Colin Bennett, MD of abannan, is a publishing industry expert who was one of the first to adopt printing from high-res PDFs in the 90s. Having turned his attention to building a digital publishing solution for tablets, he talks about the decision currently faced by magazine publishers wanting to take their magazine digital.
A year ago when we were researching the UK magazine market in an effort to assess the enthusiasm, or otherwise, of publishers for having tablet editions we concluded that they still had some doubts about whether they needed to have App editions of their titles or not. Fast forward one year and, with the introduction of the Apple Newsstand, the majority of publishers are now aware that in order to survive the Tablet and online revolution, they need to have a digital presence - the question they now ask themselves is should they dive straight in or just dip their toe in the water?
Latest predictions indicate that there may well be total tablet sales of one billion by the end of 2015 which implies over 30 million in the UK. Early research on the use of these devices shows that they are using their tablets to get their news, and it follows that these new habits will influence the way they would like to read their magazines.
So replicate or re-design? There are potentially pro's and con's for both. And exactly how will digital readership generate revenue?
Replication, as the name implies, is an exact copy of the print publication, typically available to view as a PDF that allows you to turn the pages as you would a magazine. For those unsure about committing fully to digital, this might seem the most attractive option, as there are no additional design costs to produce, and it is quick and easy for publishers to effect. The majority of hosting companies charges are based on revenue share of the income received from cover price sales of tablet edition sales. So it is possible that no upfront costs need to be incurred. There also need not be a re-jig of advertising, as it will automatically be included, with the obvious drawback that the advertiser gets an extra plug in the digital edition for free.
This may, on the surface, appear to be the better choice; allowing publishers can gain an experimental presence on tablets for their titles and monitor the progression of tablet take up and magazine reading on them. Surely they can pump more resources into it later down the line if there is a good uptake?
I would actually argue that this is the most risky strategy. Zooming and scrolling around a page considerably erodes user experience and discourages them from reading to the end, especially with so many more engaging things available on iPad. There is a significant danger that if tablet owners find the magazine poor, they may abandon the digital version after one issue and the drawbacks of replication for user experience are many:
• When the printed page size is bigger than the 10" tablet screen, type sizes that read quite easily in the printed form do not work at all well on the screen.
• Zoom does not help, as this merely increases the size of irresolute text and not its focus.
Ultimately this means numbers won't grow and this will undermine the business case for the tablet edition. Digital readers can be unforgiving of a poor user experience, and vocal about it. Publications who try a replica but then wish to move to redesign when the platform takes off will struggle to re-engage those readers who have already tried and discarded their first effort.
So the other choice is to re-design, producing a full optimised version of the latest physical edition with digital content to enrich the experience and make the most of the capabilities of a tablet. This course of action usually raises the concern that it will be labour and time intensive, requiring additional resource or training in digital functionality, however our experience shows, that by using standard layouts created specifically for the tablet the time needed can be reduced and the costs minimised.
What you get in return is an 'easy to read' immersive experience that is better than print reading, which has the potential to amplify readership figures by attracting new digital-savvy readers who may have had no interest in the print version.
With tablet publications, experience is everything. A happy reader will switch to digital reading and recommend the experience to others, an unsatisfied reader will vote with their feet and stay with the print version, or, if the costs for print copies are high, they may abandon the publication completely.
The only answer to stay ahead of the curve with readers is to go with progress and re-design, making it not only as easy to read as the printed edition, but also a better experience utilising cutting edge digital technology available on tablets like the high powered processor, making it possible to include sound and video content.
The logical extension of the conversation and decision regarding the publishers' content then extends to advertising, and optimising magazine content , while requiring an initial outlay, actually opens up new advertising revenue opportunities to monetise your edition.
Apple developed Newsstand to cope with the considerable opportunities provided by online publications. They contend that the iPad is a completely different platform to print and website and, as such, there should be a different approach to the creative that is needed and avenue for different metrics to be considered.
As with editorial content, a straight replica advertisement from the print version is simply not fit for purpose. With a digital edition, there is no facing editorial that compels readers to dwell on the page, and adverts can be skipped quickly. Arresting content is needed to ensure cut-through as readers browse through the editorial.
While again, this seems to suggest cost and labour, there are clear benefits to this type of enhanced advertising. Unlike website ads, which are mostly consigned to banners or pillars, full use of the space can be made. Slideshows, scrolling text and video can be incorporated, meaning you potentially get a lot more bang for your buck with the space you have to work with.
Like Facebook and Google, digipublication advertising space can be optimised to display adverts specifically targeting the reader by demographic and location with accompanying analytics to provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of the content. These assets make this a valuable and cost-effective tool for advertisers, especially with the capability to link directly to the advertiser's website. When we developed the abannan solution, creating revenue for the publisher was something that was very much front of mind, with a publishing background myself, sustaining and future proofing the industry was something very close to my heart. Developing a tool kit for publishers allowing them to take their publications onto the digital platform simply and effectively, with the functionality to then make it attractive for advertisers has been a challenge, but a worthy one.
My message to publishers is, with sales of tablets continuing to sky rocket, now is the time to jump in and start honing your digital offering. And to readers, accept nothing less than the user experience you expect. The capabilities are there, and fortune favours the bold.