Publishers convert print titles to strictly digital in effort to improve targeting, slash costs

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In recent months, Ziff Davis Enterprise and Penton Media's technology group have grabbed headlines by announcing plans to convert their magazines to digital and abandon print. In the case of Ziff Davis Enterprise, which was subsequently acquired by QuinStreet, the plan moved print publications Baseline, CIO Insight and eWeek to a variety of digital formats—the desktop, smartphones and tablets—to give users access on virtually any device they wanted to use while cutting costs in paper, postage and printing. Similarly, Penton's tech group plans to move the lion's share of its print publication to digital-only format this month. But these aren't the only companies exploring the possibilities of digital-only content. Advanstar Communications' Locum Life, a brand aimed at traveling doctors working in out-of-the way locales, returned as all-digital in January after being out of print for a year. “The digital-delivery strategy actually made us more effective at getting our content and advertising to the travelling doctor,” said Drew DeSarle, VP-market development sales at Advanstar. He said the company assembled a team that consisted of its production Web media designers, marketing manager and chief editor to review best practices for optimizing for digital distribution. The group decided to use landscape rather than the traditional portrait format. “The production and design team need to be on the exact same page in terms of the template design, level of interactive, use of audio, video clips and slide shows—all of which have to be identified and coded to work properly and quickly via whatever production platform is being used,” DeSarle said. The most important thing, DeSarle added, is for there to be a single team who has been specifically identified as being responsible for getting the digital magazine out the door on time. “[This] is an immense challenge since an all-digital format goes well beyond the scope of traditional print publishing and converting a print page to a Nxtbook page,” he said. Locum Life's move to all-digital isn't immediately leading to a wave of print abandonment at Advanstar. Jim Savas, exec VP of Advanstar's automotive group, which publishes Aftermarket Business World, points out that traditional print magazine do not always translate well to the digital formats offered. “They are hard to read and are not a good user experience,” he said of many digital editions. Nonetheless, the automotive group has developed a few digital-only pubs. “We created new products with larger font sizes, shorter word counts and lots of interactive triggers,” Savas said. He added that it may seem counterintuitive, but meeting deadlines can be even more important with digital editions. “Our aim is to push our e-zines the first day of the corresponding month and find higher open rates with this rule of thumb,” Savas said. Tabor Communications was a pioneer in all-digital. The company, which covers high-performance computing, first took a brand all-digital back in 1989, when a pre-World Wide Web portal called SUPERnet was merged with Supercomputing Review in a paid subscription e-newsletter that also acepted advertising. Tom Tabor, CEO of Tabor Communications, recommends that production departments look at their publishing and business models for direction in compiling a comprehensive content meta-tag list. “Having a very robust archive for mining content will be valuable as your publishing approach changes,” he said. “Play close attention to your ad-tracking requirements and be sure to build them all in ASAP.” While Bobit Business Media, publisher of Automotive Fleet and Nails, hasn't gone all-digital on any of its products yet, the company's production director, Kelly Bracken, said that digital magazines face some of the same issues as print: making sure advertisers are adhering to proper specs for size, format and resolution. Bobit's production managers currently check digital editions online before they go live, ensuring, for example, that interactive links are working. “Production managers have access to fixing links and or adding links through our digital host,” she said. “They also review the digital email push that goes out before the digital magazine goes live.”
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