Browser-Based Digital Editions: Making the Case

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Magazine publishers are finding an increasing array of ways to use digital editions to build circulation and advertising. A vivid digital version of a printed magazine results in an enhanced version of an ink-and-paper product.

Though many readers still want printed magazines, a rapidly growing segment of subscribers request digital editions. For business-to-business magazines, this can be up to 20 percent of the subscription base, with most magazines achieving 5 percent to 15 percent digital distribution. For publishers, digital editions increase customer satisfaction, boost subscriptions, enhance revenue and open new pools of prospective readers.

Let's be clear about the difference between true online, browser-only editions and the first generation of digital publishing with proprietary software. They both deliver an exact digital representation of the printed magazine, but the big differences are ease of use for the reader and flexibility for the publisher.

The problem with installed applications is that though they use the Internet as a delivery mechanism, they aren't really online. The older digital publishing systems force readers to download and install specialized software (or an additional plug-in) before they can even look at the publication. This limits the ways a publisher can use digital editions and reduces the pool of potential readers.

A browser-only edition can be loaded with links to advertisers, to publishers' offers or to other partners, just like a Web site. This enables search capabilities ranging from single documents to all documents in a collection, multiple page-view formats and high-quality click-through text/graphics.

This technology can be a powerful tool for publishers. Coupled with other technologies as simple as e-mail or as sophisticated as usage tracking systems, digital editions help publishers build their businesses by better meeting the needs of specific reader segments and advertisers.

Here are examples:

Reducing costs with digital-only opt in. By using e-mail to replace postal mail and a digital edition to replace the ink-and-paper magazine samples, publishers such as Penton Media learned they can find and convert new subscribers to the print or digital version at a much lower cost.

Instant fulfillment. Online editions increase the retention rate for new subscribers. Publishers can offer instant fulfillment, delivering their first issue digitally within minutes. Condé Nast has used this program to increase the take-up rate for new subscription offers. Instead of making new subscribers wait the six to eight weeks needed to begin fulfilling a print subscription, digital delivery provides readers with an issue immediately.

This instant gratification boosts customer satisfaction. The cost of rapid delivery of a physical magazine, and the cost of delivery prior to payment - when publisher exposure is highest - also is avoided.

Selling digital edition sponsorships. Some publishers, such as EH Publishing, publisher of Electronic House, are finding new revenue opportunities by offering advertiser sponsorships for digital editions. The sponsor gets an electronic bellyband that appears as an overlay to the cover, announcing that the issue is "powered by" the company and offering links to corporate information or specific products or services.

This feature gives the advertiser a unique position in the magazine and gives the publisher a new piece of premium ad space. Traditional print features such as cover wraps, gatefolds and blow-in cards are digitized in an interactive format, enabling other revenue opportunities.

Customized content. Digital editions can be customized to reflect the specific needs of the reader. Top Producer Magazine, a publication of Farm Journal, provides more than 30 unique editions segmented by customer location and type of crop or other demographic information. Publishers can customize editorial content cost effectively and provide advertisers a highly targeted audience.

Multimedia enhancements. Digital editions support multimedia enhancements such as embedded video and sound to provide subscribers with value-added features. These enhancements commonly are used as a full or partial page that plays automatically upon viewing or via a play-on-demand approach that lets users choose what multimedia content to view.

Expanding international circulation. Many publishers seek to add international readers. However, delivering the printed publication in a timely fashion is often difficult and always expensive. With broadband availability, more international readers are interested in a digital edition because they can receive it instantly and more cheaply than the printed version. Penton Media has found that even with magazines having an average reader age of 40 or older, the pickup on digital has been strong. Readers like that it is searchable, and they find it less overwhelming than a Web site.

Tracking subscriber behavior. Tracking systems let publishers, editors and circulation managers stay more attuned to what readers want by providing detailed metrics on customer activities right down to each user click. Summary data are compiled to provide information on page views, time spent with an article, how much time was spent viewing a particular ad and more.

Investing in tomorrow's audience. As publishers and advertisers find success with digital publishing, they are discovering that many of the initial digital subscribers are among their prime advertising targets. Often these readers save back issues for reference and highly value the ability to search the archives for the specific information they want.


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