Ziff Davis CEO Weitzner Says Move to All Digital Reflects a 'Tipping Point'
Ziff Davis Enterprise's decision to stop publishing print editions of its signature brands eWEEK, CIO Insight, Baseline and Channel Insider may have grabbed headlines this week, but the company's forward-looking plans to strengthen its brands in the digital media space may have a more far-reaching impact.
"The way the story broke when it first broke, was [that we were] abandoning print," Steve Weitzner, chairman and CEO of Ziff Davis Enterprise, told Publishing Executive Inbox. "[But] a magazine is not about paper. It's about having an editorial staff and picking stories for the reader rather than them choosing them, and vetting the stories and making sure you present them in an interesting way. So to me we are still doing magazines, with the same reach that we had."
The company's post-print strategy, dubbed OmniDigital, seeks to provide continuous engagement across mobile, tablet and Web platforms without sacrificing any of the curated experience or brand consciousness traditionally supported by print.
"We want to envelop the reader, whether commuting, at work or at home, with the content the way they want to get it," Weitzner said.
The company will continue to target specialized IT audiences through its segmented brands. Websites will serve a distinct role as real-time providers of updated news and views. Tablet and mobile editions will be available across iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Symbian/Nokia platforms and stress curated content, news alerts and social sharing. A print magazine-style format will be preserved in digital editions, which will see their frequency increase in 2012 under the new plan.
"We are actually increasing the frequency [of digital editions] because we don't have the cost of paper, printing and shipping. These are the things that were determining how many copies we printed and how often ... [Now], all of a sudden, the reach can be whatever we want it to be. We don't have to cut it off based on economics," Weitzner said.
Weitzner says the digital editions will at first look like traditional magazines, with familiar spreads for editorial and ads, but that the company may in the future experiment with non-traditional layouts. (He cited as an example women's style and beauty magazine The Kit, a digital edition formatted for mobile.) "As people get more used to this, we will look at the horizontal aspect and say, 'Why does editorial fit on two pages facing each other? Why does it have to fall into that horizontal canvas?'"
Important to the OmniDigital strategy is a new measurement system designed to track audience behaviors in ways that were impossible with printed and mailed magazines. "Print was the last silo in my business," Weitzner said. "Everywhere else I touched the audience I knew what they opened, what they looked at, how long they looked at it and where they went from there. In print, all that just goes away."
Weitzner says he expects data tracking to help offset the skepticism of ad agencies, some of whom lag behind his IT audience and advertisers in understanding the new media landscape.
Citing a new CTIA-The Wireless Association survey finding 327,000,000 active wireless connections in the U.S.—more than one per person in the country—Weitzner says "we've kind of hit a tipping point." While print ads may see some recovery in the near future, he believes overall trends toward digital are clear. The key now is for publishers and marketers to understand how to engage audiences and provide an immersive platform.
"There's a lot of religion around print," he notes. "When I say, 'It's still a magazine, it's just not paper,' [the agencies] go, 'Well then, it's not print.' Agencies and budgets are divided by print and digital as opposed to magazine and Web."