Digital magazines are no longer the novelty product they were a few years ago. We now have established examples of both digital-only and print-replica products employing a wide variety of solutions. However, the media narrative on digital magazines has revisited the same questions several times now and magazine publishers are starting to answer these questions and develop workable and sound strategies for the digital space.
Below are some of the most frequently recurring problems we feel digital magazine publishers encounter, and how, based on our experience in this industry, we’d approach them.
1) Monetization models
By far the biggest problem magazine publishers are encountering is finding an effective monetization model for their digital product or products. There are questions about how much consumers are willing to pay for such content, given the ubiquity of free written content on the web now. Doubtlessly this has significantly changed how we consume media and entertainment as a whole, so publishing isn’t alone in approaching these issues.
This would seem to suggest ad-supported models are ideal for the digital magazine space, but, in spite of increasing ad revenues, digital circulations for most titles simply aren’t large enough to make this model viable for most. It’s also important to underscore that consumers are willing to pay for content they value, so highly specialist content, or content that is qualitatively distinguishable from that which is freely available should indeed be charged for, and digital models offer unique and bespoke ways of monetizing such content, e.g. individual purchases, purchasing bespoke bundles and so on.
If a magazine publisher is already publishing a print-based edition, the best approach in our experience would be for them to engage their readership with trials of various products and measure the feedback, both through informal focus groups and raw analytics. Many digital magazine publishers originally entered this space essentially firing blind, not understanding their audience. It’s also incredibly important to try and migrate your existing readership to the digital edition, even if you have to extend it freely as part of an inclusive dual subscription to both the print and the digital edition. These are going to be your most dedicated readers, so they need to be established as the foundation of any digital venture you pursue.
Moreover, migrating them over requires consistent marketing messages on your homepage, employing clear calls to action to download the app, alongside email, social media and other campaigns to communicate the news of a new outlet to get their content from. Once a foundation has been established, you can then start trying to understand how to reach a new digital audience.
Looking further forward, we’d also suggest that if a publisher has enough content, examples from other industries show that subscription based models are the most likely future.
2) How to use interactive content effectively
At first glance, the ability to add interactive and rich media content such as video to digital magazines is a godsend to publishers, allowing them to augment printed content with video and audio content like interviews, podcasts and so on. However, this too has led to teething problems with new technology.
On occasion, Publishers have over-saturated their editions with rich-media content. Not only does this cause problems on the level of performance (increasing capacity requirements from devices that often have small hard disks), it also draws attention away with print content and confuses the reader.
In working with digital magazine publishers, we’ve found the golden rule is to use video content very sparsely and, again, to identify what type of video content garners the best responses from readers with solid analytics.
Content that gathers little response should immediately be omitted from future editions. Moreover, rich-media content needs to be relevant – In the case of a music magazine, audio is perhaps more useful than video for example. In the case of a Film Magazine, the opposite is true.
3) What type of digital solution?
This refers to questions such as, “do we distinguish the digital edition from the print edition entirely?” and “what type of digital product, i.e. app or HTML, do we employ?” and so on.
With some publishers, this problem can become so pronounced they end up disrupting any sense of product continuity by changing the type of solution they’re employing several times over. What’s important with this question is to, in turn, ask what your publication aims to delivers and move from there. If you have a pre-existing print edition for example, perhaps it’s best to plan the corresponding digital edition as either highly accessible, browser-reader based snippets, or apps which leverage their superior functionality to aggregate existing content like any archives you may have.
As a provider that offers both browser and app delivery solutions, we’d usually be inclined to follow up by adopting this approach of apps for more feature-rich publications/browsers for snippets or basic print replicas as a general rule of thumb.