Time Inc. Dives Into Digi-Mags

Exclusive: Taps Huge Subscriber Base for Online Issue of People

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The exploration of those magazine-website hybrids sometimes called digi-mags is taking a big step toward mass reach this week with the introduction of People magazine's first entry in the field.
People's digi-mag
People's digi-mag

Beginning today, some 1.2 million subscribers to Time Inc. magazines will receive e-mails pointing them to People's "Best Summer Ever" issue online. The print magazine, which reaches 42 million adults, according to Mediamark Research Inc., will also promote the online effort.

Under scrutiny
People can't claim to be first with a dynamic, soundtracked, video-packed e-magazine; the Europeans are ahead of us on that front. But the potential scope is new. Time Inc.'s digital extensions, of course, come under a lot of scrutiny, partly because many employees were laid off to free the resources required to fund digital efforts -- and partly because Time Inc. has one failed experiment under its belt already, the ill-fated Office Pirates site. On top of that, no one at People has any idea how well this digi-mag will perform, and understandably is keeping expectations low. "It's just a nice, fun bonus that we're offering our consumer," said group publisher Paul Caine.

Unilever, which has nine ad pages in "Best Summer Ever" and is its exclusive sponsor, got involved for the experience. "Is it a risk?" asked Irene Grieco, the Unilever senior U.S. lead print manager. "It might be. But we've always challenged our partners to come to us with new and innovative and unique opportunities."

The 30-page digi-mag starts with an animated cover in which dolphins leap out of the water behind a bathing suit-clad Beyonce Knowles while a "Plus: Matthew McConaughey On The Beach!" tease floats up and down. Surf sounds play in the background. Editorial spreads allow consumers to watch movie trailers, tool through McConaughey photos, try different accessories on a mannequin wearing an Ella Moss dress and play with the advertising. Buffering delays are eliminated by loading the issue all at once.

People's staff designed most of the creative elements but worked with a digital-magazine production company called Blogform Digital Magazines to get the issue built. Unlike magazines digitally reproduced on systems such as Zinio, there's no software to install, there's a different soundtrack for every page, ads are interactive far beyond clickable URLs and all the content is original.

Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research at Horizon Media, shared the others' curiosity. "For certain demographics I think there is a certain appeal, but I don't think it's widespread yet," he said. "It may be ahead of the curve -- but I don't think it's a bad thing to do."

"This thing could pan out or it could be a dismal flop that they learn something from," he added. "This could be a template for future initiatives or this could be something along the lines of New Coke."

For now, "Best Summer Ever" is a one-shot test, but expect to see more issues eventually if readers and advertisers like it. "We don't know if this is one of the tools in our kit -- or a new business," said Martha Nelson, the People Group editor. "We have a lot of things we need to find out: how big the audience can be, what kind of life it has, how much they're engaged. We're going to be looking at everything."
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