Publishers unfold digital magazines

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The New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. has referred to them as the "missing link" in the Web’s evolution as a media venue: digital versions of publications distributed online in a print format.

Digital versions of print publications? It wasn’t too long ago that print publishers were being warned at industry conferences they risked alienating Internet readers if they simply dumped online digital versions of their magazines or newspapers just as they appeared in print. Increasingly, though, newspapers and magazines are opting for digital versions of their publications.

NewsStand Inc. is betting that digital subscriptions will only accelerate. The closely held, 2-year-old company has cut a series of deals with several media companies to serve as a digital subscription service, including a five-year agreement with The New York Times Co. The digital version of The Times will be available on a limited basis starting this summer.

Need to know vs. like to know

Tracey Jones, president of Austin-based NewsStand, said digital subscriptions attract readers who "need to know" versus those who "like to know." Indeed, the digital version is for readers "who want to get caught up in the information," Jones said.

Jones stressed that the digital versions of publications, with software tools to help readers navigate the text, are not Web sites but downloadable data files. These files are transferred from the publisher in their original format and NewsStand compresses them for delivery to the client.

An independent study conducted last year by The Benchmark Co. on behalf of NewsStand found that 90% of respondents ages 25 to 49 said they could see themselves reading newspapers or magazines in the NewsStand format on their laptops or desktop computers. Digital versions of publications "open up an entirely new vista for media companies," said Robert Balon, CEO of Benchmark. "They can engage younger people whereas before it was hard for them to read the print versions."

In addition to The New York Times deal, NewsStand has a five-year agreement with The Daily Deal, a daily financial newspaper published by The Deal L.L.C., and a three-year agreement with Harvard Business Review. It also has a contract with Bonnier Media Group to provide electronic distribution and marketing of its U.K.-based Business am newspaper.

Jeffrey Flanders, director of consumer marketing for HBR, said the hope is that the digital version of the magazine will be a big draw for international travelers, adding that the periodical caters to the C-level executive who, in turn, appeals to a wide range of advertisers.

No banner ads

The digital version of HBR was slated to begin publication late this month. Advertisements that run in the print version will also appear online at no additional cost to advertisers. Because the digital version is not a Web product per se, but rather a downloadable file, there will be no banner ads.

HBR print advertisers currently include Accenture, Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd., Computer Associates International Inc. and IBM Global Services.

Anita Baker, manager-global advertising and media partnerships for Cisco, said having her company’s ads run in the digital version of HBR "is the first step in a conversation" with readers. She said Cisco plans to eventually include a drill-down mechanism in its digital ads to "get more information on the reader, which will enable us to better market" products in that space.

The cost of a standard HBR digital subscription will be $118 a year; the international edition will be $165 a year and single copies will cost $16.95. Those prices are the same as for the print product.

Flanders said it was too early to tell how much digital subscriptions will boost HBR’s current circulation of 249,100.

The digital version of The Daily Deal will make its debut in early July. The print edition has a circulation of 45,000. Its primary advertisers are management consultants, law firms and investment banks.

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