By: Nu Yang
Digital editions have emerged as a key strategy among newspapers seeking to distribute content across new platforms and sell more advertising. While some publishers opt for bundling the electronic product with print subscriptions, others are treating the two mediums as separate products — and reaping the advertising results. Market size, audience profile, content type, and overall digital strategy are all factors in play when building a digital edition.
“As newspapers add platforms, many are either changing their limited-access strategies or rethinking how their strategies apply to an app,” said Newspaper Association of America vice president of audience development John Murray in the NAA/ABC subcommittee’s 2011 guide to U.S. newspaper digital editions. “It’s the topic of the day, especially coupled with revenue demands as newspapers acknowledge the fact that the business model is changing.”
The business model will continue to evolve as the industry collectively navigates the challenges of a digital world, but what publishers can do now is establish a digital strategy, select the right digital edition provider as a partner, and move forward as innovative players.
Swipe: more platforms
When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reduced its circulation area a few years ago, the newspaper sought an alternative method to deliver its product to longtime print customers who would be affected by the loss. The answer was a digital edition.
“The push didn’t come from the digital side,” said AJC senior director of digital products Nunzio Michael Lupo. “It was coming from the circulation people. They led the interest in it.”
AJC selected Olive Software in early 2008 as its digital edition provider. Olive was founded in 2000 and is based in Aurora, Colo. The company currently works with more than 250 publishers worldwide.
According to Olive sales director John Mahoney, the company helps publishers distribute content on a number of platforms, including a native iPad app, an Android viewer, and e-readers such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle.
The circulation staff were not the only ones pleased with the new platform. “Many print readers were looking for a way to graduate and move on,” Lupo said.
AJC offers a digital/print bundle: Daily subscribers can receive the AJC iPad app and access to the electronic edition included as part of their home-delivery subscription. The iPad app allows readers to touch, swipe, and search news, as well as tap into photo and video galleries. The app also includes a replica of the daily printed newspaper.
The stand-alone e-edition is a digital replica of the daily paper and lets readers turn each page, similar to the printed product. It also houses a 21-day archive. According to Lupo, a digital-only section filled with classic AJC articles and photos has been popular among readers. The replica offers breaking news by providing live links on the left column that direct readers to the paper’s website, ajc.com.
“The e-edition is like the little digital product that could,” Lupo said. “It only became a sale product last December, and it’s performing very well.”
Founded in 2008, Toronto-based Uberflip (formerly known as Mygazines) rebranded earlier this year to expand from magazines to other publications. The combined company now works with 100 magazine and newspaper clients, primarily in the U.S., including Thomson Reuters. (Disclosure: E&P is an Uberflip client.)
Uberflip starts with basic PDFs and uses them to create customizable Web apps that can be viewed on tablets and other devices. Each page is built with Flash and HTML5. Videos and animations are easily embedded, and internal and external links create an interactive experience.
Uberflip’s mobile features are delivered through a Web page built on HTML5, and readers can use onscreen controls to swipe pages and navigate page links similar to many native apps.
“Publishers are usually trying to decide between going with native or Web apps,” said Neil Bhapkar, Uberflip’s director of marketing. “A pro with a Web app is the cost savings. With native apps, they need to be maintained, and we remind (our clients) that there’s marketing and advertising costs needed to make them stand out. With a Web app, there’s much more control.”
Bhapkar added that Uberflip also builds native apps for clients who decide to take this approach.
Texterity is another provider that works with both digital editions and native apps. In March, Texterity was acquired by CMS provider Godengo. Texterity was founded in 1991 and is based in Southborough, Mass. Combined with Godengo, the new company serves 500 publishers and 1,200 titles.
Godengo+Texterity president Carl Scholz said the merger was a way to expand digital services. The company started building a mobile presence about four years ago by exploring early native apps on Android and Apple devices, allowing publications to “adapt to different screen sizes and to jump on any platform and browser.”
Share: interactive experiences
Digital editions allow stories to come to life, from a video embedded in an article to a hot link that takes a reader from a page directly to an advertiser’s website.
Investors Business Daily launched e-IBD in 2003 with Olive Software. The publication is based in Los Angeles with a combined Monday to Friday distribution of 130,578.
“We have a huge branded value, and we wanted to maintain our professional presence and integrate with (our website),” said Harlan Ratzky, vice president and director of investors. com.
With e-IBD, stock information is integrated into each story. “There is a ticker symbol, where with one click, a quote or chart pops out,” Ratzky said. “You can check stock ratings, tap into a website, and not leave the digital edition. It makes the data more actionable.”
Ratzky said he has seen a growth in customer engagement with the digital edition. “They like how it’s integrated with the website and how it’s not just a static article or stock table.”
That paper is also working to define the various kinds of reading experiences. “There are two different markets: those who think the replica is important and those who want the Web experience,” Ratzky said. “We need to provide for both markets, because there is an audience for both.”
Ratzky said consumers are viewing IBD’s iPad edition for an average of 23 minutes, indicating a high level of engagement.
Issuu is another digital-edition provider that was created in 2007, with offices in New York and Copenhagen. According to Mik Strøyberg, director of consumer engagement and U.S. sales, the company works with more than 4 million publishers, including The New York Times, and averages around 20,000 new uploads per day from around the world.
Strøyberg said Issuu’s goal is to create a “content platform” for publishers. “We have 60 million users a month,” he said. “If a publisher wants to widen their reach, they can target a certain group with the same subject or geographical location.”
Issuu has also made it easy for publishers to integrate social media in their digital editions. For example, when an issue or story has embedded Facebook content, a reader can tap it to full screen, and then minimize it, so the reader never leaves the site.
Vice magazine started working with Issuu in May. The New York-based free publication covering international arts and culture can be found in 22 major U.S. markets. It has a U.S. circulation of 160,000.
“We’re heavily focused on our digital edition, and we wanted to increase our reach,” said Vice head of social media Ashish Patel. “In our short run (with Issuu), we’ve already had 15,000 reads, and we anticipate it to grow.”
Patel said the digital edition creates a better user experience than a straight PDF. “You can use the mouse as your eyes. Visually, it’s a better experience, and there is added value with the hyperlinks.”
In his role, Patel said he sees a great opportunity with providing content and interacting with consumers on social media. “Our content demographic targets the younger side, ages 18 to 34,” he said. “We’re a little ahead of the curve, so it’s not a difficult application … it’s a natural progression.”
Engagement also rose with PowerBlock magazine, another Uberflip client. Bhapkar said the auto magazine already had an online presence, but the publication added an interactive experience with video and social media.
“The subscription base grew, because the videos went viral,” he said. “They were able to gain a new audience and raise awareness of the brand.”
He added, “Social media can create a dialogue. The feedback is really quick and after looking at their analytics, it allows publishers to quickly adapt a strategy.”
Sell: creating revenue
When it comes to generating revenue with a digital edition, Strøyberg said, “It depends on what the publisher is looking for. Are they going for advertising or subscription revenue? Newspapers can put a preview to a certain page and then have (readers) hit a subscription service, or catalogs are selling products, or magazines can attract advertisers with a package.”
Issuu launched an advertising tool called Adpages last year. According to Issuu, Adpages does not redirect users to other pages but rather opens a full-spread digital publication reader with the customer’s published print promotion displayed in an easy-to-read format. The Adpages tool also allows users to find and target their core audience exclusively.
“Those who read digital magazines are twice as likely to use more time and buy twice as much,” Strøyberg said. “With advertising display ads, they only click for 30 seconds and leave, but if they come to a magazine or a catalog, they will spend 14 to 15 minutes there.”
At Olive, Mahoney said when publishers go digital, they create “branches of trees … they can move to supplements, inserts, things that sit outside the paper.”
With such a broad package available to advertisers, Mahoney said the digital edition creates a “nice marriage” between products.
Olive offers several advertising options with its digital editions. Print ads can be hot linked to the advertiser website. The e-edition has sponsorship opportunities within and around the landing page. The ad positions can be rotated and changed according to the advertiser’s needs. App sponsorship is another method.
“Visitors and subscribers are spending 25 to 30 minutes looking at our publications. That’s a lot of time in the Web world,” Mahoney said.
Lupo said the AJC’s digital edition has been “revenue positive.”
“We’re receiving revenue from subscriptions, and we’re able to sell ads for the e-edition,” he said. “Something we’re looking at is selling two or three full double-truck ads that are not in print, but on the e-edition.”
Ratzky said IBD realized that repurposing print ads was not the way to maximize advertising opportunities. The paper now rolls out more features and full-page ads with the digital edition. He also said IBD “got out there early” and charged for its content right away.
“We recognized the value of our digital edition,” he said. “We found that readers wanted both print and digital. (For them), it’s not a disposal publication.”
Scholz said he encouraged publishers to sell the website differently and to get sponsorships for digital editions. He said when a couple of Texterity customers learned about the merger, they came on board because they wanted to improve their website. “They found new advertising opportunities on the Web. For example, our regional magazines created a local calendar with events that had active links to advertisers.”
As print expands into digital, those who provide the services and those who use them each predict different trends and informative ways publishers can adapt.
“Focus on tablets,” Bhapkar said. “Make sure content is available on all operating devices.”
Strøyberg said, “Apps are getting old when it comes to publishing. Don’t rely on apps; instead use HTML5.”
He advised publishers to make advertisers pay for their digital experience. “Look away from the subscription model. There is no more brand loyalty, because there are so many brands now. Instead focus on the advertiser, and bring them on board so they can connect to the right audience.”
HTML5 has another believer in Texterity’s Scholz. “It means the very smart version of your browser. It’s tied into a responsive design element, no matter what the device is … publishers love it. It takes something that used to look boring and brings it to life.”
Scholz said publishers mistakenly tend to focus merely on getting their content to digital, rather than increasing the value of, and demand for, digital advertising. “There’s no great solution out there yet. That’s the next big thing to conquer — how to get print money into digital with the same value.”
“Publishers need to ask themselves, ‘what is the best way to distribute and on what platform?’” Mahoney said. “Replicas have a good shelf life, but the next thing is something more tangible that can provide a customized template with customized content.”
Lupo said a trend he sees is the paying customer vs. the free customer. “It makes sense to serve those two groups of customers separately … they are two different lines of business.”
Ratzky encouraged other publishers to think beyond replicating the print product with the digital edition. “IBD is not morphing print. We’re building on top of it,” he said. “We’re making our information accessible anytime, anywhere, on demand.”
He also advised publishers to not look at their digital edition as a “defensive mechanism, where it’s just thrown up (on the Web).
“They need to look at it as an opportunity,” he said, “as a long-term sustainable profitable business model that can benefit subscribers and advertisers.”
Dos and Don’ts of Developing Your Digital Platform
The ABC has come a long way in counting digital products in audited circulation figures, but publishers must know the rules before they start playing the game.
- Research your options if you’re considering an outside vendor to help track digital subscriptions and usage.
- Be creative and take advantage of new technologies when developing your digital program.
- Include additional content — hyperlinks, video, audio, and updated news stories — in your replica or non-replica digital editions.
- Keep appropriate documentation to verify that the subscriber paid an incremental price or registered, activated, and accessed the digital edition.
- Imply that any part of your digital package is free with phrases such as “no additional cost” or “no extra charge.”
- Serve back copies with the intent to count them as paid or verified circulation.
- Charge a one-time fee for an app and expect it to qualify as paid circulation.
- Offer other goods or services to encourage subscribers to access your digital edition that’s part of a flat-price bundled subscription.
- Try to count a free public-access website as a digital edition.
- Limit your newspaper. The rules for digital editions allow some flexibility when creating an innovative new product.