Digital publishing opened up opportunities for magazine publishers to have deeper engagement with their audience. With digital editions, magazines did more than just present content and information. They invited audiences to interact through email, chat, feedback forms, and social sharing. They allowed readers to visualize content through videos, links and in various environments.
Technology and advancements made many publishers and content creators think that more interactive elements would bring audiences psychologically closer to their titles, and that users would start to have some degree of loyalty toward the brand.
Headlines promote this idea time and time again — that interactivity is the holy grail that will elevate a digital magazine to highly profitable levels. But, that’s not always how it works. Every title is different and each needs clear metrics to measure the costs and benefits of their interactivity. All the more when the question rises, how much interactivity is needed when latest reports say that only a minority of users say they want them?
In his article on The Media Briefing, Jasper Jackson asked three leading digital magazine publishers to share their thoughts on interactivity, and tell us what works for their publications. You will find that the answer really depends on many factors such as audience segments to be served and their expectations, the competitive environment, the available technology, and the costs to interact.
If you have thoughts to add to these, feel free to share with us in the comments!
Rebekah Billingsley, publishing director, mobile devices, Immediate Media
“When the iPad launched, publishers, designers and editors got very excited about the beautiful, highly engaging interactive future of magazines. So the acceptance of consumers of PDF replica magazines has been a major surprise.
“In the recent digital ABCs, 40 percent of the top ten selling titles were PDFs. Even more unexpected is the number of readers who buy magazines to read on their smart phones; when Immediate launched iPhone versions of its replica magazines, downloads went through the roof.
“The point is, right now, consumers tablet tastes aren’t as sophisticated as you might assume, certainly across demographics outside of tech or gaming. The Pew report suggests even younger readers might like a simple, curated experience.
“That’s not to say tastes will not mature – they will and quickly. But files of interactive magazines are massive, iconography and reading experiences are inconsistent and tracking and analytics aren’t reliable enough to tell us which bits of interactivity are upping sales conversions.
“We need to take our consumers on the journey with us: getting a first phase product out into the market and testing, learning and assessing is vital. So while I’m excited about where magazines are going, how fantastic the advertising proposition is going to be, how the tablet is going to take my favourite medium, the magazine to a multi media future, I’m happy to enjoy the journey.”
Tim Rowell, founder & MD Michwell Group, former digital publisher, Telegraph Media Group
The market for tablet apps is still fairly immature. I’d suggest that most publishers efforts to date, despite the level of investment, could be categorised as “experiments”. Few are profitable and most have disappointed both readers and publishers in terms of take-up, usage, return on investment and ongoing running costs.
At what point do finance directors and commercial P&L owners start to analyse a tablet strategy in the context of profit and return on investment as opposed to accepting the argument that tablet versions are simply a necessity for readers?
Publishers should sit down and analyse every aspect of the business model before committing further spend. They need to be able answer these questions:
Audience / Advertising
- Is there a demand from your readership / audience for an enhanced tablet app?
- Have you conducted any research with your audience to determine their needs? If so, has this research provided a clear steer on the product and the charging model?
- Are your advertising clients willing to support / invest in production of adverts for an enhanced app? Do your advertising clients have the skills to create interactive advertising?
- Does your existing content production process support the delivery of content to app? i.e. can you generate feeds containing all the relevant items – text, video, images and layout?
- If not, what would be the annual running costs of a production team to support this? How consistent are your production processes across all platforms – print, web, mobile and apps?
- Which platform is the priority for your audience – do you really need apps for iOS, Android and Windows 8?
- Can you build the skills in-house to design and develop your app? Do you have the internal skills to work effectively with an external supplier?
- Given the challenging times for all publishers, it’s vital that they have answers to these questions before moving to the next phase.
PDFs page turners are a valid and cheap route by which to test the market and start to gather evidence to support a robust strategy. Indeed, many publishers have found that such apps are all that their audience wants and needs. There’s no need for guesswork anymore, there’s enough evidence out there and it’s easy enough to gather evidence to answer the key questions.
Mike Goldsmith, tablet editor-in-chief, Future Publishing
The majority of Future’s success on Newsstand has come from starting with “simple” PDF ports and then scaling up the interactivity based on user feedback and analytics. If the audience wants interactive, we can deliver rich content including animations, video, galleries etc using our FutureFolio platform.
However if they want a straight digital replica, it’s worth stressing there is still work to do here – repro and colour management, the removal of covermount and print-specific page furniture, the addition of basic interaction to improve navigation (eg. page links, more device-friendly content pages) etc. To call it simple hides a lot of work.
You can see by our launching of interactive versions of T3, Total Film, Edge and MacFormat that the technology, entertainment and gaming markets react well to richer translations of monthly titles.
However our recent launch of interactive iPad-only weekly brands into the craft and digital photography markets with Gathered by Mollie Makes and Photography Week shows iPad audiences don’t just want interactivity per se – it’s how much, how often and at what price point.
We’ve found conversion does increase the more interactivity you add to a title – even just the addition of page links, web links and pop-up video and galleries to our more straight-forward digital replicas has increased download volumes.
However the move to a fully interactive edition such as T3 – where pages are freshly designed bespoke for device – obviously require additional investment around staffing, workflow and IP. Making the most of your existing staff, best practices and wholly-owned content obviously helps any publishing calculations – as does having your own software solution!
With Newsstand on the iPad a little over a year old, iPhone magazines still to be cracked, the impact of the iPad mini still to be felt plus the recent arrival of credible devices from Google, Amazon and Microsoft, I think it’s too early to say especially with the new audiences this activity and more will bring. Like all best practise in the lightning fast world of digital editions, we know what works right now – tomorrow however…
Digital magazines are completely different from print media, giving readers an enhanced online content experience. This shake-up has already reached publishers’ doors