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Pubs go digital

Published March 28, 2012

New technologies expand cycling magazines’ reach, content options

By Doug McClellan

It’s been less than five months since Apple launched Newsstand, which makes it easy for publishers to sell single copies and subscriptions of digital magazines for iPad and iPhone readers. But Newsstand, along with other digital publishing platforms, has already shaken up the crowded bicycle magazine field. Consider:

• Bicycling added 120 pages of content and other interactive features to the digital version of its annual Buyer’s Guide that don’t appear in the print edition, publisher Chris Lambiase said. The guide went on sale early this month.
• Procycling, one of the print titles of British publishing
giant Future Publications, has sold nearly 10,000 single
issues and subscriptions through Newsstand, and has had some 130,000 downloads of its free sample issue.
• More than 30,000 people have downloaded Bike magazine’s free Newsstand app since October, and readers in 122 countries have gone on to buy single copies or subscriptions.
• Dirt Rag’s initial digital offering on Newsstand is among the 52 highest-grossing magazines for the iPhone, publisher Maurice Tierney said.

Rodale, which publishes Bicycling, has been a leader in digital publications, including its powerhouse Men’s Health magazine. But Lambiase said the digital version of the Bicycling Buyer’s Guide is the most ambitious digital issue Rodale has attempted. The guide added 65 bike reviews, covering triathlon and TT bikes, that weren’t in the print issue. Bicycling also added such touches as 360-degree images of selected bikes that readers can rotate with the swipe of a finger.

“This is exciting for us, what we’re doing with this issue, and we’re going to make a big deal of it,” Lambiase said.

He said the Buyer’s Guide marks the start of an intensified focus on Bicycling’s digital editions. “Every issue will be enhanced in some way,” he said. “Probably not to the extent of the Buyer’s Guide, but every issue will be enhanced with different visual technologies, enhanced content and enhanced advertising experience for advertisers.”

The focus on digital follows last year’s redesign of the print magazine, which Lambiase said has paid off in increased advertising and newsstand sales. Bicycling’s January issue sold an all-time high 54,000 copies on newsstands, he said.

International reach

Apple Newsstand and, to a smaller extent, similar digital platforms for the Barnes & Noble Nook tablet, Android-powered smart phones and Web browsers, such as Zinio, are giving publishers global reach and more content options. Almost all cycling magazines, including Velo and Hi-Torque’s Road Bike Action and Mountain Bike Action, are available on Newsstand.

“It gives us areas that we can really expand on worldwide that you can’t do print-wise—especially with our magazines, because they’re too bloody heavy,” said H3 Publications owner Dave House.

House, who claims huge numbers for downloads of H3’s Road, Decline and Tri magazines, which are offered for free, said digital issues give him global reach at little extra expense.

H3 magazines are oversized and printed on heavy paper stock, so House said he is cautious about newsstand distribution, which typically results in high numbers of unsold and returned issues. He said half the people who have downloaded H3 titles are from outside the United States.

“In the years to come, you’re going to see a split in the publishing business where you have an option of being in digital worldwide, or being in print mostly in Canada and the U.S.,” House said.

At Peloton, which also prides itself on high production values, digital issues have boosted print subscriptions, said Brad Roe, founder and publisher.

“The more we invest in digital, the more we’re seeing growth on the print side. I mean that emphatically,” Roe said.

Peloton has offered digital issues through Zinio and stand-alone applications since its launch in November 2010. It is awaiting approval from Apple to be included in Newsstand.

Digital issues also help reduce the disparity between small and large publications.
Tierney said Dirt Rag and its sister publication, Bicycle Times, have seen good initial success as digital downloads. But he said navigating new technologies is challenging, especially for a small company like his.

“Advertisers find themselves confused—and so do we,” Tierney said. “We find ourselves on a daily basis trying to keep up with the technology. If it’s not the Internet, it’s tablet versions or social media. Trying to steer through all that is challenging.”

Velo reached 1,000 digital subscribers last year on Zinio before it was available on Newsstand. Velo launched on Newsstand in January, and digital subscriptions are expected to grow by at least 60 percent this year, said John Smith, senior vice president for publishing at Velo’s parent company, Competitor Group.

Smith said Competitor Group is seeing even more success with digital versions of its triathlon titles: Competitor, Triathlete and Inside Triathlon. “We launched the Competitor digital version a year ago. We didn’t do any promotion but showed it in the magazine with a full-page ad,” Smith said. “We went from zero to 28,000 subscribers in the course of six months.”

‘Massive opportunity’

For big publishers like Future Publishing, digital magazines are an opportunity to set their titles apart. Future, a publicly traded British company with sales of $225 million in its latest fiscal year, publishes several technology, gaming and music titles along with Procycling. Future also owns the well-trafficked and websites.

“We were ready with most of our magazines in the Apple store from day one,” said Richard Schofield, group publishing director of sports and automotive for Future. “It becomes a virtuous circle. You’re in there, so you get downloaded, so you get to the top of the ‘most popular’ charts, so that increases the downloading.

“There’s a massive opportunity there,” he added. “We see the tablet market as a great chance to reach new customers and markets where postal costs [are high] or the nearest retail store is a distance away.”

Like Lambiase, Schofield said the best opportunities for digital issues will be customized editions.

“At the moment, everyone’s producing exact copies of their print magazine. It’s quite a nice experience to read a magazine on an iPad,” Schofield said. “But people will start producing bespoke magazines for the Apple Newsstand. You’ll definitely see some cycling-specific products from us that you won’t be able to buy from a bookstore.”

Bike magazine was also available for Newsstand from day one, publisher Morgan Meredith said. (Bike is among the magazines used to promote Newsstand in Apple advertisements.)

But Meredith said digital publishing hasn’t detracted from the print issues. “If we can get our magazine out there in a different, new and exciting way, and that means we cannot print as many magazines, I’m fine with that,” he said. “But I do feel like we will always and forever have a print version.”

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine, Media/Publishing

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