Breaching the print and online divide

Part of the future of magazine publishing means integrating the content strategy of print with all the benefits of digital publishing. “As long as the current divide between print and online exists, it will have a negative impact on growth,” says Jonathan Harris, CEO of Zeddit, a digital platform that offers smarter magazine discovery, integrated with publisher websites.  

Why then, I ask Harris, do publishers desperately cling to online newsstand solutions to publish linear e-mags where the articles are hardly searchable and has no social media presence?

The culprit, says Harris, “is legacy.” He explains: “Publishers, myself included, have generally developed separate print and online publishing practices as a natural outcome of how the landscape has evolved over the last decade. On the one hand you have your print strategy and on the other the web and social media strategy. In the middle you try to bolt the two strategies into – or onto – each other.  But it’s hard to successfully integrate the content strategies for print and digital when the mediums are so fundamentally different. This is evident when you look at the current disjoint between the two content channels.”

Failure of the digital newsstand

Much has been written about the failure of digital editions to offset the decline of print. Part of the problem underpinning e-publications and their content is that magazine articles are simply “too hard to discover”, maintains Harris. “The digital newsstand is no solution. The model is counterintuitive because it replicates the physical newsstand rather than the way we discover content on the web.

The best example of how this should work is to look at publishers own websites and how they are growing their online audiences through recommended articles, search and social media. Magazine articles don’t find the right readers, at the right time, in the right place, that’s a big problem, instead people are expected to click subscribe buttons or search newsstands.”

“So the modern day publisher is asking: What do we do about magazine discovery?  But when you’re bottom line is under pressure and you have few additional resources, there’s no room to invest in solving that problem?”

Step up Harris’s current venture: Zeddit. The technology underpinning the platform integrates magazines with publisher websites by recommending magazine articles to people already on publisher sites, using a few lines of code – surfacing magazine articles they may like but never knew existed.

Harris explains that his goal is to power better magazine discovery for free and paid magazines regardless of whether their final fulfilment is via digital or print. “There will be fewer magazines in the market 5 years from now, that is inevitable. Those that remain will need to make sure their magazine and online content is equally discoverable.”

Indexing and categorising individual articles

To do this successfully Zeddit makes it simple to break magazines down into articles and add categories and tags to each article, which also gets its own URL properly structured for search engine optimisation. “The big immediate, and longer term, opportunity here is to index and categorise magazine content for it to become searchable and easily discoverable.”

“Our discovery engine is linked to a widget that can be easily placed on a publisher website. When someone is reading a web article, for example, we will recommend the most relevant magazine articles via the widget.“

We’re focusing on what the first touch point will be with the printed magazine brand online. Publishers are investing in their websites and succeeding in driving more traffic to them, so it makes sense that by integrating magazines into these sites at the article level we have a lot of scope to start building better and more intuitively structured content discovery and engagement. This is the foundation for a more effective merging of online and print strategy.  

We also customise the business rules to serve the needs of the publisher. “Whether they are trying to drive subscriptions, conversions or email signups, our algorithm serves the articles that does that job best over time, and importantly, publishers also have access to this data.” 

Zeddit also keeps more traffic for publishers. “When you click on an article it will open in the publisher’s website not send you off to a third party platform. What we are trying to achieve is deep integration of magazine content consumed in a way that is intuitive and relevant to audiences.”

Softening the free to paid process

Zeddit also creates a more user-friendly subscriber engagement pathway for paid magazine content. Harris explains: “The reality is that almost all the subscribe buttons you find on publisher websites perform like banners, not a great start to the conversion funnel.”

He says that a person who clicks on the subscribe button will either be redirected to a newsstand where they have to orientate themselves or a sequence of transactional stages that are cumbersome. This often means the drop off rate before the transaction point is high.

Zeddit offers a fast and seamless two-click subscription pathway without readers ever leaving the publisher website, which could include freemium periods, article bundles and print plus digital options. “We also enable publishers to drive signups in exchange for access to a limited number of subscriber-only articles; or capture email addresses for once-off access to a single article.”

This type of customer acquisition and lead generation is going to become increasingly important.  At the moment many publishers rely on people to go from free to paid in one bold step. But that is not how the transaction funnel works. Our approach builds engagement and demand.”

While more options give publishers enough flexibility to decide how they want consumers to eventually transact with them, Harris says the key is that you cannot acquire a subscriber unless you interest them. “And you cannot interest the customer unless you continuously and intelligently surface the content in a way that’s natural for people online. That is the key.”

Harris concludes. “We’re going back to the fundamentals of what role the website serves and how it operates as a lead magnet, brand channel or simply an entry point to the magazine. The deeper the integration of print content into the digital experience, the greater the likelihood publishers will find new readers for their magazines.”

More like this

5 insights about the magazine media (hint: it’s no longer all about print)

Why we were wrong about the internet killing off print journalism

As summer dwindles, print revenues enter a long, cool autumn

Will the double-digit declines in print sales continue?

Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x