TransWorld Skates on the Edge of Digital Future

With Teen Boys as Its Audience, a Race to Keep Ahead of Them

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- There's a double-edged quality to publishing magazines for bleeding-edge young people. Advertisers love the demo, but in these digital days, you never know how many you'll lose to the web and ever-marching technology -- witness the recent exit from print of ElleGirl and Teen People.
The very first issue of TransWorld Skateboarding from 1983, and the company's new logo incorporating a TV screen.
The very first issue of TransWorld Skateboarding from 1983, and the company's new logo incorporating a TV screen.

On the boys' side, TransWorld Media and its portfolio of magazines about skateboarding, surfing, motocross and other action sports also have to beware their readers' movement into digital media.

Commitment to digital
"There's no question," said Scott Dickey, president of TransWorld, which Time Inc. sold to Bonnier Corp. early this year partly because its old home wasn't going to provide the resources required to build digital operations quickly enough. "Not only are they early adopters but they are the ones that are establishing and creating certain levels of acceptance for new technology."

So the company is racing to stay ahead of its readers. It has a channel on Heavy.com and is developing video on demand, customized mobile content and a content partnership with the Fuel cable network. Twenty-five years after the company was founded with the introduction of TransWorld Skateboarding -- a challenge to Thrasher magazine -- TransWorld is changing its logo to include an image of an icon suggesting an electronic screen. Editors have received new titles such as chief content director to encourage cross-platform thinking.

Mr. Dickey, of course, tries to project an effortless air about the whole endeavor. "Some people on the surface would say, 'Wow, that must be tough to run a publishing company that predominantly talks to a teen audience, since teens are migrating to the web faster than anyone,'" he said. "It's actually the reverse. It gives us fuel and momentum to invest in different distribution forms."

Up against it
He admitted, however, that TransWorld is not alone. "We've got a flock of people trying to create action sports sites and communities to compete with us." And there will be, without a doubt, all kinds of new challenges ahead -- as action sports continue to seep into mainstream media such as ESPN, which is planning plenty more investment in EXPN.com, and old competitors take new forms, like ThrasherMagazine.com.

The TransWorld progress report so far includes 5 million video streams per month, a first-quarter online revenue jump of 24%, and a 20% increase in unique visitors to its sites in the first four months of the year, according to the company. A September launch is planned for an action portal at TransWorld.net. By 2010, the company expects a third of its ad revenue will come from online operations.

But -- and this is the "but" that every publisher wants to hear -- TransWorld print operations are still growing too. "We have a nice steady growth trajectory in print," Mr. Dickey said, "which just speaks to the importance of that medium in these kids' lives."
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