Channel Trumps Technology: An interview with Mark White, Vice President of Specialty Marketing at U.S. News & World Report
US News & World Report discontinued their print magazine in November of 2010, and now embraces mostly digital products that fit their tagline: "Life's Decisions-Made Here." But they had a dilemma. Some of their most popular and profitable products, sold in print magazine newsstands, had no channel in the digital world.
"We call them bookazines," says Mark White, vice president of specialty marketing at U.S. News & World Report in an interview he gave me last week. "They have no subscriptions, [and mostly] newsstand distribution in the print form. 'Newsstand-only' was a buzzkill for advertisers, and we have a lot of advertising, especially in Best Hospitals."
The digital magazine world didn't know what to do with these products. "Apple is not set up (anymore) to sell single copy and they are promoting subscriptions. So, SIPs fall between the cracks," explains White. Amazon had a brief foray into single copy sales online, and gave up.
So, what was a company like U.S. News & World Report, that had so many SIPs (Special Interest Publications, or Single Issue Publications, or one-offs, as I call them) to do?
With challenge comes innovation. U.S. News & World Report's innovation: sell it like a book online, like a magazine in print.
White sets up each digital version of the bookazine with an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), the number that identifies each version of each book. Equipped with an ISBN, Amazon and other channels think of the product as a book. They sell them on the Kindle as a book, and Apple sells the product on iBooks.
Technical Advantages to Selling One-Offs as eBooks
There are several technical benefits to selling these one-offs as books rather than magazines, as White points out. Anyone with a consumer marketing background knows that the more you ask your consumer to click before getting the prize--the product--the more abandonment you will have. "Each magazine app is different, but books are all the same process. There's no app to download." That means you don't have to get the consumer to first click to download an app, then to click again to choose an issue of your magazine.
A second technical advantage: "With books, the text is reflowable," explained White. That means you can look at the bookazine on an iphone, on an iPad and the text will reformat to fit the size of the screen. The advertisement is an image. It has to be in the same places as in the print version, but "what's around it isn't going to be exactly the same. It depends on the screen format."
Why would a consumer pay when a lot of the information is available on the web?
OK. I get why U.S. News & World Report is using the book channels-basically forced into it-because they don't have subscriptions. I asked White to figure why someone would buy his products since, after all, a lot of this information can be found on the U.S. News & World Report website for free.
"First of all, not all of the articles are on the web. And, when they are, they are not necessarily all on the web at the same time. We publish scores of articles each day. The amount of time it would take to collect all the information from the website is enormous."
Then there's the discoverability of content part of it. "On the website the rankings are set up in a search format. You have to know what you're looking for," says White. "In the bookazine, you don't have to know what you're searching for-it's a table of rankings. That means you can browse the entire list." That's great for people like me, who may not know what we're looking for. We're looking for experts to tell us what to look for.
The list of the benefits of the digital product (which you buy) over the website (which is free) continue.
"You can find the information again," reminds White. A robust website is continuously adding information, changing the information, moving things around, highlighting different things. The bookazine is a package. Information will always be there for you, always in the same place.
Then there's what I coined while talking with Mark the "Anti-ADD" effect of the bookazine over the web. Here's how that works.
Your kid is in 11th grade. You want to find out all you can about colleges. You put your search term in google. You click on the very relevant result, which is nestled in a website with a lot of other juicy information. Within seconds, you've left the topic and you've clicked on 15 Bankrupt Celebrities for a titillating slideshow. Ever happen to you? In contrast, with a bookazine, all the information you are looking at is relevant to what you intended to look at. You don't get sidetracked.
White isn't hung up on the name. Magazine, book, "mook" (magazine-book), bookazine, whatever. "We're in the paginated content business" he explained.
U.S. News & World Report has found a partner to help with this new digital bookazine sales channels-a company called vook (hyperlink to www.vook.com). Vook started with the idea of adding video to digital books, but has found a niche making and distributing graphics-rich books and bookazines. The difference between the two? A true digital book has no advertising. "We have a magazine heritage," says White. "We know advertising well, and we're not willing to give it up for this product."
U.S. New & World Report has only been trying the digital book distribution channel for a few months, so it's early days on sales. But, White could tell me that the top three channels, ranked of course, are Amazon, Apple, then Nook.
I pressed White on how the books could be found, and he said they are mostly found from the U.S. News & World Report website. While that may work for a well-known brand like U.S. News & World Report, that can be a serious drawback for a company that does not have strong traffic already. The digital book world, like the digital magazine world, still has a long way to go towards figuring out how to break through the digital clutter to showcase these products. U.S. News released its latest e-bookazine, Best Colleges 2013, last week. So, if you're like me and have that 11th grader at home, buy your copy today on Kindle or iPad.
Kudos to the creativity of U.S. News & World Report for breaking the chains of subscription sales and bringing single copy back to the digital world. Some of the best changes come about because of necessity and only after you are forced into it do you see the benefits.
To recap, the benefits of selling digimag one-offs in the book channels are:
1. The major magazine channels like Apple newsstand will not sell magazines without a subscription. So, the alternative is to not sell digitally, clearly not an option.
2. Books do not require an app within an app to access. Rather than have to download the magazine app, and then the content itself, you simply buy the book, and download. Less clicks = less abandonment
3. Text is reflowable in an ebook. You can read your bookazine on the iPhone and the Kindle Fire.
4. Like all packaged content, bookazines allow you to find the information easily and quickly, to browse the information, and to not be side-tracked (the Anti-ADD effect). That's why you buy it--it's better