Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Complementary sites lead to compliments

By Kate Bulkley

The Guardian

Monday February 12, 2007

Magazine websites and e-zines are changing the way editorial content is produced and presented

When titles such as Smash Hits crash after 28 years and teen audiences increasingly turn to websites such as MySpace and YouTube, the next generation of magazine readers appears to be making a clear statement. Yet high-profile new launches, including IPC's Look, continue undeterred while a growing number of publishers push the boundaries on new media platforms.

Many magazines have had complementary websites for years: NME.com is 10 years old and profitable. Many of them, however, crashed and burned because the technology was too slow and the online version was just a mirror of the print title.

Today, broadband has solved the online speed issue, and with 60% of UK homes hooked up, there is a massive available audience. Meanwhile, the nuts and bolts of web design and functionality have been tightened up so that online e-zine pages turn quickly, video runs smoothly and the whole experience is more dynamic.

Lower startup costs are also making website investment more appealing. Dennis Publishing's three-month-old all-singing, all-dancing e-zine Monkey, for example, cost just 150,000 to set up compared to the 7m and 5m respectively it cost IPC and Emap to launch print rivals Nuts and Zoo. Then there are reader numbers. Monkey is already said to have 275,000 readers who open the e-zine each week, while Nuts and Zoo have hit about the same number in sales each after three years.

Magazine sites

The story of e-zine and magazine website growth is not just a lads mag phenomenon, however. Fashion and celebrity site handbag.com was a successful online-only site for women soon after its launch in 1999 and today has 1.3 million users. Print giant National Magazine Company recognised its brand power online and stumped up 22m late last year to make it the centrepiece of a new digital strategy coordinated by a new division, Hearst Digital Network.

Now NatMags has four online-only titles - led by handbag.com and getlippy.com - and nine of its biggest print magazine brands, including Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, have active websites. Together, they are attracting 4.6 million unique users each month.

"I don't believe for a second that print magazines will go away," says Nancy Cruickshank, managing director of Hearst Digital and ex-managing director of handbag.com. "It's about people's expectations about how they use the brand, whether it's for the magazine or the site or the mobile alert."

The convergence of online and offline means publishers with both are beginning to actively find new ways to cross-pollinate, such as with polls on the website that relate to stories in print. So a cover story on Nigella Lawson in She magazine was preceded by a online poll at handbag.com about how readers felt about Nigella, and this information was integrated into the She cover piece. Natmags used handbag.com rather than the She website because it has much higher traffic.

The emergence of video clips on magazine websites has been fast-forwarded by the popularity of online video-sharing sites. Traditional photo shoots for magazines now become opportunities for behind-the-scenes video footage to be shown online.

"We won't be copying and pasting the magazine content and simply putting it online because there's zero value there," says Cruickshank. "Polls, competitions, additional footage, podcasts, vlogs - this is what will show up on our websites now."

Syndicating magazine site content to other websites - such as AOL, MSN and Channel4.com - as well as becoming part of online communities, as Hearst has done with CosmoGirl and MySpace, is the way forward because print publishers cannot change the habits of teenagers who spend most of their time online sharing videos and chatting to friends.

"In this web 2.0 environment of a much more agile media world, it sometimes makes sense to go to the audience and be part of the communities that they are investing a lot of energy and time in," Cruickshank says.


Debate continues among traditional magazine publishers about launching online only: the value of the dedicated e-zine. At IPC, 90% of print brands including Loaded and What's On TV now have a complementary website, but so far the company has no web-only brands.

"We have all used the web historically to market our own magazines' sites and we have acquired lots of subscribers to our magazines," says Neil Robinson, IPC Digital director. "Now with some of our titles it's about extending that relationship even more."

He cites IPC's music mag NME which has embraced the new media age as well as any: it has an 80,000 print circulation but 1.5 million unique users to its website per month. In addition, when nme.com created a space to showcase new bands recently, 8,000 turned up on its site in six weeks. "Nme.com was launched as a brand extension, but it's now as big as the print product, so we treat them equally," Robinson adds.

In the business-to-business (B2B) publishing sector, technology has impacted on marketing and distribution almost as much as it has content. Using search engines effectively has created whole new swaths of customers for B2B publishers and, because the business world moves at an increasingly fast pace, there is less patience when it comes to waiting for weekly and, particularly, monthly titles in specialist areas.

"Television Business International would be forgotten if we just relied on six issues a year," says the magazine's publisher Lydia Blackwood. So her bimonthly publication will also provide a daily information email to its subscribers from this month. However, the value of the paper product is still high, especially with advertisers. "The magazines are our showcases, especially when TBI needs to appear at events like conferences. We need the online element to give subscribers and advertisers the 360-degree solutions, but online can't overtake publications when we go to physical marketplaces."

TBI is part of Informa Media Group which covers the telecoms market with magazines, newsletters and reports, but its new publishing strategy revolves around converging all its specialist information on to 10 industry sector websites which will also include some web-only information as a bonus. Setup costs of about 100,000 for the new sites will be offset by subscribers paying up to 50% more than they would pay for subscriptions to the related print products.

"It means the client will have access to anything we publish traditionally about mobile networks, for example, in one online space," Informa Media Group portfolio director Simon Murray explains.

The web has also helped publishers, particularly in B2B, create bigger and more robust databases using search engines and viral marketing tactics. "Digital media has enabled us to identify much smaller niches and build communities more easily for a broader range of products," says Julian Turner, CEO of education publishers Electric Word.

Mobi-zines - mini magazines on mobile phones - are another growing focus for publishers. Setting up revenue-sharing deals with mobile operators has caused early problems, but there have been some impressive numbers.

For example, weekly print mag Auto Express, part of Dennis Publishing, sold an incredible 6,000 downloads of different car engine noises as ringtones at 1.50 each late last year.

IPC's Robinson believes that growing the online presence of magazines will be crucial to making up for flat growth in traditional print. Online ad spend is growing faster than any other media, with the Internet Advertising Bureau estimating that online ads accounted for 10.5% of the overall UK ad spend in 2006, or nearly 2bn. "Our traditional business growth is being outstripped by the new media," he says. "Anyone who isn't working in the online area soon is mad."

Additional reporting by Ross Biddiscombe


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