IPC’s cautious embrace of digital

Case study by Tim Dawson.

As publishers fall over themselves to unveil iPad editions, IPC has the quiet satisfaction of being well ahead of the game.  The magazine publisher has been offering online subscriptions through Zinio for seven years.  Today nearly all of its 60 titles are available through the multi-platform American distributor.

“Initially we offered online subscriptions to more tech-oriented brands, such as Webuser and Digital Camera Pro, ” says Lindsay Greatbatch, who manages IPC’s relationship with Zinio, as well as acting as publisher of Decanter.  “It is not a significant revenue stream at the moment, but it is one that we expect to grow”.

The online product’s role is probably best expressed by Keith Foster, the publishing directory of Cycling Weekly – which has around 29,000 subscribers and around 1,000 who read the magazine digitally.  “It is a useful service, particularly for overseas subscribers for whom postage is prohibitive, but we have never pushed it in the UK because online subs don’t count towards our audited circulation figures – and thereby contribute to what we can charge advertisers.”

That is expected to change next year, at which point online might become more of a priority for the company.  But, given the dramatic price differential in subscription costs, it is possible that subscriber migration might start to ring alarm bells somewhere within IPC.  A regular subscription to Cycling Weekly costs £137 – online 52 issues costs a mere £38.  The differential is not so great on other titles, but nevertheless, if readers to get the iPad mag bug, they could quickly recover a device’s cots in savings.

Zinio, which is based in San Francisco, has been in business since 2001 and offers device independent online subscriptions to around 2,000 magazines.  More than 5 million customers have so far used the service. The company is owned by Gilvest LP, an investment firm which is owned by David H. Gilmour, a hotel and real estate entrepreneur who also founded the Fiji Water beverage firm.

Publishers supply print-ready files to Zinio, which turns them into a digital product.  Interactive material and download buttons can be added, or not, as a publisher chooses.  The publisher also sets subscription costs.

The end product nicely replicates a magazine’s pages which, on an iPad, readers can turn by sweeping their finger across each page.   The IPC magazines lack the bells and whistles of Richard Branson’s Edition, for example, but are a neat substitute for space-hungry paper products.  Sales are unlikely to amount to much while the company affords its digital editions so little priority, but that is likely to change as advertisers wake up to the potential of the measurable quality of online ads.