There has been a lot of buzz lately about digital magazines and the role they play in the magazine publishing industry’s struggle to find a viable web business model. Digital magazines are cool. They are a page-for-page online reproduction of a print publication but also allow readers to “turn pages” while taking full advantage of basic web technologies including the ability to embed video and provide links to advertisers’ websites. There are several companies offering this technology including Zinio and NxtBook. The products offered by these companies certainly deliver what is promised by offering an attractive and easy-to-use online version of a print product. But, are they the solution publishers are looking for when they talk about online versions of their magazines?
The answer is that they are not. Content should be viewed across the spectrum of its time value. A printed monthly magazine, for instance, should contain content that is timely and relevant during and possibly beyond its cover date. But print media is not the place for late-breaking news or information or for rapid updates to previously published material. The costs and time to update printed material are both high. But, the web is the ideal medium in which to post rapidly changing content. It is flexible, inexpensive to update, and is not limited by space, time, or cost restraints. So therefore, one must question what is truly being gained by publishing an online duplicate of a printed publication.
The issue, therefore, is not about content or technology, it is about branding. Content should be branded under one name. In most cases, think of your magazine’s title as the brand and increase that brand’s value by utilizing all of the forms of media available to you to deliver content in the most time-valuable way. An online version of your magazine should contain information and material that is not available in the print version because of the time value of that material. Utilize your print product to provide more in-depth and analytical content, the time value of which extends further into the future. Think of content as being on a time-line and publish time sensitive material on the web and content with a longer shelf life in print. A true online version of your magazine will enhance the magazine’s brand while delivering different content to a broader audience than is receiving the printed and mailed version. That is when you will be able to see the fullest benefits of producing an online version of your magazine.
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