February 23, 2017 Last Updated 12:13 pm

Column: Building a better digital magazine and advancing transparency

Guest column: Andrew Degenholtz, president of ValueMags, cautions against re-login roadblocks, and digital edition providers with newsstand that push other digital magazines, while advocating for third party verified circulation and website analytics

Attracting and engaging readers of digital magazines is a challenge. Acquisition costs are rising and competition is fierce. Then there’s the product itself. Digital magazines could be better, and would be better if digital edition providers put the customer first. Unfortunately, corporate business goals are often valued above what readers and magazine publishers want.

The need for speed and security

As soon as customers sign up for a digital magazine they want to read it quickly, without having to login or download an app first. Digital editions that use HTML5 cut past the downloading step since the format can be viewed on any desktop, tablet or smartphone. When it comes to magazines that require an additional login, the last thing a customer wants is another username and password to remember. By the time their second or third issue arrives, subscribers expect to click and read immediately. And why shouldn’t they? Print customers aren’t required to log in at the US post office each time they receive a magazine in the mail. Publishers would not stand for it and readers would revolt by canceling their subscriptions. The same standards should apply to digital magazines.

Adding re-login roadblocks puts the lifetime value of digital readers at unnecessary risk. Since content publishers are understandably sensitive to distributing their product without security, by using click-based security and device attribution a digital edition can lock once an issue is shared or viewed on too many devices. Requiring customers to login only when their issue has been viewed on too many devices makes sense. But if a subscriber is simply responding to an email notification from their digital edition provider, they shouldn’t have to log in again.

Avoid cross-selling—yet engage readers

Readers and magazine publishers may become wary of digital edition providers who maintain a newsstand that pushes other digital magazines, creating a conflict of interest for both the reader and the publishing company. This conflict of interest compounds when vendors send out new issue notifications that include links to other magazine offers. Magazine publishers would object if the post office cross-sold products to their customers, and shouldn’t tolerate it from their online vendors. If digital publishers cannot negotiate sole representation to their customers from their current vendors, they’d be wise to court digital magazine service providers who will enable them to sell digital while maintaining their branding and customers.

Although digital magazine readers don’t respond well to cross-selling tactics in the new issue notifications that are sent to them, they do appreciate the notifications. In fact, customers rely

on these email alerts as well as new edition reminders posted onto their Facebook feed. Lively content that is easily available through reminders—and quickly accessible without the hassles of downloads, logins and cross-selling—helps engage readers. And, as any digital marketer will attest, an engaged customer is a happy customer which translates into a happy publisher, and ultimately a successful digital edition vendor.

Advancing transparency and accountability in digital publishing

Another important development in the world of digital magazine publishing is the effort to advance transparency and accountability. The Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) verifies publishers’ circulation and website analytics. With third-party nonprofit organizations such as the AAM, publishers benefit from verification and the distribution of media metrics, so ad sales teams can present credible data and improve a brand’s bond with advertisers and customers.

Years ago, the American Press Institute produced a Strategy Studies series that showed public trust grew for publishing companies with writers who responsibly attributed information, provided disclosures and revealed the sources that supported their stories. These same principals of accountability and transparency apply “behind the scenes” between publishers of digital editions and their advertisers.

At present, publishers report sponsored digital subscriptions to the AAM based on opt-in or delivery of the digital edition. Soon, magazine publishers who claim sponsored digital subscriptions will be required to show an extra layer of proof to feature this type of digital circulation on AAM reports. Effective this July, magazines will need to show proof of unique opens per digital issue to count sponsored digital subscriptions on AAM reports.

AAM works with all sides of the industry to make rule changes as media channels and the needs of media publishers and buyers evolve and change. This change to AAM’s bylaws and rules, which was determined by both magazine publishers and buyers, is one way that AAM continues to provide verification and assurance across channels.

In November 2016, AAM certified ValueMags’ Digital Fulfillment System (DFS) to the latest industry standards and best practices for IT controls. As part of the certification, AAM also confirmed that the ValueMags DFS tracks proof of order and unique opens in a way that is consistent, accurate and reliable. This additional step will help magazine publishers who use the ValueMags DFS to deliver sponsored digital subscriptions and report sponsored digital copies to AAM, fast-tracking their audits with the organization. In today’s ever-changing digital industry, this type of credibility helps increase transparency, thereby inspiring trust from readers, advertisers and publishers.

Andrew Degenholtz is president of Chicago-based ValueMags, a marketing agency serving magazine publishing companies that builds and executes platforms to increase circulation, sales, and reader engagement. www.emagazines.com 

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