Shifting a magazine from print to online brings plenty of challenges, opportunities
As the economy continues to worsen, printers report an uptick in calls from b-to-b publishers to talk about distributing one or more of their magazines solely as a digital product. The process is tempting for many publishers, though not a lot have taken the leap just yet.
IDG's InfoWorld went all digital in April 2007. With that change came significant shifts in the magazine's workflow. Closes happened quicker, and editors got more involved in site metrics in order to understand what subjects were really resonating with readers, said Galen Gruman, the title's executive editor of news and features.
“The biggest change is that a print magazine's performance is based on providing information a reader will need 12 months from now in order to attract the right audience,” Gruman said. “Online, a b-to-b site needs to be oriented for capturing the needs of the buyer right now.”
Gruman pointed out that when InfoWorld went fully digital, the lines between editorial and production blurred significantly. “Editors need to be able to do basic production, and production staffs need to be able to do basic editing,” he said. The production department has morphed into more of an online services group, he said, with design staffers becoming more integrated with editorial.
“Most importantly, content production has become more multimedia-enabled, requiring new presentation approaches and skill sets,” Gruman said, adding that publishers need to make sure their staffs have the proper multimedia skills to pull off the transition. “Make continuous training part of your workflow,” he said.
Reed Business Information's Housing Giants went digital early last year, shifting from publishing six times a year to 24, with a five-day production cycle for each issue. “Going digital allowed that to happen,” said Sara Zailskas, the title's assistant managing editor. “But the editors needed to learn how to work within those timelines.”
Advanstar Communications' Pharmaceutical Executive Europe is digital only on NXTBook and has a total production time of five days per issue. When it lost its print anchor, the title also lost its need to appear as a digital reproduction of an online magazine. The book's designer redesigned the whole format to be more Web-friendly, using larger fonts, inserting a table-of-contents bar on each page and placing active links throughout.
“Many publications stay "inside the box' [with a] traditional print format even though it's digital, making it cumbersome to read, navigate and interact with,” said Jeremy Carlson, manager of digital prepress and digital imaging for Advanstar.
Housing Giants initially was treated as if it were still a print edition being viewed online, Zailskas said. “Midyear we realized that we weren't taking enough advantage of the possibilities online,” she said. “We were designing for 8½-by-10-inch pages. Why? Why not make it one page so we don't have the crease, so we could use really large photos?”
Zailskas recommends that production executives prep their staffs for the extra planning of a digital publication rather than just a digital replication of a print title. “There is an element of experimentation and play with this that has to be built in,” she said. “Sometimes things work; sometimes they don't.”
She also suggests that publishers not look at a digital page as being flat. “What can pop up?” she asked. “How can you use technology to make the page more effective?”
Publishers should also track metrics of audiovisual features to determine what works and what doesn't. “Digital formats mean you can respond immediately to incorporate more successful features,” she said. “Knowing the metrics really helps.” M