Guest Column: Total Immersion
"Immersive content" is not just a catchy phrase. Reader engagement levels in tablet magazine apps are proving that quality content has the power to draw readers in, hold their interest and motivate them to pay for app subscriptions. For many publishers this has been a welcome, even business-saving revelation. But the opportunity is far bigger than is currently being exploited. Publishers and advertisers need to work together to fully understand and take advantage of all their options for driving engagement and revenue on the tablet.
The recent MPA Magazine FactBook offers editors and advertisers excellent news on readers' engagement with tablet magazines. Dwell times and interactions are high. The median time spent reading digital magazines, for example, is two hours in a typical week, and 86 percent of readers access the same issue multiple times. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of readers say they want to be able to purchase products and services directly through their electronic magazines, and 73 percent read or tap on adverts appearing in digital publications. Plus, even conservative estimates put the number of tablets by the end of 2013 in the hundreds of millions—that is a giant new market.
Compared to print, Web, outdoor—even TV—these are amazing numbers. Readers want to engage, they want to purchase, and they want us to make it easy to do so. Defaulting to a print-based model in which ads are included in basic replica form with no additional enhancement or revenue is no more of a solution than reverting to the infinite inventory and low clickthrough rates of Web.
Digital publishing has the potential to evolve along a different route—to steer clear of the commoditization of Web and the static, unmeasurable nature of print. Advanced digital publishing platforms like Mag+ offer the opportunity for our editors and creatives to deliver a fully immersive reading experience. They also deliver the borderless canvasses, multimedia content and interactivity that bring brand stories to life. And they give us the unique tracking capabilities to prove just how engaging our content and advertising really is.
So why are we still seeing so little truly great digital advertising?
I see two main hurdles for digital publishing players to overcome: We need to work together to develop and agree on the standards and metrics that reflect the unique opportunities of the medium. And we must think outside our traditional mindsets of Web and print and recognize that this is a new canvas and a new distribution ecosystem—and one that's growing so fast, ignoring it will simply not be an option in the coming months and years.
Today, many publishers and advertisers are reigning in creative instincts in order to adhere to Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) rules, which state that all content from the print publication—including ads—must be in the digital version to count those digital subscribers toward the publication's overall rate base. Many take that to mean simply dropping a static PDF from their print publications into their digital editions. But that is only the minimum required: You can present an entirely different version of an ad—fully optimised for the tablet edition—and still stay within ABC rules. You can also add enhancements to that print ad and still count it. For publishers, charging for those enhancements and working with advertisers to create great interactive ads is an opportunity to drive additional revenue into the digital version without losing the rate base.
At Popular Science, we were ABC compliant. But we also offered a limited number of enhanced ad spots to those advertisers—including Ford and Home Depot—that wanted to experiment with new forms on the tablet. We even took care of the ad creation (and charged a production fee to cover that expense) to lower the barrier to entry for those brands and their agencies. In doing so, we not only added incremental revenue to ad deals and increased ours and our clients' expertise by measuring and sharing the results, but also created some world-class ad experiences.
For other publications, adhering to ABC rules is not yet important. If the digital circulation as a percentage of your overall is still low enough that it will not significantly impact your rate base, consider waiting on counting that circ, which compels you to let every advertiser in. Instead sell exclusive sponsorships to your digital editions. Outside magazine has had great success with this model, working with advertisers like REI to create engaging ads in prime positions in the issue. Sponsorship also allows you to explore unique creative and placement opportunities beyond the full-screen display ad. Check out the October issue of Popular Science to see a new "digital bellyband," created in HTML, which makes the user tap the sponsor's logo to open the issue.
Finally, until we as an industry all agree on the right metrics to measure and value the impact of touchscreen advertising, I believe treating your advertisers as partners and being transparent both with the nascent state of the market and with the actual data is the best way for us all to learn what consumers value in this space, and build partnerships that will pay off for all of us as the touchscreen market continues its rocket-like growth. PE
Gregg Hano is CEO of digital publishing platform maker Mag+ and former SVP, Bonnier Corporate Sales and Technology Group. A strong advocate for transparency and commercialization of the digital publishing business, Hano has played a critical role in helping to standardize the way circulation and other success metrics are measured. He has worked with both the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) to launch the first Consolidated Media Report and with the Magazine Media (MPA) Tablet Metrics Task Force. These guidelines provide clarity for the advertising community, which Hano believes is fundamental to the long-term health and growth of the industry.