Think BR: The rise of digital publications

By Craig Constantinou, brandrepublic.com, Tuesday, 25 September 2012 08:30AM

The print publication is slowly turning into the print brand, writes Craig Constantinou, press planner, Carat.

Craig Constantiou, press planner, Carat

Craig Constantiou, press planner, Carat

Many publications are now considered truly multi-platform and show growth across many touchpoints.

At present the most interesting is each title’s digital publication. We have seen a greater emphasis on digital figures after the August ABC period and expect this to continue for the foreseeable future.

Digital editions of magazines are not currently included in the headline ABC figure, they’re reported separately.

Many in the industry disagree with this method of reporting, as the digital edition has to closely reflect the print product to be considered for audit.

As of January 2012, digital publications must carry at least 95% of the editorial content published in the print edition. They can include up to 25% more editorial than the print product.

Publishers have to declare all of the editorial changes when submitting their claims to ABC, and be able to demonstrate that they fall within the parameters.

All digital copies must have either been purchased or personally requested to qualify. Publishers have to prove that those who received the edition for free opted in by providing their names, email addresses and other details.

Most titles have posted increasingly promising digital figures over the last ABC period. As the likes of Cosmopolitan, Elle and Men’s Health have performed well, it’s safe to say that Hearst has come out on top in terms of static digital editions.

Cosmopolitan has seen a 50% increase in digital sales year on year and now stands at 13,298, making it the highest selling audited digital edition in the UK market.

Elle also posted a figure of 6,795 in only its second digital ABC period. Elle has only lost 7,568 off its print ABC in the last year so if digital and print were to combine, their headline figure would remain static.

It would be naive to assume the lost print readers have migrated to digital, so this opens up the possibility of new audiences.

This is a stance shared by Men’s Health’s advertising director, Charlie Kennedy, who believes digital editions provide an opportunity to attract new and lapsed readers.

‘When we launched the travel size magazine we grew paid for circulation due to its handy size. The same logic will apply for our digital editions. As devices become more common, the opportunity to attract more readers will grow with their popularity.’

Men’s Health’s strategy of launching a no-frills digital edition that felt familiar to readers has worked well. It has an ABC figure of 12,142, up 6% year on year.

Keeping things simple early on provides an easy entry point for consumers outside the early adopters audience. Kennedy points out: "Too much interactivity can be a massive turn off for readers. Digital editions need to keep the magazine DNA and consumer experience at the heart of the development."

Hearst is not resting on its laurels, understanding that it needs to keep abreast of consumer expectations and technological advancements if digital editions are to continue to grow.

As consumers become more comfortable with tablet technology, they will want to see interactive elements, not just the print edition repurposed for a mobile device.

The danger then becomes staying within the parameters of the ABC guidelines, which permits the use of digital enhancements but not a wholesale change of editorial.

This is an issue T3 has recently made obsolete by becoming the first publication to release an ABC Digital Publication Certificate. This new certificate from ABC allows publishers to clearly indicate digital publication circulation.

T3’s tablet edition is distinct from the print product and comes with fully interactiveadvertising. As of the period Jan - Jun 2012, T3 posted an audited digital publications circulation of 17,682.

When demonstrating brand reach, the ABC stamp of approval for digital editions will be extremely valuable within the industry.

Until now, media agencies had to rely on media owner figures. We wouldn’t accept this in print and now that official and trusted measurements are in place for digital offerings we should put pressure on media owners to take advantage of this.

Transparency is crucial. As interactive editions are essentially different from their print versions, the numbers from print circulations and the digital figures from the latest fully interactive magazines, like T3, should not be combined.

Without huge amounts of marketing spend behind them, digital editions are increasing in reach.

We cannot assume that all lapsed print subscribers are simply migrating to digital counterparts, but there is bound to be an element of truth behind it as more people become comfortable with the increasing number of digital platforms available and readers remain loyal to their brand despite the touchpoint.

This is certainly a period of opportunity for publishers. The battle for digital readers will be won by those who best understand what their readers want from digital editions.

The level of interactivity needed for different titles will be varied and it will be down to the publishers to find the balance that will be best suited to their audience.

Craig Constantinou, press planner, Carat

This article was first published on brandrepublic.com

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