For b2b marketers, digital editions of business publications have long promised to create a new age of print-style advertising that would include video, links to websites and precise readership metrics.
But even as Apple's iPad, Android tablets and other e-readers herald a new era of interactive advertising, b2b marketers have been slow to take advantage of the opportunity represented by digital editions.
“It's an important opportunity,” said Ned May, VP-lead analyst at Outsell Inc., “but perhaps not as great as everyone might hope.”
Media strategists see the potential in digital editions but say it has rarely been realized. “We were not big fans of the early digital editions when trade publications started to substitute them for print subscribers,” said Dave Rowe, VP-media director at Doremus & Co., adding, “We see more potential for digital editions being created for the iPad and other tablets. However, many of the magazines are not willing to reveal the number of downloads they are generating.”
Ted Kohnen, VP-integrated marketing, at Stein+Partners Brand Activation, said, “Digital editions give marketers another touch point, and multiple touches equal action—and specifically a touch point in a low-noise environment with not a lot of ads on the screen like a website.”
The advertising opportunities available to b2b marketers depend on the kind of digital edition a media company offers. Some publishers use digital editions to reduce production and international shipping costs; others, to generate revenue from paid content; and still others, to create a stirring new media experience for readers and advertisers.
B2b media companies have a number of choices when producing digital editions. Publishers can simply take the PDF their design staff used to create the print magazine and post that online. Others rely on digital edition software providers—such as Texterity (recently acquired by Godengo Inc.) and Nxtbook—to create digital editions that feature “page-turning” capabilities and embedded audio and video.
Some publishers with deep pockets, such as the Financial Times, are using HTML5 and help from software developers to create customized digital versions that bring a new kind of magazine experience to tablets and smartphones. FT has attracted such b2b advertisers as CME Group and FedEx Corp. with its groundbreaking HTML5 app, which famously bypassed Apple Inc.'s App Store.
Even without Apple's online distribution muscle, the FT app currently has 1.7 million users. Mobile users account for 19% of traffic to FT.com and, perhaps more important from a financial standpoint, comprise 12% of new digital subscriptions.
But most b2b media companies do not have the resources of FT or The Wall Street Journal, which has a successful app that attracts advertisers such as Accenture, Oracle Corp. and Salesforce.com. If b2b publishers have invested in digital editions, it has often been halfheartedly; and, as a result, they have put little effort into ad sales.
Summit Media Group, which publishes Packaging World, has begun to prioritize selling advertisers on the benefits of digital editions. Last year, Packaging World surveyed its readers and found 46% of its subscribers owned a tablet and 78% said they planned to own a tablet by next month. Additionally, of those who already owned tablets, 74% said they read work-related digital magazines on the devices.
Like most b2b titles, Packaging World bundles advertising opportunities, offering marketers that buy an ad in print an equal ad in the digital edition—and vice versa.
Summit, however, monetizes the Packaging World digital edition in two main ways. First, it charges marketers extra to use video in a digital edition ad. Second, it offers a “corner cut” violator on the print edition cover to a single sponsor of the digital edition. Markem-Imaje, a packaging equipment supplier, has sponsored the cover of Packaging World.
Summit is currently using the App Store and Apple Newsstand, but Dave Newcorn, the media company's VP-custom and e-media, said he is skeptical of the value to marketers.
For Newcorn, Apple's lack of transparency is a sticking point (which is the same reason FT rejected the App Store). “Until we can identify who those people are [who are downloading an app via the App Store or Apple Newsstand]—on our terms, not on their terms—we can't credibly go to marketers and say, "This is your audience.' It could be 13-year-old girls in Europe [downloading these apps] for all we know,” he said.
CFE Media, a publisher covering the engineering sector, is taking a different approach with its revamped digital editions. The company is currently focused on getting them approved for the App Store. “Right now, it's more about enhancing the user experience than monetizing our digital editions,” said Paul Brouch, CFE Media's group production manager.
At present, each of CFE Media's three titles—Control Engineering (35%), Plant Engineering (29%) and Consulting-Specifying Engineer (28%)—has digital editions reaching more than one in four of its readers, many of them based outside the U.S.
However, CFE Media had a long-term plan to generate revenue from its digital editions. “Our new platform does allow us to incorporate a number of potential ad units and interactive advertising opportunities,” Brouch said. “We're currently working on interactive opportunities with a few select advertisers, but are still evaluating their performance.”