Our tablet adventure
This is going to be a long read. There are better ways of experiencing that than reading it on this website. You’ll see why I raise that in a moment.
This morning I joined the queue for the iPad mini. It’s my first Apple launch day experience. You’ll see why I raise that in a moment too.
But first a little bit of history.
In December it will be three years since Focal Attractions bought Encore magazine. I can still remember the day vividly. As a print romanticist, the idea of owning a magazine was a dream. It was one of the proudest and most exciting days of my career.
Fair to say that in previous years, Encore had not received a great deal of love. The odds were stacked against it surviving.
The Australian film production sector Encore focused on had suffered years of decline. As part of a larger stable, Encore had received very little management focus (I cop my own part of the blame for that – during my time at Reed Business Information, I was group editor, but had to give almost all of my time to larger sibling B&T).
At the time we became involved, advertising sales were almost non-existent. Subscription sales had declined dramatically. There was no digital strategy to speak of. Every edition published lost money.
So you won’t be surprised to hear that Focal didn’t pay very much when we bought it. Mind you, with hindsight, we still overpaid.
But now we owned our own bloody magazine. And it felt awesome.
All it needed, we arrogantly told ourselves, was to give it the focus it needed, and it would once more thrive. Within the team, we had the sales experience, we had the publishing experience, we had the editorial experience. We were going to turn this baby around.
You may or may not have have noticed, that in Mumbrella’s coverage of the travails of the likes of News Limited and Fairfax in recent years, we try to avoid implying that the bosses of these declining print businesses are idiots. You see, print publishing is hard.
It didn’t take long to learn how little we knew. Managing a subscriber base, and the associated marketing, is invisible from the outside, but more complex than you’d think.
Meanwhile, we needed a plan for how we could keep the heart of a once-great magazine, covering a once-great local industry, and widen its focus to something that was more commercially sustainable.
The answer was to think more widely about the world of content production. Right away we started writing more about the whole screen industry – more television and TVC coverage.
Encore’s coverline became “Media, entertainment and the business of storytelling”. Slightly clumsy perhaps, but it articulates the thing that unites all of Encore’s readers. Every one of us is in the business of storytelling, whether as journalists, or film-makers, or as brands telling their stories to consumers.
We did deals to get Encore into the hands of advertising creatives, marketers and media agency executives via the memberships of AWARD, the Australian Marketing Institute and the Media Federation.
Our audited circulation (not directly comparable because of different frequency and audit categories) overtook rivals such as AdNews, B&T and Inside Film. Direct paid subscriptions also began to rise slightly, albeit off a low base.
Display advertising revenue rose too. Prior to the relaunch, Encore was bringing in as little as $4,000 per edition. Afterwards, this rose to more than $20,000, but appeared to be plateauing there.
Which was a big improvement, but the truth of the matter was that the title still wasn’t quite breaking even against the costs of staffing, printing and distribution.
Conservatively, I reckon Encore has lost us around $300,000 since we bought it. The greatest cost – print and distribution.
Which brings me to the tablet edition, initially on the iPad. We started it in April, using Oomph’s technology. From the first edition, I loved it.
Everything that gives magazines an edge over websites – being able to sit back and comfortably read longer pieces, and having a natural home for more featurey articles – are present.
And some of the qualities that give websites an edge – video and immediacy – work incredibly well on the tablet.
Until you actually spend time with it, it’s hard to articulate just how much more it is than a magazine on another platform. I can’t stress that enough – it’s so much more than a glorified PDF.
The epiphany for me was reading a feature about the making of an ad, and being able to watch the work right there.
Reading the lengthy feature would have been a lousy experience on a website. But the reader of the print edition of course couldn’t watch the ad. The tablet edition could address both.
Initially, we only saw two or three hundred downloads of each edition.
Immediately, we had about four times as many downloads.
We began to average more than 1,000 downloads per edition. Taking a guess at two-and-a-half users per tablet and that equates to (perhaps) 2,500 readers.
With an audited print circulation of just over 7,000, that’s not insignificant.
It’s enough to tell us that it’s time to make the leap, not least with the launch of the iPad Mini providing a fresh impetus.
We’ve had the iPad mini in the office for about an hour as I write this. Blimey, it’s good. And it’s great for reading on – being slightly lighter makes a huge difference. So today’s the day to make our jump.
So I can reveal that we will soon stop physically printing Encore. Next month we’ll print The Annual as a joint edition with Mumbrella.
And next year, Encore will celebrate its 30th birthday as a digital-only product.
On the iPad, on Android tablets, and as soon as we can figure it out, on desktops too.
In truth, we could have kept going with print for a little longer. But at some point you have to jump, and we’ve opted to do it at the time of our choosing as we believe it will give us a head start on our rivals.
So we’re going to go early, and hard.
The tablet edition will be weekly. It’s a natural rhythm for a reader.
We can do that now the price barrier of printing and distribution has been removed. And we’ll still be free.
The November edition is live right now. You can download the iPad version here.
In the next few days it should be available on Google Play too.
It means that we can afford to charge our advertisers a lot less too. Rate card for a full page in the print edition was $5,000. In the new Encore, we’ll be able to do it for $1k – opening up high impact, high engagement advertising to a lot of brands that never would have been able to afford it before.
And of course we’ll play our part in educating the advertising market about those opportunities. The toughest thing is helping people understand that it’s not as hard as it may seem.
Without the inertia of the print edition, we can also plan each edition like the multimedia product it is. Encore will be something of a cross between a magazine and a TV show. The screen content we create will be every bit as important as the words we write. You can begin to get a sense of that in the November edition.
When the new, weekly Encore emerges early in February, it will be a very different product.
We’ve got a little less than three months and we’ve got a lot to do to get ready. I hope you’ll come on the journey with us.