The Digital Edition: Heading Toward Its ‘iPod Moment’?
When approaching the subject of digital editions—those e-publications that preserve print layouts in a user-friendly format, often enhanced with embedded multimedia features—an obvious question comes to mind: What can this platform offer a publisher that a good Web site cannot?
“That’s the question we get all the time,” says Cimarron Buser, vice president of marketing and product planning at Southborough, Mass.-based Texterity Inc., who recently pioneered a digital publishing solution for the Apple iPhone.
“We know that the way people read Web sites is different from the way they read magazines,” says Buser. “Web sites are more episodic; there’s a lot of clicking around. A magazine … has editorial authority. And it also has this concept of design and layout, with advertising [integrated] in it—that’s very valuable to people.”
Peter Meirs, director of alternative media technologies at Time Inc., adds, “Digital editions are styled and formatted in a way that cannot be supported with HTML, so the user experience is richer. Consumers see ads the same way that they do in print; not banner ads to be ignored, but rich, full-page ads that are integrated into the body of the collection.”
Unlike Web sites, digital editions are also auditable by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) and BPA Worldwide, something that should warm the heart of any publishing executive rooted in the print world. And, they’re easily archived.
“Librarians like it,” notes Shane Molloy, director of circulation at New York-based American Lawyer Media. “You don’t have to search Web sites, and you can search issues in the table of contents [or] search more than one issue at a time.”
A platform that combines the best aspects of traditional print with the multimedia possibilities of the digital format seems an obvious winner. Yet, until recently, its potential had been held back by technological limitations and the lack of a clear vision for the medium.
“[There has been] an absence of strategies regarding the placement and the use of digital editions,” says Norio Sugano, COO and chairman of Fremont, Calif.-based e-publishing software provider RealRead. “Another problem is that readers tend not to peruse a digital edition cover-to-cover due to monitor restrictions … [such as] resolution, size and physical awkwardness.”
Now that the dislike of reading long articles on screens—what David Anthony, co-owner of Bondi Digital Publishing, calls “the cathode-ray experience”—has been overcome by the advent of flat-screen technology, the challenge for digital edition providers is to produce a visually appealing product that also offers new opportunities for driving subscription and revenue growth. On the one end, this clearly has been helped along by the widespread availability of broadband Internet access and downloadable multimedia applications like Flash Player. On the other end has come the promise of rich media, search optimization and sophisticated tracking of online users.
It all adds up to a pretty good sell for digital editions solutions providers.
Traditional print magazines can offer circulation figures, but “have no idea of the effectiveness of their ads,” notes Barbara Moses, publisher of Viv, an exclusively digital lifestyle magazine targeting women over 35.
“You can’t tie it down to a particular magazine. There’s no measurement, whereas in the digital arena you have active URLs, so if people are interested in an ad or content, they can get more information. The interactivity is there in the ad.”
While print ads can feature URLs for unique landing pages to try to track response to specific ads, it is an imperfect science.
Browser-based applications can also tell advertisers how much time users spend on a particular section of a magazine, even revealing geographic trends (where users live) for each section. User tracking is now so sophisticated, in fact, that Moses and others describe it as something of a double-edged sword.
“Some of the things that are wonderful about digital are also frightening,” she notes. “What if it’s not working for an advertiser? They know it right away, which helps them to fine-tune [their advertising strategies]. Publishing in the digital medium is not for the faint of heart.”
Building Digital Circulation
Another challenge going forward is how to promote a digital magazine. A nontraditional format requires nontraditional methods, according to Moses.
“No one knows how to develop circulation in the digital arena,” she explains. “In print, if you want to increase circulation to 250,000, you know how many names you need to reach [by direct mail]. In the digital arena, those projections are difficult. …”
So, according to Moses, you “build the back end,” utilizing strategic partnerships with advertisers and reaching out through their customer base.
As an evolving medium, digital editions providers have to adapt to both technological advances and shifting customer attitudes.
While many digital editions platforms have utilized downloadable software (and the most widely used, the Zinio Reader, still does), the trend is moving toward browser-based applications.
“People tend to get nervous with downloading things,” Moses points out. Viv, whose founders went from conceiving a print magazine to being so impressed with the digital format that they bought Zinio, currently requires a download to read.
“People have become very accustomed to going to a Web site and entering a password—it’s not intimidating to them, whereas, with downloading software, people worry about viruses.”
Or, as Quent William, production manager at Carbondale, Col.-based Big Stone Publishing, half-jokingly puts it, “Vista [Windows operating system] says, ‘Don’t do anything. You may die if you download this.’ Yeah, there’s a definite fear of viruses.”
“The future is not in downloading software, because nobody is going to do it,” predicts Sugano, who counts Big Stone as a client. Browser-based platforms also dovetail better with e-marketing campaigns, he adds, because hyperlinks to sample editions can be used for bulk e-mails and promotional previews.
Big Stone’s publications—Rock and Ice and Trail Runner—have a “subscribe now” button on every page, coupled with an easy way to forward links to others.
Zinio is testing a beta version of a browser-based solution, which it plans to have up and running by early 2008. The Zinio Reader will be retained as an option for subscribers, enabling automatic desktop alerts upon release of new issues and allowing magazines to be read without an Internet connection. (Fellow digital editions giant Newsstand also offers a choice of downloadable and browser-based platforms.)
“There’s less fall-off with a browser-based [system],” Moses says. “Right now [using the Zinio format that requires the user to download software], we see exactly where we lose people in the process—when they have to download, we lose over 50 percent of the names we reach at that point, and it’s so frustrating.”
Frustrating or not, Viv is an early example of the potential for success in the all-digital publishing format. The magazine, which launched with its first regular bimonthly issue in January-February of this year, is up to 40,000 subscribers, and is shooting for 100,000 by March 2008, after the release of the browser-based option.
By way of comparison, the American Lawyer Media publication with the largest percentage of digital subscribers is Law Technology News, with a print circulation of about 40,000 and digital subscriptions (sold separately) approaching 10 percent of that, Molloy says. Digital subscriptions for The American Lawyer tripled since ALM moved to a Web-browser format early last year.
Goals Are Essential
Publishers hoping for success must have an idea of what they want to achieve with the technology before shopping around for a vendor, Meirs stresses.
“I recommend that user experience be valued higher than any other capability or service, because consumers will reject bad interfaces regardless of other features,” he says.
Beyond this, “If you only want to buy production and hosting services, there are some suppliers that are happy to offer to do that at a reasonable cost,” Meirs notes. “If you want other services like e-mail and list handling, integration with fulfillment operations, ABC/BPA reporting, content security, interactive elements or special interface design, then you will need to work with the companies that do this best.
“Price usually aligns to service offerings,” he continues. “Simple can be cheap and fast and reasonably good. As complexity rises, it becomes neither cheap nor fast, but it can be very good.”
At Time Inc., digital editions of popular titles such as Fortune, Money and Fortune Small Business are produced solely for sales and marketing purposes or for sponsored distribution to advertiser’s lists, according to Meirs.
“We produce every issue of Cottage Living in digital form to support promotion and consumer marketing initiatives,” he notes. “Recently we have started producing highly interactive digital specials for People that are accessed off the People Web site.”
“Digital editions have to make sense and be part of integrated marketing campaigns,” Buser says. For Texterity’s new magazine interface and portal specifically designed for the iPhone, the idea has been to offer iPhone users free access to 20 of the company’s 450+ e-magazine offerings, from consumer to business-to-business. What currently works as a merchandising tool for publishing clients may eventually be bundled into the options available to new and current magazine subscribers.
The iPhone portal makes use of e-mail as a sort of bookmark function, allowing users to send themselves an article for later reading or share material with friends. Buser says future versions of the portal will feature increased interactivity tailored to the phone’s touch-screen interface.
“It really comes down to immediacy,” he says. “You get this notification, ‘here’s the current issue.’ It arrives on your iPhone, you click on an article, read the first couple of paragraphs, and there’s a button prompting you to e-mail it to yourself. The point is to find a reasonable way to make this useful to people, and not just make it a novelty.”
For American Lawyer Media, Molloy says the iPhone offers promise as a way to capture new readers with a valuable service, allowing those in the legal profession to quickly access statistics, research and thumbnail biographies that might be useful just before a meeting or while traveling.
Viv, on the other hand, sees the digital format as a groundbreaking way for women to enrich their reading experience, through interactive graphics and instant access to background information.
“Not only do we tell you how to do tai chi, we show you animation of how to do the move. You’re seeing it and you’re reading it, and that type of learning tool is very effective,” Moses explains.
As far as Moses is concerned, the stars are aligning, with technology, end-user habits, publishers’ needs and even the mainstreaming of the environmental movement (e-mags save trees) all contributing to the ascendancy of the digital format.
“People ask how receptive people will be to reading a magazine on a computer. The answer is: more than you think,” she says. “At some point, digital magazines will have that iPod moment. The plain service we offer is simply far superior for everyone.”
Today’s Digital Edition Solutions
Thinking about seeking out a vendor to provide the software and/or service you need for your digital editions? There are a lot of options today in this fast-growing area. Here is a rundown of some companies offering these e-content solutions.
Product: Adobe Digital Editions
Description: Software for managing and reading e-books, digital newspapers and other publications.
Features: Supports PDF, XML and XHTML-based publications. Content adapts to different screen sizes and supports Flash. Features bookmarks, highlights and text notes.
Distribution: Download for Windows and MacIntosh. Launches automatically within Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader.
Publishers who have used the solution: O’Reilly Media (product launched in June)
Pricing: Depends on the level of Adobe Digital Content Protection Technology (ADEPT) service publishers choose. (ADEPT is the new hosted content protection service that integrates with Digital Editions software.) Fully compatible with the existing ACS DRM, ADEPT software as a service (SaaS) model is designed to enable publishers to more securely distribute content without having to install or operate additional server software or hardware.
Contact: (800) 945-9120, www.Adobe.com,
Product: RIDE (Rich Interactive Digital Edition)
Description: XML-based dgitial edition.
Features: Delivers full-size, full-color pages. RIDE offers in-view search, HD-quality video-content display, bookmarking and subscription management, e-mail and social-network sharing, integrated RSS, complete reporting and subscription back-end, including ABC and BPA reporting, readership analytics, and advertiser-based reporting. Supports hyperlinking, animation, graphics and audio.
Distribution: Requires download of free plug-in for Microsoft Silverlight platform.
Pricing: Varies by publication type and frequency.
Publishers who have used the solution: Trader Publishing, Dominion Enterprises
Contact: (506) 674-9550, www.AdvancedPublishing.com
Azimuth FullScreen Publications Inc.
Product: FullScreen Publications
Description: A content management system offering a full-screen format. Software is customized to the client’s needs.
Features: Intuitive interface that does not require scrolling or zooming. Supports Flash Player, third-party ad tracking, shopping carts, message boards, polls and multimedia.
Distribution: E-mail, delivery to subscriber’s hard drive.
Publishers who have used the solution: Abercrombie & Kent’s Sundowner Magazine, Skies America
Pricing: $20,000 to $50,000 per year (10 or more publications). Includes training, customization and support services.
Contact: (301) 792-0561, www.FullScreenPublications.com
Description: Enhanced online versions of print publications.
Features: Publishers can upload and convert print files to create digital publications featuring URL links, streaming video and audio, page-flip technology, search capabilities across all issues, user tracking/reports for publishers and advertisers, and more.
Distribution: Viewable using a Web browser.
Publishers who have used the solution: Golf Canada, Child Guide Magazine, Jacksonville Luxury Living, Birmingham Parent
Pricing: $2 per page.
Contact: (407) 343-0663, www.BlueToad.com
Bondi Digital Publishing
complete Web site management typically start at $3,000 to $5,000 per month, depending on the solution. There is also typically an implementation fee at the front-end of the project that can range from $20,000 to $25,000. For a small magazine, cost might be in the $40,000 to $50,000 per year range, and a larger magazine could run around $75,000 to $100,000 per year.
Contact: (800) 887-1944, www.CrownPeak.com
E-Book Systems Inc.
Product: FlipPublisher Enterprise
Description: Magazines, newsletters, novels, textbooks and catalogs can be converted to FlipBook format for electronic delivery via the Web or CD-ROM.
Features: 3-D page-flipping effect with adjustable flipping speed; auto pagination and chaptering; auto creation of contents page; bookmarking; hyperlinks and multimedia file inclusion. Can display a combination of text, images, animation, sounds and video in a single media-rich document.
Distribution: Requires software download. Electronic delivery via the Web or CD-ROM requires a separate distribution license.
Publishers who have used the solution: Christianity Today, Surfer Magazine, GeoWorld, Paintball 2Xtremes, FHM Germany
Pricing: Not provided.
Contact: (408) 625-8000, www.EBookSYS.com
Product: iMirus Digital Magazines
Description: iMirus privately brands its technology with each publisher’s logo, look and feel. Full ABC and BPA support, integrated paid subscription module and integration with fulfillment companies.
Features: Text searching of single issues or entire library, Web page linking, multimedia integration, integrated metrics and reporting, Podcast subscriptions within e-book, page magnification, forward-to-a-friend feature, print capabilities, banner ads and tip-ins.
Distribution: Offers a Web-based and downloadable viewer, for online or offline content viewing. Notification via e-mail, cell phone or iPod/MP3. Offers three models: Free and Open (no user name and password to open); Free and Qualified (requires user name and password, but can be sent to anyone who requests it); and Paid (requires user name and password; only for paying subscribers).
Publishers who have used the solution: ESPN Magazine, Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated, Tennis Magazine, Pharmacy Today, Fine Furnishings International
Pricing: For most digital editions, the creation of the e-book, including page conversion, Web site linking and inclusion of multimedia, is less than $1,000. iMirus also provides various marketing and distribution platforms to help reach current subscribers and target new ones.
Contact: (918) 492-0660, www.IMirus.com
LizardTech, a Celartem company
Product: Document Express Enterprise Edition, Document Express Professional Edition
Description: Converts electronic documents directly into digital replicas for the Web, while preserving the visual quality of the print edition.
Features: The Enterprise product is designed for high-volume, centralized scanning requirements. However, it requires a separate capture (scanner interface) solution. The Professional product is a stand-alone desktop application that allows users to scan small batches of pages, and hyperlink and annotate the resulting DjVu documents. Professional supports the TWAIN scanner interface. Collections of DjVu documents are searchable. Both products include the “LizardTech Virtual Printer Driver” which allows any Windows application to print files to the DjVu format.
Distribution: Requires end-user to download free DjVu viewer; can also be distributed on CD or DVD.
Publishers who have used the solution: The New Yorker, Seattle Weekly
Pricing: Enterprise retails for $6,495 (and includes three Professional licenses); Professional retails for $395.
Contact: (206) 652-5211, www.LizardTech.com
Product: NewsStand Reader, PaperPusher, NewsStand Delivery Service
Description: NewsStand provides identical-format digital editions of print publications. Users can view pages online or download compressed files using a free reader.
Features: Technology suite includes software that automatically transfers prepress files (PDF or Quark) from publishers and delivers files to customers (via NewsStand Reader). User-interface features include zoom-control, keyword search, page and section jumps, and hyperlinks.
Publishers who have used the solution: Barron’s, Harvard Business Review, The Scientist, Marketing Week
Distribution: Web browser or downloadable offline reader.
Pricing: Basic price is $1,000 per month.
Contact: (512) 334-5100, www.NewsStand.com
NXTbook Media LLC
Description: Creates digital editions viewable on any Web browser, stressing rich-media and reader-auditing capabilities.
Features: Single/double page view, bookmarking, multimedia integration, e-mail, word and archive search, offline viewing and paid/controlled solutions. Exclusive Hybrid Index Flash enables content to be found by search engines, and page-specific permalinks are designed to enable sharing of content on blogs and other social media. Offers detailed tracking of reader activity.
Publishers who have used the solution: EContent Magazine, Advanstar Communications, Reed Business Information, Cisco Systems (for Packet magazine)
Pricing: $1,000 to $2,000.
Contact: (866) 268-1219, www.NXTbookMedia.com
Description: XML-based digital magazine delivery system enables online reading using a Web browser. ActiveMagazine 3.0, available in December, is built on a digital content management system (Viewpoint) that creates micro-content from print and electronic source material for easy search and rich data applications.
Features: Embeds interactive and multimedia ads. Page-level analytics provide usage statistics. Offers page flipping and shadowing, dynamic table of contents, thumbnail viewing, e-mail and search capabilities. ActiveMagazine 3.0 combines e-edition viewing, Web-based content and rich media advertising within a magazine’s original layout.
Publishers who use the solution: Time Inc., ESPN, Reed Business Information, Hearst Business Media, Newport Communications
Pricing: Based on publisher’s needs and level of service.
Contact: (408) 200-1780, www.OliveSoftware.com
Product: Qmags Digital Editions and Custom Publishing
Description: Digital editions are presented as two-page spreads, identical to the printed version, and can be designed to fill the entire computer screen.
Features: Full-text search, archiving, embedded video/audio clips and hyperlinks, and Web 2.0 social networking options. Subscriptions and single copies are sold on Qmags’ Web site. Other publisher services include subscriber prospecting, fulfillment and renewals.
Distribution: Can be delivered in a browser-based version and/or downloaded and read with Adobe Reader.
Publishers who have used the solution: Time Inc., BNP Media, IDG, Crain, VNU Business Media, Rodale, CMP Media, Teshkeel Media, HFM, McGraw-Hill, Meredith, Hearst
Pricing: $3 to $5 per page, and 2¢ to 25¢ per copy delivered.
Contact: (212) 947-6050 x11, www.Qmags.com
Product: RealRead DIY and full-service solutions
Description: Software allows users to convert PDF files into online magazines that can be opened into full-page documents by viewers using common Web browsers. Documents are hosted by RealRead’s server or on client’s server with RealRead Enterprise package.
Features: Documents are presented in book format enhanced with page-turning animation, zoom features and other online capabilities. Subscribers can have access to full archives of a magazine (often packaged as a “premier subscriber” benefit). Other features include page-by-page traffic monitoring and customized navigation buttons.
Publishers who have used the solution: Evan Moor Publishing, Big Stone Publishing, Media Index Publishing, BuilderNews magazine, InRegister
Pricing: The hosting service starts from $10/month, and the conversion software, $650. With the “Enterprise Package,” both server software and conversion software are bundled together and sold. For small applications that need 50 or fewer titles, the cost is $3,000, or $60 per issue. Medium-sized publishers requiring 500 titles or fewer are charged $5,000, or $10 per usage. Larger customers, with needs of 5,000 documents or publications, pay $10,000, or $2 per usage.
Contact: (510) 578-2810, www.RealRead.com
Product: Realview Online Publishing Solution
Description: Cross-browser and platform-independent solution provides a lightweight (in terms of bandwidth) viewer option. It is designed to load quickly and be simple to use.
Publishers who have used the solution: Reader’s Digest, Avon
Pricing: One-time setup fee, determined by whether the publication is open access or subscription, then a per-page rate that depends on frequency and volume of pages, but includes hyperlinks, e-mail system and hosting for 12 months.
Contact: (914) 393-0510, www.RealviewTechnologies.com
Sheridan Magazine Services
Product: Magazine Messenger
Description: A digital magazine delivery platform, allowing users to deliver secure digital publications to subscribers online.
Features: Using the “messenger” model as its delivery mechanism, Magazine Messenger will alert subscribers when a new issue has been downloaded and is ready for viewing either online or offline. Referred to as a “push” delivery model, this system satisfies BPA Worldwide’s subscriber statistics verification requirements. Publications are delivered in PDF form and viewable with Acrobat Reader. With PDFs created from the final production files, the digital magazine is identical to the printed copy.
Distribution: Initially subscribers receive an e-mail notification to download and install the Magazine Messenger client application, which places an icon in the subscriber’s “system tray” or “dock.” Subscribers can set their preferences to control whether or not the client launches automatically at startup, as well as the sort order of the issues in the window.
Publishers who have used the solution: Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Airport Magazine
Pricing: Initial setup cost, plus fee based on number of pages and subscribers.
Contact: (866) 551-3200, www.SheridanMagazines.com
Product: Published Web Format (PWF)
Description: Patented technology allows users to read digital magazines without downloading plug-ins.
Features: Active Imaging provides fast page views with high-quality text and images. Tracking and reporting details time spent and geographic/demographic information. Enhancements include iPhone and iPod touch support, social media integration, blogging permalinks, RSS support, search engine integration, “look inside the magazine” previews, page flipping and send-to-a-friend.
Distribution: Can be online only or offer a download option.
Publishers who have used the solution: Time Inc., Meredith Corp., Dow Jones & Co., CMP, Penton Media, Hearst, Condé Nast, Ziff Davis Media, IDG, Bonnier Corp.
Pricing: Pricing varies depending on what services are needed.
Contact: (800) 455-5450, www.Texterity.com
Product: Yudu Publishing Pro
Description: Yudu Publishing Pro offers larger publishers high-end, advanced digital features in an interactive format. Yudu offers publishers in-house production capabilities and easy conversion of PDF documents into flip-page digital editions that can be enhanced with several levels of custom features.
Features: “Infinite zoom,” which converts PDF text into vector shapes, allowing text to remain sharp at high zoom levels. DRM tools for content protection, tracking of page views and click-throughs, Flash and audio effects. An e-mail collection facility gathers users’ addresses for opt-in database of interested readers.
Distribution: Browser-based; no plug-ins required to read the editions or to create them.
Publishers who have used the solution: JF Media, Datateam Publishing (Casino International), Centaur (Precision Marketing Magazine)
Pricing: Offers an all-inclusive cost-per-page price structure (including hosting). Price for Yudu Pro is $63 per page (before discount, which depends on the publishing solution used [Bureau Service/full service or self-publishing] and volumes produced).
Contact: (888) 367-9838, www.Yudu.com
Product: Zinio Reader
Description: According to the company, the downloaded reader handles 81 percent of the top 200 consumer magazines, allowing the company to maintain a database of digital subscribers for cross-marketing purposes. Company provides direct-to-consumer promotion services.
Features: Secure delivery of automatic downloads provides a desktop message announcing arrival of new editions. Reader offers intuitive, flip-page navigation, keyword search, note-taking and highlighting, and pass-along function.
Distribution: Through downloaded reader; browser-based version in beta tests for planned early 2008 release.
Publishers who have used the solution: Macworld, PC Magazine, Business Week, Men’s Health, Outside, Kiplingers
Pricing: Varies based on customer demands.
Contact: (415) 494-2700, www.Zinio.com PE
- Adobe Systems Inc.
- Advanced Publishing
- Advanstar Communications
- Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC)
- Big Stone Publishing
- BlueToad Inc.
- Bondi Digital Publishing
- BPA Worldwide
- Business Week
- E-Book Systems
- Harvard Business Review
- Hearst Business Media
- Hearst Corp.
- Meredith Corp.
- Nxtbook Media
- Olive Software
- People Magazine
- Quark Inc.
- RealRead Inc.
- Reed Business Information
- Sheridan Magazine Services
- Sports Illustrated
- Texterity Inc.
- Time Inc.
- Trader Publishing Co.
- Vnu Business Media
- Ziff Davis Media