Dan Thornton (ex-Bauer Media) wrote an interesting post recently titled “Is any magazine company leading the way digitally?“, which looked at recent moves in the digital magazine publishing industry as it grapples with the world of online publishing. So in search of a ‘good’ digital magazine strategy, here is what the consumer magazine publishers seem to be doing (I have spoken to those in the know at most of these companies, but if you have more detail or clarifications, please comment). It’s worth pointing out that by looking at digital strategy I am not saying it should have precedence over the print operations, or that it should disconnected from the rest of the business. It’s just interesting to look at the approaches that have been taken.
The acquisition of EMAP’s consumer titles took Bauer to the top of the consumer magazine industry, with many strong, niche publications. But their move to digital publishing has proved troublesome. As well as creating standard magazine sites for most of their titles, they put a lot of hope in John Menzies “Magazines On Demand” - a newstand for paid digital facsimile versions of the print editions. This went under in early June 2009. FHM has historically been a strong online property, but it seems that Bauer has had problems converting that success elsewhere. Bauer’s expectation concerning digital revenue opportunities was exposed when their men’s title Arena was closed, without even allowing this once-strong brand to continue online.
IPC seem to be slow and steady on the digital front. They haven’t done anything dramatic or market-leading, perhaps except some good cross-platform and brand extension work with the NME. However they have rolled out some good digital products, including online-only cross-title aggregations like Good to Know and House To Home which seem a good way to capitalise on their strength in these areas. They have recently announced that they are the first UK print publisher to have partnered with YouTube to sell advertising against their videos.
With their range of strong niche titles for hobbyists and fans, Future’s print titles seem to be doing well in this market (they were the only major magazine publisher to see an increase in circulation in the first half of 2009). Most of their magazine title websites however, are simple blogs that push users to subscribe to the print version. Apart from these, however, Future has a clear digital strategy. Dubbed “blip and radar” it consists of creating lots of little “blip” sites, which are effectively automatically created versions of Digg.com for very specific niches (the technology was obtained by acquiring Ballhype.com). This generates a lot of traffic, and mini-communities around niche interests. Future then aggregates across print titles into strong online offerings called “radars” (see GamesRadar for an example), which are more monetisable and can draw a larger audience. Its an aggressive strategy that looks beyond Future’s current content and audience.
Dennis have built standard websites for most of their print titles, but where they have done something different to the rest is in their usage of online-only digital editions. By launching MonkeyMag back in 2006, Dennis created the first online-only page-flip magazine. The company has a strong relationship with Ceros, which powers their magazines, and has since launched other titles on the same system. Although there is a debate about the relevency of a print-esque format for an online-only publication, Dennis and Ceros are getting premium advertising sold into these titles. Also, Dennis recently announced it will be acquiring Kontraband, a large video destination site, to sit alongside their online magazines.
Conde Nast produce some great print magazines, tending to focus on up-market consumers. They have had some major closures, including Portfolio, Domino, and recently the online men’s site men.style.com. Their online strategy is convoluted: it used to be separating the digital operations out, and running some through Condenet, but this year they have all been brought together under the banner of Conde Nast Digital. Their online properties tend to be very well designed, and Conde Nast is leading the pack when it comes to the iPhone. Conde Nast have also been working on the Facebook platform for a couple of years, and are reporting good results – with Vogue receiving about 30,000 visits and 500,000 pageviews a month from its Facebook presence.
Hachette have some strong print brands, but their digital portfolio has generally not performed very well. I was really intrigued when Hachette first released their social bookmarking site for girls – Sugarscape, but since I last looked at it (probably over a year), it seems to have changed to become a more standard content site. They have taken the Elle brand to the iPhone with some success, and have extended the brand to provide several Elle European City Guides as iPhone apps.
Hearst has been very active with a range of approaches; buying handbag.com and netdoctor, launching online-only getlippy, and also the cross-title aggregation All About You. In April 2009, Hearst Digital was effectively shuttered, with the control of the digital aspects of Hearst’s magazine titles being moved back into NatMags, and joined with their print counterparts. We have yet to see what difference this will make to the digital strategy.
So, there have been a huge variety of approaches, and probably of outcomes. The most clearly articulated strategy comes from Future Publishing, which is not only building around its own high quality content, but is aggregating other content into properties it can monetise. The main routes being taken are as follows:
- Create websites for print titles which replicate some or all of the print content
- Create topic-focused cross-title aggregations where several print titles overlap
- Launch online-only titles to test and exploit gaps in the market
- Explore new delivery channels for existing content (mobile especially)
In a future post I will look at what is proving most promising, particularly with regards to the business model of online magazine publishing.