FEATURE 

Can pixels produce more profit than print?

In 2009, K9 Magazine went digital-only; a decision publisher Ryan O’Meara has not regretted for a second. Digital-only has given him greater publishing flexibility and unleashed a wave of commercial opportunities, particularly in relation to monetising archive material. Ryan O’Meara here explains how going digital has lead to more profit.

By Ryan O'Meara

It was one evening spent wallowing in the bathtub after a particularly harrowing day when I had my own, personal eureka moment. Like bolt of lightning hit me from the sky.

Appreciating I'm not the first person to have experienced a sudden and positive flash of clarity whilst soaking, and not withstanding my goldfish-like habit of completely emitting from my memory thoughts that were present only seconds before, I leapt up and ran to my notebook in the bedroom. I grabbed the pad next to my bed and I hurriedly scribbled down these words, paying close attention not to smudge them with my still dripping fist: "Sell adverts in the same edition more than once."

I was confident I'd remember what this meant as soon as I read it again, in stark contrast to the time I excitedly committed to paper: "Zeitgeist, hyperlocal list focus, eg. stop puppy howling."

I've looked at that combination of words about 300 times, re-arranged them as a Countdown conundrum and yet I still have absolutely zero idea what I was thinking. A bunch of buzzwords and jargon, tacked on to a perfectly reasonable keyword phrase, all of which still make no sense whatsoever to me when I read it back. Whatever I was thinking at the time, it never returned to me. It could have been the greatest idea I ever had, but I have my doubts.

Sell adverts in the same edition more than once

No such problem with this beautifully written piece of captured consciousness.

On the day I had the idea, we'd just corrected an error in our already published magazine. It was nearly a disaster of epic proportions.

I guess at this stage, anyone who publishes print-only titles must be scratching their head. Corrected an error in an already published magazine? That's like suspending time itself. Print is like carving in to tablets of stone; it's hard work and when it's done, it's done. Digital media is like writing on a wipe-board; it's not quite the end of the world if you don't get things perfectly right first time round.

For us though, it was something we were able to do in the space of a few minutes. K9 Magazine, a publication for dog lovers, since 2009 has been a 100% digital magazine.

We spent nearly a decade as a print title but made the leap to digital last year and have certainly enjoyed the evolution.

The ability to make quick, on-the-fly corrections is one of the many advantages we've discovered about the production process in the contrast between pixels and print.

Our error, on this day, was nearly a whopper. We spotted one of the videos we'd included as a means to demonstrate a display of hostile canine body language in an article on dog training, was very dangerously close to a fully fledged dog fighting video. Whoops! Not quite the image or content we strive to project.

I should expand. The video we initially included in the magazine started out as two dogs posturing and squaring up to each other - something we wanted to use as an insightful visual for our readers in terms of helping us to elaborate on the words and still pictures with an actual 'real life' example of what a dog looks like when it's acting aggressively. However, the posturing in this particular video progressed to a stage which I'd describe as the canine version of, "Did you spill my pint?" and then to, "Yes, I did. Let us now step outside and settle these differences with a duel."

The video should have been snipped before the duelling actually began, but we missed it. Hurriedly, we got the video edited down, re-published the magazine and the correction was made, in real-time before any real damage could be done.

Phew! Disaster averted.

It was while dwelling on the possible outcry we could have faced had we not been able to jump in and act so quickly that it suddenly dawned on me what we'd actually accomplished.

Being of a print magazine mindset, I recognised that we'd done something that went way beyond correcting an error. We'd made a significant change to a magazine that had already been published and partially distributed. Sure, some of our readers may have seen the offending error in the initial distribution run, but we'd taken swift action, fixed the error and the 'new' editions were dog fight free. We'd published a second edition, a revised version of one of our magazines. This, I felt, was a big deal and presented an interesting opportunity going forward.

At this juncture, I'd like to very briefly demonstrate how our reader experience pans out.

1. Web visitor discovers K9 Magazine through one of several channels: they hear about us in the media, they hear about us through a friend or they find one of our 45+ specialist pet websites having performed a keyword search and subsequently clicked on an advert taking them through to our subscription page.

2. Said visitor decides to subscribe, motivated by the thought that they will not have to wait for the magazine to arrive (or not) in the mail and the fact that they can begin reading back issues immediately. This is especially pertinent in the case of new readers who are seeking an instant content fix to a specific problem. For example, if you search the web for 'how to stop my puppy crying at night' and happen to arrive at one of our targeted subscriber landing pages, the thought of being able to get the content you desire in minutes, rather than days or weeks, is mighty compelling.

3. Upon subscribing, visitor logs in to the members’ area where they can jump straight in to any one of the magazines we've published over the past 12 months.

4. Invariably, subscribers (we now call them members) start at the start. They begin by reading the earliest published edition of K9 Magazine eligible as part of their subscription package and then move their way forward to the latest / current edition. So it's quite typical that a member subscribing today will start their subscription experience reading issue 29 and over the first 5 or 6 weeks will gradually navigate to reading issue no 34 (our current / latest edition) - even though issue no 34 was the 'current' edition at the time they subscribed. How do we know this? We monitor, very, very actively what's going on with our members’ content consumption habits - another huge advantage of digital publishing.

Given this trend, we know that new members tend to feel they have had great value from their subscription to K9 Magazine even before they've got to reading the latest edition as they've often already had 4 or 5 editions’ worth of content as well as bonus (digital) publications and special, members only web content.

Autoresponder

Another very significant factor in controlling the flow of consumption is the fact that we sequentially deliver content to our members.

Using a sequenced content delivery system, otherwise known as an 'autoresponder', has been one of the biggest advantages to our digital publishing strategy. Thing is, I still absolutely hate the word 'autoresponder'. I feel it comes attached with negative associations, impersonal, generic vacation messages and ill thought out, overtly commercial message delivery. In fact, I avoided using sequenced content delivery for 9 years purely on the back of being the unfortunate recipient of badly executed autoresponder messages. Wow, what a mistake. Sequenced content delivery is now, by a million miles, our most powerful and effective tool and I honestly wished we'd understood its full capabilities years ago.

In real terms, what this enables us to do is manage our new members’ expectations in an extraordinarily effective and personalised manner.

It executes a little like this:

A. New member signs up using PayPal. This is our chosen payment gateway as so many people are familiar with it and have a large degree of trust that should they ever wish to cancel their subscription or get their money back, they can do so without even needing to contact us, the publisher. From our point of view, PayPal works well as subscriptions are automatically renewed year on year and this has a hugely beneficial advantage to us as it increases our subscriber retention rate massively.

B. Once a new member has paid, our web software will recognise this and the member will be greeted with a personalised message. Yes, it may be mailmerged and yes it's pretty easy for savvy web users to recognise mailmerge but the personalisation we employ absolutely, 100%, positively WORKS! The message you would receive as a new member would look something like this:

Hi Ryan,

Thank you for joining K9 Magazine.

We're delighted to have you and we are positive that your membership will bring great enjoyment for you and many benefits to Chloe, your Labrador. (Note this extra layer of personalisation - our split testing and reader surveys have shown this to create a massively positive first experience for the user.)

You are now able to access, instantly, all of the membership benefits through our private, members’ area of the website. You can log in here: (tracking link).

Before you do that though, we appreciate that this can be a little overwhelming, especially for people who have limited time to spend browsing, so we're actually going to make life even easier for you.

Starting from tomorrow, we'll send you the first edition in your subscription package by email before lunchtime tomorrow.

Then, each week we'll send you the next issue for you to read.

Please remember, if you'd prefer to dive straight in and begin reading the very latest issue, the direct link to your members’ area is (tracking link).

I'll be in touch tomorrow with your first edition, which contains articles on (list articles, build excitement and expectation).

In the meantime, we'd love to hear (and see) more of Chloe. Please get involved in our dog lovers’ community area where you can post pictures and discuss Chloe with our other members (link to community) - (this instant call to action for two way dialogue with the new member has a hugely positive effect and helps to build reader loyalty to the brand from day one).

Kind regards

etc.

C. Over the next few weeks of their membership, we deliver the member's content sequentially. This has been one of the most interesting aspects of tweaking our digital magazine delivery strategy. We've discovered that one of the main objections new members raised prior to us adopting the sequenced delivery model was the feeling of being overwhelmed with too much content. This was a fatal mistake on our part. At the subscriber acquisition stage, our marketing copy makes a big play on the fact that members get access to our archive, our new content, our old content and literally hundreds of specialist digital reports, eBooks, members-only articles and more. As a result, members sign up, motivated by being offered so much. But when we throw it all at them at once, they become overwhelmed and get that horrible feeling that they're not getting the full benefits of their membership. I suppose it's a lot like when someone joins a really fancy gym and they become overwhelmed by the notion that they're not getting their money's worth by simply using the treadmill and the free weights twice a week when there's clearly a myriad of high tech equipment they've never even learned how to use. In a nutshell, member-overwhelm was easily the biggest reason for lapsed subscriptions - ironic really, we promise a lot and then deliver a lot, but do it all at once and members feel put off by the very thing that motivated them to sign up in the first place.

D. We stagger / sequence the delivery of the member's content. This is done using an email autoresponder system. After testing many, we use Aweber and have found it to be exceptional. It's the industry leader and, in our experience, for good reason. Over the first month or two of the member's experience, they will start by receiving the first issue in their subscription and will be gradually fed new content and bonus material as well as newer editions as the weeks go by. Of course, and this is important, for those people who DO want to dive straight in to the latest edition and / or all the other content we make available to members, they can do so - it just so happens, for our members at least, they don't seem to choose that as their preferred option, instead choosing to read the magazines when they are delivered the link by email. We have even extended this preference to now delivering full articles from the magazine in plain text format (along with advertiser links) by email. This results in even greater choice of media consumption for the reader and definitely improves click through rates for the advertiser.

Re-sell, Re-sell, Re-sell

So, how does this bring me to ‘Sell adverts in the same edition more than once’?

How does this finding help us make more money from digital media?

Well, it dawned on me that our standard advertising terms and conditions are on a fixed length basis rather than a numerical issue basis. So, if you book an advert in K9 Magazine issue no 30, we promise that your advert will be published for a period of time before expiration. This wasn't done by any great design, these have just been our terms forever. This is how my bathtub eureka moment arrived.

It suddenly dawned on me that it would be completely feasible to re-sell advertising spots in an already published magazine.

Given what I've described above about the way our new subscribers actually begin their experience by consuming 'older' magazines, we now know that this time next year, there will still be many thousands of people accessing, digesting and actively reading K9 Magazine issue no 30, even though issue no 30 may have been first published in 2009.

It must be said, the content of our magazine lends itself to being relevant and current even when read 12 or 48 months in retrospect. Mainly because we reserve news and topical items for our website(s) and editorial features go in the magazine. An editorial piece explaining how to teach your dog the perfect recall is as relevant today as it was 10 years ago - and it always seemed a huge waste to me when I knew that, locked up in our archived editions were fantastic content pieces that were not being read by our newer subscribers. To be fair to our longstanding subscribers, we couldn't just re-hash these editorial gems in the print magazine, but operating on a digital basis means our new subscribers can actually begin at the beginning and that locked away content is not wasted, consigned to gather dust in a box of back issues. In fact, the only thing that would be dated about an issue of K9 Magazine read two years in retrospect would be the adverts. So, how do we solve that problem?

Simple.

Re-sell the space!

If we can demonstrate to an advertiser that, over the course of 12 months, new subscribers are accessing 'older' editions in significant volume even though the magazine may have been published as much as a year ago, we start to see a true digital advertising model evolve. I mean, if you performed a Google search for 'how to stop my dog howling' today, the adverts you would see alongside the natural search results would be just as relevant in 12 months or 48 months time. Equally, if you publish a strong article on your website today, that frequently brings in traffic from people actively looking to digest the information you've published, the same article can bring in advertising revenue from any number of different parties over the course of many years to come. The content stays the same, the readers flow and change.

Due to the way we sequence the delivery of magazines, the same is true of our publication. A new member, reading an article on how to teach their puppy to sit is accessing that content for the first time. If it just so happens that the article they are getting the advice from was first published in K9 Magazine issue no 30 - and we're now up to K9 Magazine issue no 40, the content remains the same and solves the same problems for the new reader as it did for the reader before them, but the advertising should be current - to benefit both the reader and the advertiser.

This presents our sales team with a fantastic new revenue opportunity which can be exploited in one of two ways:

* We can sell advertisers a longer duration of placement. This is unusual when you consider we are still dealing with a 'magazine mindset'. With a print mag, you would normally have a full page advert being placed within a given issue which is then published and distributed and, over a relatively short time, the reader response to the advert will dwindle and eventually fade to nothing. Periodical publishing by its very nature dictates this cycle. This is very much a one-hit opportunity for the advertiser. Now though, our ad team can explain how our existing readership consumes the magazine over a sustained period of time and our new readership will equally consume the content; readers we haven't even signed up yet. As a result, the advertising will actually bring in results even in 12 months time and beyond as new readers will be coming on board all the time and accessing the older editions as if they were new.

* For those advertisers who don't opt for a longer advertising run, we can simply re-sell the space after 12 months. As we place many adverts for our own brands in our magazines, we have already been able to observe how advertisements placed in editions that are now more than 12 months old, still get significant click throughs and generate sales as new readers absorb the content for the first time - due to the sequenced delivery of the magazines by email. This mindset of never viewing a back issue as a dying asset totally reinvigorates the commercial opportunities for digital magazines over print, where the cost and practicality of placing new adverts in an older edition would be as ludicrous as trying to recall a published magazine in order to correct a spelling error or factual mistake.

Profiting from old content

The opportunity to re-purpose older content doesn't stop there.

As I mentioned earlier, it was always a great pain for me to know that we had some incredibly high quality articles in issues that were now gathering dust in our storage facility. Selling back issues was never profitable. It was such a tiny revenue stream, we'd only ever keep a few boxes for the odd occasion where somebody would call up and specifically ask for a particular issue as it may have happened to contain an article they had a special interest in. For example, we once published a two-part editorial ambitiously titled The 100 Greatest Dog Training Tips of All Time. We gathered 100 tips from experienced dog trainers and committed them to print. On the pages of the magazine carrying this editorial were several decades’ worth of dog training experience and a wide selection of helpful tips that could help dog owners solve any number of common problems. To have consulted individually with these dog training experts would have cost a lot of money and here we were selling the whole lot for £2.95 per issue. This used to be one of my biggest frustrations about printed magazine publishing. We were giving advice worth thousands of pounds, selling it for £2.95 and yet I'd go to WH Smiths to buy a poxy birthday card for my Mum and would struggle to find anything for less than £3.00. All the work, effort, experience and passion of putting a magazine together, sold for less than a piece of folded card and a generic verse. Where's the justice? I'd have loved to have sold my magazine for £20.00 per issue; I felt it was worth it. But that's a pretty unusual business model and I'm really not sure how many distributors would have been keen to experiment with such radical pricing.

The first 50 tips of our '100 Greatest Dog Training Tips of All Time' editorial appeared in issue 8 of K9 Magazine and the second 50 in issue 9. So, if you didn't get in to K9 Magazine before issue no 9, you missed out. Sorry. Yes, we could have re-hashed the feature but that would have just annoyed the loyal readers who'd read it once. As someone who loves magazines, I marvel at the quality and value of some of the content they produce. At under £5.00, the value of the information magazines deliver is cheap at twice the price. But how do we sell that value for twice the price?

This is what we did.

Spurred by the confidence I had in the advice we'd published and its ability to solve a number of dog problems for owners all over the world, we turned the two part editorial in to an eBook, priced it as a standalone product at £7.99 and began marketing.

We'd bid on Google Adwords for search terms such as 'how to stop my puppy howling' or 'what's the best way to teach a dog to sit' (in fact, we bid on hundreds of very relevant search terms from dog owners clearly looking to solve an immediate problem - dog owners who were NOT looking to subscribe to a magazine and who we would ordinarily have missed out on). We'd spend an average of no more than 10p for each click and we also marketed the product across our own portfolio of websites.

We sold more of those £7.99 eBooks than we did of the two magazines that ran the original feature (totalling £2.95 each, minus distribution, minus retailer's cut) and, better still, we're still selling that eBook to this day - 100% of the profit (and it is profit) is ours. Simple maths that even I could perform, showed that the eBook was considerably more profitable than the magazine it originally appeared in. Of course, new K9 Magazine subscribers / members get that eBook for free. Another great advantage of digital media is being able to offer a tangible value product (worth £7.99) for free as a bonus for subscribing. Distribution costs for the eBook are nil and it is now one of many similar products we have developed using our content archive.

It pleases me enormously that we can charge £7.99 for a single article that could have been purchased, in print form, for a total of £5.90 via two printed magazines, and finally I feel the value of the content itself is being justly rewarded and acknowledged.

You can do it too

What editorial gems do you have in your archive that could be re-purposed as eBooks or special reports, to be sold at a premium on the back of a targeted, keyword advertising campaign? Which editorials has your publication committed to print that contain information and advice that's still relevant? Did you sell advertising on the back of particular editorial features that you could sell again if the editorial was re-published in a digital edition?

Whilst it's not sensible to serve your existing readers the same meal, re-heated, over and over, digging in and re-purposing the high quality work you've already produced for NEW readers can significantly add to the bottom line. Further, unlike print, pixels can be quickly changed, updated and brought up to speed - so the advertising in a digital edition today, could be re-sold this time next year. Or, what about selling a sponsorship throughout an entire edition and distributing it to those members of your (electronic) mailing list who never got a chance to read it first time round?

We've actually launched entire, specialist digital magazines using our archives - obviously with a degree of editorial enhancement, mixed with new material and marketing. We now have a digital magazine exclusively for dog breeders, one just for people interested in dog grooming, we've gone in to cats with a digital magazine, we have a brand new dog publication (Total Dog Magazine) that has been sponsored by a major dog food company, again using content that we've re-purposed.

Thanks to digital media, we're now like the publishing version of a pig, absolutely NOTHING is wasted, right down to the curly tail and trotters. What would have once ended up gathering dust in a box of back issues or on the cutting room floor, having not made the final edition of the printed magazine, is now being used and, more importantly, purchased and consumed as if new.

Digital lowers barriers to entry. We can come up with an idea for a magazine based on nothing more than analysing Google search trends. For example, if we notice a sudden spike in the number of people searching for 'advice on how to look after Himalayan mountain goats' we can, in theory, get in to that space with a dedicated, digital magazine in a matter of weeks, possibly even days. If it turns out we'd misjudged the size of the market and demand, we can bail, no real harm done. Try doing that with print!

Since we made the leap to become a digital-only publisher, our profitability per issue has risen by more than 140% and our costs have fallen dramatically. I mentioned in a previous article for InPublishing (K9 Magazine: A Lesson in Doing Magazines Backwards, InPublishing Sep/Oct 2009) that we felt we needed to kill the printed edition entirely in order to focus 100% on a digital strategy. Radical, yes. A scorched earth policy that we feel we're reaping the rewards from. Having now recognised the multitude of revenue opportunities presented by digital media, I'm convinced that such a radical step is not necessary in order to profit from pixels.

Specialist digital editions, eBooks and one-off PDF reports are not going away any time soon. With the oncoming barrage of eReader uptake such as the Kindle and Apple's iPad, more consumers than ever will be actively seeking out content in digital format. The trick appears to be, getting in place today with content of high quality rather than allowing new comers, unburdened with a hungry print stable to feed, to steal a march with inferior content to that which is quietly gathering dust in your back issues and data archives.

In keeping with the digital media theme, I have prepared a handy resource guide for anyone looking to profit from publishing in pixels. It explains what tools and technology we use for our digital editions, how to promote digital editions, how we manage content delivery and a swipe file of our sequentially delivered content in email template form, useful for anyone who is thinking of getting in to digital magazines or re-purposing their archives. You can grab it (for free) at: www.MagazineProfits.com/inpublishing