How publishers can make digital media pay: digital editions, mobile, ipad, video

In the last year, the opportunities for specialist publishers to place their content in new formats has exploded.  Instead of just web content, there are now multiple opportunities to package content in different ways, using video, links, and interaction to engage readers.  Smartphones and e-readers are making these more portable, eroding a key differentiator between PC and print.  But how on earth can content publishers make these new digital media pay, when the cost to create and distribute on new channels is still high?  At the Specialist Media Show conference last month, delegates heard from four specialist media owners who believe they have found ways to profit from digital media: the Spectator, Circle, Advanstar and Factory – here are their top insights:

1. Sampling via digital media can benefit print

The Spectator brought out a basic iphone app and e-reader version; as their USP is quality of writing, design was not crucial.  They sold 2000 editions, but more interestingly, they saw growth in print subs and newsstand sales.  The app store and e-book stores reach new people who may not traditionally pick up the magazine – and the digital versions acted like samplers.  So don’t always think of digital editions as cannibalising print sales.

2. Price digital versions of print publications confidently

Dive Magazine offers a digital edition as an alternative to print for BSAC association copies – at the same price – and has seen high conversions.  Overseas subscribers also prefer the immediacy of digital editions and pay a fair price.  Christian Aid magazine is now largely distributed digitally.  Beware of devaluing your digital versions by bundling them for free or charging too little.

3. Designing for the medium increases engagement

PDF copies as digital editions are a quick way to test the market, but they are missing the opportunities of the medium.  Peter Houston of Advanstar argued passionately for short copy, video, interaction, and using the landscape format of the screen rather than 2 portrait pages.  His experience shows that reducing pages and increasing frequency can grow time spent with digital editions, and Advanstar’s controlled circulation digital editions are profitable based on advertising revenue.

4. Start with single copies and build subs gradually

Factory Media, who publish in action sports markets, started testing iphone apps around a year ago, and now 6% of their paid circulation is from mobile.  To begin with, most sales were for single “copies”, but 6 month and 12 month subs are now growing rapidly.  The global reach of the app store helps Factory internationalise their brands efficiently.

5. Plan video content to minimise production costs

Mobile devices such as the ipad are increasing pressure on publishers to create video, but the cost often appears prohibitive.  Fiona Ryder of Stream Exchange advocated careful planning to create several packages of content at once which can then be published on multiple channels across web and mobile devices.

I’m interested to hear other examples of publishers making digital media pay – please comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in, to swap ideas and contacts with 300 other specialist media owners and some of the speakers from this session.

Read all the 78 insights from the conference programme on the Specialist Media Show show site, and read the comments from visitors and exhibitors.  Or watch the video highlights.

Read other articles based on debates at the Specialist Media Show here:

Secrets of launching events from media brands

Beyond the paid content debate – how to build value from free content

How publishers can make digital media pay

Secrets of successful commercial partnerships in specialist markets

Bright future for specialist media: build audiences, develop many revenue streams

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can create a digital media strategy please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.