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How to measure the success of your digital magazine strategy

Henry Ford once said that the only real mistake we make is the one from which we learn nothing. Rebekah Billingsley strongly believes that’s what a lot of publishers are doing right now with their digital magazines and are in danger of being left standing when tablet magazines become a mass market proposition.

By Rebekah Billingsley

Consumer facing magazine circulation declined again in the second half of 2012 by around 5% across the sector against the same period the previous year. Faith is being placed in the ongoing increase of digital magazine sales, 400% up on the same period as the PPA were keen to point out in that ABC release. But for many publishers, 400% of nothing is still nothing and that number isn’t going to excite the majority of publishers until it more than compensates for their print decline.

However, it is too passive to launch a digital version of your magazine, focus on growing circulation and ignore all of the other data at your disposal. When the majority of your consumers own a tablet, interactivity within magazines becomes more mainstream and purchase habits are more widely understood, you must be ready. You need to have the best product in your sector, be investing in intelligent marketing, be able to convert subscriptions effectively, understand the international opportunities and create engaging, effective advertising in order to survive. By focusing on these areas now, you can ensure you’re in fighting shape when the tipping point arrives.

When I begin working with a client, the first thing we work on is establishing and weighting the strategic reasons as to why they are launching a digital magazine; it could be additional reach or advertiser revenue; competitor activity; it could be because they operate in a sector where consumers expect digital magazines and so on. By focusing on these reasons at the beginning, we can start to establish our KPIs and from there know what we need to measure and finally, work out how we can effectively measure.

Effective marketing and measurement

One of the first things you’ll approach when you launch your product is trying to get as many people as possible to download your app. You’ll invariably identify a whole range of marketing tools at your disposal; your websites, newsletters, subscription databases, magazine house ads, editorial columns and so on. These are all great methods but you must ensure you measure every single campaign on every single platform. If you don’t, you won’t know what does and doesn’t work in terms of platform, messaging, aggressiveness of messaging and frequency of messaging. If you don’t understand whether your marketing is working, you’ll be making costly mistakes when the time comes where numbers can make huge differences to whether your campaign fails or succeeds.

* Ensure that every single link on your digital assets is tracked.

* Look at implementing affiliate links on your tracking which will give you purchase data at the other end.

* There are some tools now available which track right through to product purchase allowing you to see a complete conversion metric.

* Measuring from print is slightly more difficult but there are some excellent tools which allow you to drive from print to mobile direct.

Increasing Reach and Revenue

The platform providers offer fairly effective sales reporting tools, and many publishers are using these to promote the success of their digital magazine businesses. Below are some data sets you can get out of the platform backend and how some companies have used them recently to communicate success.

* Total sales across your portfolio: Future delivered one third of all digital editions in the last ABCs.

* Percentage of total magazine circulation and percentage of total subscription base: 12% of all GQ sales are now digital.

* Conversion rates from download to single issue purchase and subscription purchase: Over 40% of Future’s magazine sales are subscriptions.

* Downloads and purchase by country: Top Gear is the number one motoring app in the US as well as in the UK.

* Sales by day or seasonality trends: Christmas Day was the busiest day last year according to MagazineCloner.

* Percentage sales as archive issues: 25% of Good Food’s sales each month were archive issues so we considered putting more archive issues on the Newsstand.

* Best selling issue: Knowing that the Healthy Eating issue was the best selling meant more product focus on healthy eating.

Selling Subscriptions

As with our traditional print businesses, subscriptions are a holy grail. Commitment in such a nascent market, money paid upfront by the platforms and a specific in app set of marketing tools make subscriptions a good place to focus resource early on. An early understanding of the most effective ways to convert from downloads of your app into sales, especially subscriptions, should ensure that when volumes become really meaningful, you could be way ahead of your competitors.

As mentioned, a whole new set of tools becomes available to you once a consumer downloads your app which empowers you to convert into purchase. These include free trials, sampling, push notifications, data capture and incentivisation techniques, providing yet more marketing opportunities to test, measure and hone.

Again, you must ensure every method, every tactic, every message at your disposal is tracked against your KPIs, measured and fed back in terms of success and failure. There are now companies out there who can track every click to a purchase so you can test all of the above. Areas you may consider testing include:

* Length of free trials to subscription conversion

* Changing your samples in terms of size and conversion messaging

* Testing push notification messaging and frequency

* Different incentivisation offerings; competitions, data capture incentives

Advertising Aspirations

If one of your key revenue streams is in print advertising, you’ll need to create an advertising strategy and set of KPIs. This is going to fall into two primary categories; reach and engagement.

For both sets of metrics, you need to ensure you have product analytics within your magazines. Your sales data may inform your ABC audit and therefore your potential reach to advertisers but there is significantly more data available to you. Engagement, in particular, is fundamental in this new medium both in terms of creating incremental revenue and protecting against a CPM model. Where consumers can now interact with adverts, it’s vital we realise this is our key metric.

Reach is not going to define the success of an interactive advert; engagement with the ad and the advertiser is what makes this medium so exciting for advertisers. Links to the client’s website, social media connections, test drives booked, samples ordered, vouchers redeemed are fantastic primary engagement measures but there are also those interactions with the ad which I like to call secondary engagement levels; videos played, hot spots clicked, galleries viewed. Every possible interaction in your ad must be measured and reported whether primary or secondary. Areas you might measure include:

* How many people saw the ad as percentage of total audience

* Conversion of readers to total engagement

* Frequency viewed

* Circulation versus readership

* Success of more interactive ads versus less interactive ads

Product Plus

Most of the digital magazines available at the moment are page turners as publishers dip their toes in the water, assess the climate and iterate as the market grows. It’s only a matter of time before many publishers look at the next stage of their product strategy and try to decide where to iterate, how best to deploy editorial and design resources and what interactivity will give them the best advantage in their markets. Similarly, for those publishers needing to make decisions about platform focus, they need to know where to go next; Kindle Fire? Nook? Google Play? Tablet or iPhone?

First of all, your web analytics will allow you to track the trends of mobile usage amongst your digital audience and focus your priorities on the right platforms.

Secondly, your analytics across your digital magazines will allow you to see where your audience currently spends its time; invaluable for product development. You can also test making different aspects more interactive and measure the response; create surveys, ask users for feedback on the store, check if there is any uplift in social media sharing, more time spent with the product etc.


“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” So said Winston Churchill.

The magazine industry has a spectacular opportunity to reinvent itself and fight extinction. Don’t be put off by small numbers right now; eight years ago, only 2.6% of all UK retail sales were online; it’s now 18%. 20% of all book sales are now digital.

Don’t fail to put resource into your emerging medium; start learning what you can so you’re in great shape when the numbers become significant.

Understand why you’re here, what your strategic focus is and what success looks like. Set your KPIs and ensure everything you do is measured.

Finally, if you can’t measure it, ask why you’re doing it.

In April, Rebekah recorded a webinar for InPublishing entitled ‘How to Measure the Success of Your Digital Magazine - the main KPIs and how to measure them’. Click here to view a recording of the webinar.