Harvard Business Review Plans to Sell Digital Copies Online

Harvard Business School Publishing later this summer will begin selling single copies and annual subscriptions of the digital Harvard Business Review on the Internet, targeting business travelers and overseas consumers.

In a three-year deal signed with publishing technology firm NewsStand Inc., the university publisher will offer consumers the identical digital version of its monthly print HBR magazine. Users can download copies from hbsp.harvard.edu to their computers after paying a fee.

“A third of our readers are abroad, and with mail delivery being what it is in some countries, some of them have to wait three weeks to get the printed version after it comes off the printing press,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, New York-based group publisher and general manager of Harvard's press.

The hbsp.harvard.edu site generates 10,000 to 12,000 new print-magazine subscriptions a year and about the same number of renewals. It also sells individual copies of stories that ran in the print edition.

The expansion opened a new distribution channel for HBR, which publishes 10 times a year on business-strategy topics, Abernathy said.

Consumers go online to the magazine site, select either a single issue or an annual subscription, and place an order on the spot or through an 800 number. Consumers then are asked for their address, phone number, e-mail address, computer type and Internet connection details.

Once that process is completed, the site loads software onto the computer and registers the subscriber's details on NewsStand's servers. The subscription will commence with the download of that issue.

Copies bought this way will resemble the print version of HBR, down to the font, art and articles.

“What we liked about NewsStand was a chance to give the full-format HBR,” Abernathy said.

If Harvard should choose, the Audit Bureau of Circulations can count digitally downloaded copies of HBR as either single-copy sales or annual subscriptions. The ABC accepts sales of publications through the NewsStand service as paid circulation.

“The distinction in what we do is we use the Internet to deliver a complete product to the user's computer, and that's what makes what we do auditable,” said Gary Rubin, New York-based vice president of magazines at NewsStand.

“A user can't log on that's not purchasing the product, actually buying the magazine, whether it's a single copy or a subscription,” Rubin said. “The ABC will be auditing it, and they'll treat it as another version of the publication.”

The digital subscription probably will match the cost of the print magazine: $118 a year for domestic annual subscriptions and $165 for overseas.

“We haven't set the price,” Abernathy said. “We're in the process of testing it right now. But I would say that we might offer at a reduced price the opportunity to have the electronic as well as the print [subscriptions].”

With this launch, HBSP is breaking the mold. The university publisher had no intention of either having distinct online and print versions, or running offline content for free online, the two routes most publishers have taken.

“We're set up as a nonprofit publishing company which is the publishing arm of the business school, and what we do is publish breakthrough ideas in business,” Abernathy said, “and as part of that, money that comes in from publications is funneled back into the school to fund more research.

“I'm not sure, in that circumstance, what the free model gains more than exposure,” she said.

The digital service will get marketing support next month from mentions in regular mail pieces that solicit new subscribers, as well as in e-mails.

While it is clear that the digital HBR will have the same editorial as the print, the same cannot be said of advertising. Abernathy is not sure yet whether ads that run in the print magazine also will run in the digital version or whether separate ads will be accepted.

Plus, there is the issue of accessing other sites via the downloaded HBR edition if the consumer is reading stories while connected to the Internet.

“We haven't thought that one out,” she said. “We're still in the test phase. We haven't thought through whether this is a value-add for advertisers. One of the things about NewsStand is that any story that has a URL, you can click through, and we haven't thought how we'd use that with advertisers.”

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