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Ziff Davis Enterprise plans to be the first major b2b magazine publisher to abandon print completely. The company, which publishes Baseline, CIO Insight and eWeek, will begin offering enhanced digital editions of its magazines this month and go entirely paperless in January.
“What you're seeing here is a company at the forefront of the decision that a lot of people are eventually going to make,” said John Wickersham, partner at media investment bank Atwood Advisors.
The move is designed to eliminate paper, printing and postage costs, but it is also part of a broad mobile and digital strategy that the company is calling OmniDigital. Beginning this month, ZDE will introduce digital editions, websites and native apps specifically geared for a variety of smartphones—such as the Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Phone 7—as well as the iPad, Rim Playbook and Android tablets.
“The future of engagement is mobile. It is social, and it is entirely digital,” Steve Weitzner, CEO of ZDE, said in a statement. “We intend to drive the digital marketing standard for b2b tech media and accelerate the ‘anywhere and everywhere' consumption of content by exploiting the rapid adoption of mobile and tablet devices in the IT community.”
“I think it's a much bigger strategy than simply getting out of print,” said Tom Stein, president-CEO of Stein & Partners Brand Activation and a ZDE board member. “It's not only the right move for Ziff, it's also an example for other media companies.”
Using digital editions, ZDE plans to boost the frequency and reach of its magazines. The company said Baseline and CIO Insight will double their frequencies, from six times a year to monthly. Additionally, eWeek will return to biweekly frequency, up from 19 issues a year.
Weitzner said no job cuts would result from the shift away from print and that it's in the budget to hire more editorial staffers next year. “Part of this allows us to invest more in content, not spending on distribution,” he said.
Audrey Siegel, president of media-buying company Targetcast, applauded ZDE's embrace of digital. “The digital expression may ultimately get advertisers closer to the audience they want than b2b print,” she said. “They can really know when they're reaching the right audience with little waste.”
Siegel added that the move was not without risk. “They're taking a leap,” she said.
Chuck Richard, VP-lead analyst at Outsell Inc., speculated on whether cost savings were the primary impetus for the move. “My first reaction is, seeing as how they're keeping the digital editions, is this a production cost issue or is it a final point of view on mobile and how content is being consumed?” he said.
Industry observers anticipate that other b2b media companies, particularly ZDE's traditional competitors—International Data Group and UBM's TechWeb, Everything Channel and Electronics Group—will eventually follow the same path. However, Wickersham said, some b2b publishers, such as those covering the fashion industry, will be slow to abandon paper.
Ziff Davis Inc., a consumer-oriented tech publisher that was originally part of the same parent company as was ZDE, stopped printing its PC Magazine consumer publication in 2008. Thomas Publishing Co. ceased printing its multivolume Thomas Register of American Manufacturers in 2005, shifting the massive directory online at ThomasNet.com.
It's unclear how much not printing its magazines will save ZDE, especially considering that print revenue has dwindled to well below 10% of the company's overall revenue.
Wickersham, while acknowledging the cost-cutting benefits, characterized the move more as forward-looking. “Steve Weitzner is a good thinker, a very pragmatic executive,” he said. “I'm sure he thought this through very well.”