By converting 5,000 copies from print to digital, we [saved] well over six figures in printing, postage and distribution costs over the course of a year on a weekly title."
16. Engage readers, improve retention. By taking advantage of multimedia functions, Crain hopes to improve reader engagement and retention. "We want the digital edition to be a unique experience [from print or online]," LaMarca says. "…We're making strides in that direction, and advertisers seem to be catching up as well. Readers are finally starting to … embrace digital editions, especially given the buzz around the iPad and other mobile reading devices."
Jeanniey Mullen, Global Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, VivMag (VivMag.com/)
The owners of VivMag also own digital editions provider Zinio (though they are separate companies), and VivMag is often seen as an "innovations lab" for new ideas in digital editions technology and marketing.
17. Tap fixed content sets. Digital editions are ideal for long-form reading, yet also provide quick browsing within thematic boundaries, Mullen says, whereas websites are best for open-ended exploration of "templatized little snippits." "We wanted Viv to … [have] a very defined beginning, middle and end, so when you open it up, you understand this is what [it] is going to contain …," she says. This encourages users to drill down within fixed content sets and spend more time with each item—including ads.
18. Don't sell yourself short when selling ads. "[VivMag's] ads are sold at the same ad rates that you would buy for a print magazine," Mullen says, "but … we are able to … demonstrate the value … because of the things we can add in the digital version." An example, she says, is an interactive Macy's ad launching a seasonal catalog from within VivMag's fashion section.
19. Track interactivity. Do more subscribers renew when digital editions are more interactive? What do readers zoom in on and which interactive features do they respond to? Ask your digital editions provider, who may be tracking such responses across their stable of magazines, these questions. At the very least, analyze what readers are doing within your issues, such as which actions led to supplemental product purchases or buys on an advertiser's website, Mullen says.
20. Explore cross-publication advertising options. Several digital editions vendors offer the opportunity to run ads across several clients' publications. In February, automaker Kia ran a digital campaign across 45 publications through Zinio's new cross-publisher ad network, Zpan. Mullen says VivMag's ads linked to the Macy's catalog also are shared across the network. Digital editions provider Texterity can place ads within the user interface around a digital edition, either as a banner ad or below the table of contents, allowing ads to be shared between publications via the interface.
21. Explore various subscription options. After years of offering a $36 annual subscription, VivMag last year repositioned subscription sales as memberships, including access to "hidden" website pages and networking events. In response to the growing mobile device market, VivMag also launched a monthly subscription option—and saw subscription rates increase dramatically.
22. When looking to monetize, nothing is too small. VivMag is experimenting with "marketplace" style ads as a low-cost way for advertisers to try digital editions and is running affiliate links with retailer Amazon to encourage impulse buys while reading an article about, say, wine. (VivMag gets a small percentage of each sale.)
Drew Onufer, Director, Interactive Publishing, National Geographic Global Media (NationalGeographic.com)
National Geographic launched an interactive digital edition in March, and its April "water" issue has proven popular on the iPad.
23. Rethink your layout. Even a publication with an iconic look such as National Geographic realized the best way to adapt the magazine to digital was not to simply replicate print. It made every spread a single view, switching from portrait views to landscapes, and is selling interactive ads that also span two "pages."
24. Rethink your ad sales approach. "We originally removed [print] ads from our [digital] editions since … [they] looked jarringly out of a place in a redesigned interactive layout," Onufer says. National Geographic's sales team found advertisers who wanted specifically to be in the digital edition. "[They] are selling space … as an add-on package either to an existing print placement or as a stand alone digital edition placement," he says. "Our expectation … is for this model to evolve rapidly over the ... next year as both advertisers and publishers get more experience in releasing interactive editions especially on tablet devices such as the iPad."
25. Leverage multimedia assets. The society plans to make ample use of its video and photography to encourage digital subscriptions (currently the same rate as print at $15 a year).
26. Sell extras. The society soon will offer back-issue sales with digital editions packages. "We ran a 'water' issue in 1993," Onufer says. "It would have been great to have [that] available in our [April 'water' issue]."
27. Have a strategy for international subscriptions. With an international following and multiple language editions, National Geographic sees an opportunity to market its digital edition to widely dispersed language speakers (such as Armenian or Spanish) difficult to target on newsstands. To facilitate international sales, the publisher is working to be able to sell online utilizing local pricing rather than direct currency pricing.