digital magazines

Sainsbury’s “Entertainment on Demand” Digital Newsstand

An interesting launch last week, with Sainsbury’s offering its customers digital subscriptions to over 1,000 magazines by partnering with Magazine Cloner to run a feed of the PocketMags site. The new site is part of their “Entertainment on Demand” offering that provides movies, music and ebooks as well as magazines. You can see the similarities and the the differences between a title page below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.49.46Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.50.00

As well as the usual payment methods, The Sainsbury’s site also allows customers to redeem Nectar points in purchasing subscriptions or single copies, and gives points for purchase. (more…)


Probably the most widely-read magazine you’ve never heard of

Last week I went to the British Library’s Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition and, amid talk of King John, Edward Coke and the banning of fish weirs on the River Medway, I had a chat with a chap whose travel magazine (called TRVL) has been going for around four years and has something approaching 2 million subscriptions. 2 million! – how many have your digital editions had in that time? The galling thing for a marketer is that most of these have been generated through word of mouth.

It doesn’t follow all of the ‘rules‘ that I think should apply to a digital magazine, but it was purpose-built for the iPad, not reverse-engineered from some print title. And because it was conceived in that way it doesn’t have any of the messy compromises that magazine apps have – it doesn’t feel the need for every issue to appeal to every reader; it can focus on long-form content, its content is not time-sensitive.

What it doesn’t have yet is a significant income stream, nor much of a website to speak of – there are premium subs and some advertising (although they face that classic problem of being read internationally, but with advertisers who book ads nationally) – and I don’t know what the level of engagement is, but it shows that there are people out there doing things in a way that traditional print companies are not, and achieving the sort of reach that digital editions of print magazines are not getting close to.

How thrilled are you with the sales of your PDF page-turner now?

PDF editions – why they’re rubbish, and why you need them

If you’re at all concerned with digital editions of magazines you should follow @david_hicks on Twitter. You do have to endure a succession of tweets about Man United (a once-successful association football club m’lud), but between these he says some very sensible things about digital magazines.

“Sensible” in this context means of course “stuff I agree with”, and his criticisms of PDF ‘page-turners’ are generally right on the money.

These ‘digital facsimiles’ were devised as a solution to publishers’ problems, not to meet any need of consumers. They allow a magazine to pretend they’ve ‘gone digital’, when in reality they’ve done nothing of the sort. They tie a publisher and a consumer to a publishing and content schedule that dates from the days of movable type. And I don’t care what your reader survey says, people don’t like reading facsimile editions – if they did you’d be selling more of them.

A ‘proper’ digital edition will have been built from the ground up so that it works in the way a user of a digital device consumes content. It wouldn’t be issue-based; it should be updated constantly and able to draw on all the content of the title. Your magazine might support several editions or apps for different types of content, or you might have one app that pulls in material from multiple titles. The key is to identify the need and build around that, not create a clumsy facsimile and hope to drag current readers across to it.

Having set my standard firmly in the ground, I’m now going to tell you why every title should have a PDF version.
For consumers who don’t want print, produce a proper digital experience rather than a rubbish compromise. But because page-turners are simply an extension of the print product, give them away free with a print subscription and leverage the marketing benefits that this allows. (more…)

Shard Experience

riig33xvdvgvgui3v5myTo The Shard! (I think it should always have an exclamation mark) on a crisp March morning for a presentation and a breakfast by Readly.

Readly are the new “all you can eat” subscription service for magazines. You pay a tenner a month and get to access to all the magazines – current issues and back issues – on their service. That’s currently 400 different magazines from across Sweden (where Readly launched), the US (now live) and the UK (which is launching in the next few days). There seem to be around 120 UK titles on the site at present, with IPC and Haymarket being the two larger publishers present. More publishers and titles will presumably be added over the next few weeks.

The editions are ‘just’ flat PDF versions rather than anything more sophisticated. I’ve always had reservations about this way of going digital (and I go back over ten years here, when the Telegraph were looking at producing page-turner editions using Olive software), but Per Hellberg, Readly’s CEO, made a strong case for this type of product as the best option for a “magazine buffet” service.

Primary among the reasons is to give the customers a standard experience – any title they read or browse on the service will have the same navigation and the same features; there’s no need to have to come to terms with different publishers’ preferred UX. Second is consumer conservatism – despite what us publishers might want, many readers like (or don’t actively dislike) the consistency of experience between print and digital.

A third reason is ease for publishers. A standard format from the press-ready print files means no extra work to get titles live and allows for back issues to be uploaded without any format conversion. The whole subject of back issues is important, and I’ll come back to this in a second.

Per’s overarching philosophy is this – there’s nothing wrong with the content that’s being produced, so why would Readly want to change that (“Netflix don’t re-edit movies they show”) – the challenge for the market is in distribution, accessibility and marketing. And on customer acquisition over the next three years Readly are planning to spend £100 million across the UK, US, Germany and other territories. (Bloody hell, that’s a marketing budget.) (more…)

Poster #fail

billboard poster

Guess the advertiser

I posted this picture on LinkedIn yesterday as it’s a classic case of a missing detail buggering up an entire campaign.

The advert is on an electronic billboard near the office. It’s a big display, on a prime site that’s passed by thousands of cars and pedestrians each day. It’s an ’impactful’ poster with a simple, clear message, strong colours and compelling visuals (magazine covers are always eye-catching).

The one problem is that there’s no way of knowing who the advertiser is. There’s no web address, no brand name, and when you google “your favourite magazines” you get Future’s shop site (’MyFavouriteMagazines’).

I’m reasonably sure the advertiser is Zinio because of the range of publishers on show, the number of titles they mention and because of the digital emphasis, but I’m not 100% certain. If I’m in the dark it’s unlikely that a consumer would be any wiser.

This can’t be a cheap place to advertise (and they’ve apparently also got the same ad on a site in or near Westfield) and whatever has been spent is utterly wasted.

Make that headline “#massivefail”

UPDATE: It’s not Zinio – apparently it was a joint initiative across five of the biggest magazine publishers to promote digital magazines in the run up to Christmas. On the plus side, it’s great to see publishers working together; I’ve redacted the negative side, because if I ever want to get another job in this industry, I suspect that my opinion of the execution of the campaign would be a mite prejudicial to any of those firms hiring me. (If you do it again guys, I’m happy to share thoughts.)

Magazine industry veteran in optimism shock.

Last Friday I came out of a meeting with a group of publishers feeling vaguely optimistic about the future of the industry – which is something that I can’t say has happened for quite some time.

I was moderating a user group meeting for one of the subscription bureaus and present were clients representing B2C and B2B publishers, big and small titles, UK and international.

The details of what was discussed aren’t important (and are anyway bound by the secrecy of the confessional), what was encouraging was the attitude. Although many of the people there talked about a ‘digital first’ strategy, what they were actually pursuing was a ‘customer first’ strategy – they want to deliver their product however the reader wanted to consume it, whether that was in print, digital, bundle, web, app, whatever.

“Agnostic marketing” was a termed that was used – it wasn’t a matter of promoting one particular delivery channel, but promoting the brand. And the brand in all its forms – magazine, products, events, add ons. Again the details aren’t important, it was the urge to innovate and to test that came across most strongly: “we don’t know what’s going to work, but we don’t yet know what’s not going to work, so we want to try as much as we can and see where the data lead us.” (more…)

Will digital save print?

Some interesting conversations with publishers last week about digital editions of magazines. The excitement of the launch of these products has settled into a realism about their use and about their limitations.

There are still a few publications where the digital version is being set up as the replacement for the print edition, but in many more cases the new medium is viewed as supplementary to the old.

As the Dovetail Digital Subscriber Survey shows, the number of “digital only” subscribers (i.e. ones that have no print product subscriptions) is vanishingly small (<1%). It will grow, but the much greater number are those mixing print and digital products.

This chimes with publishers’ experience. They had initial euphoria as large numbers of shell apps/sample editions were downloaded, but this growth wasn’t (indeed couldn’t be) sustained or turned into digital-only revenue streams. Digital only subs are still growing for most publishers, but these growth rates are much slower and, in some cases, have completely levelled out. The potential for substantially expanding a title’s market through digital editions is much more limited than publishers first thought. (more…)