Estimates vary as to the number of people in the UK who own PCs or
are online. But there is no doubt that Dixons’ Freeserve, The Sun’s
Currantbun.com, tumbling PC prices and the advent of digital TV have all
driven mainstream uptake of new media and all the IT paraphernalia that
comes with it.
Although newspapers have capitalised on this trend by beefing up their
IT sections, the trend is not fully reflected in the activities of
computer publishers. Despite more than six million people in the UK
being regular users of the internet, either at home or at work, PC
titles still cater for a specialist, mostly male audience, with sales
which peak at between 100,000 and 150,000.
The one significant exception is VNU’s fortnightly title,
Computeractive, which launched in April 1998 with a cover price of just
99p. Backed by a pounds 5 million media campaign in year one and a
pounds 2 million top-up this year, Computeractive quickly became market
leader by circulation, with its latest audited sales figure passing the
300,000 mark. The title’s focus is clearly different from the
business-focused titles, including Information Week and PC Week, which
VNU closed as the market consolidated.
The Computeractive editorial concept was simple enough, its marketing
manager, Shane McCracken, says: ’VNU saw that usage and penetration of
computers were increasing rapidly but that magazines weren’t reflecting
that. People were buying PCs then finding that the magazines were dry
VNU’s title makes computer information accessible by avoiding jargon,
McCracken says. In addition, magazine buyers ’don’t pay for a
cover-mounted CD, there is no design for the sake of it and we restrict
the number of ad pages to 36 out of 116’.
These virtues have been well-received by readers. ’They tend to perceive
the large PC catalogues as being less independent because of the volume
of ads they carry,’ McCracken says.
He also believes there are benefits for clients: ’They get a greater
share of voice in Computeractive than in most magazines. Some clients
have cut their national press budgets to get Computeractive on to the
In addition, clients have an opportunity to reach new people as they
enter the market, McCracken claims. Recent advertisers include Dell, BT,
Gateway, PC World, Amazon, Argus Direct and VirginNet.
Their other option is to buy into the IT and new-media sections of
national newspapers which have been growing steadily. Using a broad
definition of IT advertisers which includes revenue from the telecoms
sector - according to MMS - the biggest print spend is taken by the
broadsheets and tabloids, headed up by The Telegraph which has a
dedicated IT section, Connected.
VNU’s attempt to appeal to mainstream audiences is rare in computer
publishing. However there are signs that the internet’s growth is
inspiring similar ambitions in other publishers.
The most high-profile internet consumer proposition comes from
Haymarket, Campaign’s publisher, whose monthly title, the net, was
launched in June with a promised circulation of 200,000.
The Haymarket group editor, Mark Payton, comments: ’It’s a grown-up
magazine that makes using the internet easy, rewarding and fun. There
are millions of people online and most of them want easy gratification,
not hard work.
’People will want to integrate online activities into their lifestyle. I
expect them to have the magazine sitting by their keyboard while they
surf the web. We think the ease of having all the top sites in one place
is a major advantage.’
Internet magazines also feature strongly in the plans of the
Bournemouth-based publisher, Paragon - not least because its majority
shareholder is the investment group, 3i.
After establishing a strong position in the game-consoles market,
Paragon will have a portfolio of five internet titles by the end of
September when it launches Internet Made Easy - an entry-level
publication which will be ’a practical guide on how to get on the net
and use it easily’, according to Paragon’s managing director, Mark
Not everyone is convinced there will be a mainstream market for such
titles. Josh Fuller, a planner at Walker Media who handles clients like
the web portal, Excite, doubts whether ’the knowledge need is big enough
for large numbers of people to buy these magazines’.
Fuller believes consumers will find numerous alternative ways of getting
information about the net. Firstly, most traditional media, such as
national newspapers, add web addresses to the end of articles on
subjects like travel or personal finance. Secondly, specialist titles
like FHM and Loaded explore sites which are relevant to their
readership. Finally, the web’s search engines themselves offer an entry
point which can be personalised to suit an individual’s tastes.
’People who have gone online via the free internet service providers
(ISPs) will play with the medium until they find what they want,’ Fuller
’They will pretend, for example, they are going on holiday and, by
looking at travel and holiday sites, will learn to exploit the medium
Emap Active’s publishing director for consoles, Harry Attrill, echoes
this view: ’People won’t surf aimlessly around the net. They will seek
to enhance something they are already doing. We want to define people by
what they are into - not the technology they use.’
Stuart Bowden, account manager on Microsoft at Mediapolis, comments:
’The market isn’t like it was two to three years ago when the net was a
segregated, techie thing. With consumer products like Expedia, Hotmail
and MSN, we go where the audiences are. So products like Hotmail have
been in J17 and Smash Hits and on Virgin Radio.’
At Walker Media, Fuller also uses traditional media such as prime-time
TV to reach potential Excite customers.
’We want new users, so the breadth of coverage on mainstream media is
Bowden is not convinced that Haymarket’s the net will find a niche -
despite a deal with Freeserve that will see a special edition of the
title sold in Dixons, Currys, The Link, PC World and @Jakarta stores. ’I
suspect it will be superseded by high-quality portals which aggregate
this sort of information anyway,’ he says.
Payton, not surprisingly, is bullish about the net’s prospects. Apart
from seeing a gap for a general entertainment title reviewing the best
the net has to offer each month, he also believes that many newcomers to
the internet will need their hands holding. ’Lots of people in our focus
groups complained that all they could find online was porn and junk,’ he
says. ’The typical consumer is nervous about surfing. They want
immediate benefits from the web in the minimum time online.’
Haymarket has positioned the net as a young, modern, primarily male
brand to give it focus. This fits its portfolio which includes titles
like What Car? and Stuff - a recent acquisition from Dennis Publishing.
But there is also a growing realisation that women, children and older
men are key users of the medium.
Simpson comments: ’The existing internet titles tend to be
male-oriented. But Internet Made Easy will be aimed at a 50:50 split.
Women are serious users of the internet and will need advice on areas
like online shopping and finance. As the medium matures, I expect net
titles to reflect the diversity of the audience.’
This perception of the internet as a balanced demographic medium has not
taken hold in the computer/PC market - though, admittedly, the editorial
content tends to be less gender-specific than established titles.
Computeractive’s McCracken claims a broad demographic profile, but Jon
Bickley, the publisher of IT titles at Future Publishing, says typical
PC titles attract a 90 per cent male readership. Even a family-oriented
title like PC Guide has an 83 per cent male readership.
Bickley says Future’s success has come from publishing ’narrow but deep’
brands like PC Format, PC Plus, Computer Publishing, Computer Arts and
Computer Music. Future has an entry-level internet title called Internet
Adviser, but has also had to close one internet entertainment listings
’Future has had the greatest success with the most committed people,’
Bickley says. ’Before we turn to new audiences, we ask will they be as
enthusiastic or hard core. The keenest people spend most on
Mass-market titles are expensive to create ’and less controllable’,
Bickley says. ’They can be useful as feeder titles for specialist
magazines - but there is always the danger of high churn. That’s fine as
long as you have lots of people coming into the market.’
Most observers expect Computeractive to experience churn once its
readers feel confident about using their computers. But readership data
contradicts that view, McCracken says. Subscriptions stand at 60,000 and
readership research shows an audience promising to come back issue after
issue. ’Experienced computer users are reading it because it is well
written. There are always new products to talk about.’
The question is whether it can keep growing. The 99p model - with its
high adspend and low ad ratio - demands that sales must keep rising for
some time yet.
IT PUBLISHERS WELL POSITIONED FOR THE WEB
Although business-to-business IT titles operate differently from their
consumer counterparts, they have also found ways to reach new audiences
- mainly through exporting their brands online.
Reed Business Information’s online chief, Jim Muttram, says core
internet brands like @computerweekly attract ’huge numbers of new
people’. ’The paper product, Computer Weekly, is a controlled
circulation title for senior IT managers, so people who can’t get on the
controlled circulation list go online.’ This gives advertisers a new
audience of active job-movers, he adds.
Another key benefit to have emerged from RBI’s online activity is that
clients can place ads across product markets. Although ad schedules on
paper products are too complex to co-ordinate effectively, there is no
reason why a brand like Saab or IBM could not reach a large number of
senior managers across industry sectors by taking space in a number of
online titles, Muttram says.
RBI’s most ambitious development to date is the recently launched
recruitment site, Totaljobs.com. The company plans to make it the
biggest source for jobs in the UK, by drawing on RBI’s own titles and
forming partnerships with other media owners.
Muttram believes the search for jobs will be one of the most significant
factors driving new audiences online. ’By their nature, vertical niches
can’t attract people who don’t know about specific magazine titles. But
Totaljobs.com will allow us to capture a broader audience. It will be
very relevant to graduates and multi-sector disciplines like accountancy
While new recruitment media ’won’t replace old ones’, Muttram expects
them to enhance existing media.
Services which match individuals with the right job, or e-mail them
relevant details, will create deeper, more lucrative relationships with
Ziff-Davis, primarily known as a business-to-business IT publisher in
the UK, has commissioned NOP research into internet usage across France,
Germany and the UK. Partners on the most recent wave of research
included KPMG, Dell and Intel. According to Ziff’s Lisbet Sherlock, the
research shows some interesting facts. A heartening discovery for
publishers is that online does not necessarily cannibalise print usage -
in some cases it can encourage greater interest in the computer
’Once people go online for personal reasons, they bring their use of the
internet to a new level,’ Sherlock says. ’They then find their computer
isn’t up to what they want to do, so they pick up a magazine to buy
Encouraging transactions is seen as a key way of deepening the
relationship between publishers and consumers. So with 6.2 million
impressions a month for its online site, ZDNet, it is not surprising
that Ziff has looked closely at the propensity for consumers to buy
To date, generally it has found that 24 per cent of all web users in the
UK have bought something online. That is roughly two million people.
Despite the consumer’s growing propensity to buy goods online, it is
still unclear how effective the net is as part of the purchasing
process, Sherlock says. In Ziff-Davis’s core IT sector, some people go
to vendor sites just for information and then make their purchases via
another channel. In such cases, it is important for vendors not to think
a site has failed if a visitor doesn’t complete a transaction there and
then. Online sales are not the only source of revenue.
IT-related ad revenues for UK print titles 1998-1999
Press Jul 98 - Jun 99
The Daily Telegraph 27,027
Financial Times 23,254
Daily Mail 21,997
The Sun 18,117
The Times 17,938
The Express 14,096
Computer Shopper 13,715
The Sunday Times 11,771
The Mail on Sunday 11,547
The Mirror 11,447
The Guardian 10,441
Personal Computer World 8,464
PC Direct 8,432
PC Pro (Launch 11/94) 8,167
The Independent 8,145
Evening Standard 6,909
PC Magazine 6,803
The Sunday Telegraph 5,817
PC Advisor (Launch 10/95) 5,430