IT: READ ALL ABOUT IT - IT publishers are cashing in, both online and off, on the huge numbers of new internet users

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, 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.

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, 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

and technical.’

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

media schedule.’

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

that way.’

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.


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, 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 will allow us to capture a broader audience. It will be

very relevant to graduates and multi-sector disciplines like accountancy

and marketing.’

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

computer add-ons.’

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

goods online.

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

                                    pounds 000

                                 (Source: MMS)

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

MacUser                                  6,538

The Sunday Telegraph                     5,817

PC Advisor (Launch 10/95)                5,430

TOTAL                                  246,055