Contract publishers are a hive of frenzied activity at the moment.
Not only are traditional customer magazines going from strength to
strength (as revealed by the Association of Publishing Agencies research
- see panel), but a whole new opportunity has arrived in the form of
Some contract publishers have already taken the plunge into the brave
new world of on-line magazines, while those which haven’t are busily
working away behind the scenes to try to seize this opportunity.
TPD was one of the earliest contract publishers to go into on-line
’We’ve been doing interactive content since 1994. About one third of our
UK revenue is now derived from this and it’s growing very rapidly,’ says
TPD chairman Julian Treasure.
The company’s interactive division now has a turnover of around pounds
2.5 million, employs 30 people, and numbers ONdigital, United Airlines
and Microsoft among its clients.
Treasure has no doubt that the move into interactive publishing was
crucial to the company’s future. ’We have several interactive-only
clients, and if we’d stuck to print Microsoft would no longer be a
TPD may have taken a lead, but other contract publishers are showing
similar commitment to on-line publishing. ’Every new customer that comes
to us is looking to produce both a printed magazine and an on-line
version,’ says John Brown Contract Publishing chief executive Andrew
John Brown helped launch Waitrose.com just over a year ago, is doing
sites for Ikea in Germany and Finnish paper company Metsa-Serla, and has
just put the finishing touches to its new site for Orange.
Specialist Publications is currently involved in five on-line publishing
ventures, according to managing director Jim Addison. Some of these are
under wraps, but one is a project for Peugeot UK’s members’ site.
Mediamark launched voyagermark.com as an on-line magazine for British
Midland a year ago (see panel opposite). The company is following its
success with Voyager by launching an electronic division in
Sales and marketing manager for the new division David Le Lacheur is
also working on two new on-line magazines which will appear shortly
’There is a huge opportunity in on-line publishing. If you look at the
number of companies that have web sites that don’t contribute to
increasing customer loyalty then you can see the potential,’ says Le
Summerhouse Publishing in Norwich is yet to venture into the on-line
world, but business development director Gareth Homfray-Davies is well
aware of the potential. ’Almost without exception our clients are asking
us to create on-line magazines for them,’ he says. ’We’ve got two major
initiatives in the pipeline.’
As the demand for on-line publications booms, contract publishers feel
they are very well placed to make the most of this new opportunity.
Hirsch has no doubt why companies are coming to him asking for on-line
’Every major company has got an on-line presence, but what a lot don’t
have is good on-line content. You need to keep people coming to a site
by creating good content.’
Addison agrees. ’Publishers like us are good at providing really good
content and this is where we see our skills being useful to clients in
terms of their on-line presence. Quite a few organisations have become
seduced by the ’bells and whistles’ of a sexy web site and have
forgotten that content is always king.’
But contract publishers are also aware that print cannot simply be
replicated on-line, and that the two media have their distinct
’The content from magazines has as a minimum requirement to be
re-purposed on-line. Better still to make it unique,’ says
Homfray-Davies. Treasure concurs. ’We wouldn’t take the same content and
put it on-line, we would do a different version of the content.’
’Our strategy for producing on-line magazines is to recognise the
strengths and weaknesses of the web and produce content accordingly,’
’We produce a 68-page magazine for Peugeot customers called Rapport.
Some of the lifestyle articles are taken on to the Peugeot drivers’
site, but they come in a different format. There isn’t space to download
full-bleed colour photographs and no one wants to read pages and pages
of on-screen copy.’
Addison regards the internet as ideal for imparting information quickly,
but believes print is better for providing detailed information.
Treasure has a different view.
’The value of the internet is that it allows more breadth and depth.
You have the ability to search a huge archive,’ he says. For example,
TPD originally printed a series of consumer guides for credit card
Goldfish, but is now producing these in an interactive format because
this allows people to search for the information they require in the
depth they need.
Publishing on-line also presents a whole new series of design
challenges, which publishers used to producing glossy print magazines
must be aware of. ’On-line you can lose someone very quickly,’ says
’If they go on-line and the design is confusing they don’t continue,
whereas if a magazine is confusing they will flick through it and only
give up after 30 or 40 pages. You have less time on-line to keep the
customer, so simplicity is the name of the game.’
Simplicity means a lot less text, and no full page photographs because
they take too long to download. ’A magazine can be luxurious and look
beautiful, while on the internet it’s all about practicality,’ suggests
With all the challenges that working on-line presents to contract
publishers, the reason that they and their clients are so excited about
on-line publishing, however, has to be the opportunities it offers for
interactivity. Specialist Publications is about to launch an on-line
publication for Woodward’s, a food service company targeting caterers,
and the appeal of going on-line was definitely its interactive quality.
’The client wanted to go on-line to get more interactivity with its
customer base and to find out what it wants. It’s all about improving
communications,’ says Addison.
On-line publications allow readers to enter into a dialogue with a
company, show their needs and interests, and even influence content. Of
perhaps even greater importance, it is also made very easy for users to
buy products and services.
’One of the joys of interactivity is you can see exactly where people
have gone on a site. If you have content which no one has accessed for a
few days you can pull it, while areas of the site which are red hot can
be given more emphasis,’ says Treasure.
Publishers are understandably excited about the potential of the on-line
world, but they don’t believe that print is dead as far as contract
publishing is concerned. ’I don’t believe paper will die, because it has
values interactive communication can’t replicate, such as physicality,
convenience, low entry costs, universality and portability,’ says
Homfray-Davies feels the same way. ’Printed magazines are still a
definite must for any high value, high emotional involvement purchase or
brand,’ he says.
’An on-line presence will always find it hard to reward customers - one
of the prime benefits of a customer magazine. True, many portal sites
offer the user value-added benefits, but a quality customer magazine is
a highly effective - and much appreciated - way of saying thank you for
using us, staying with us or joining us.’
Print magazines are also fulfilling another useful function at the
moment - driving traffic to web sites. ’One of the downsides of on-line
publishing is that you have to persuade people to come to the site - a
printed magazine can do that,’ says Addison. ’In the immediate future
they will be ideal for the task of explaining to the uninitiated exactly
how a company’s web site works, and can flag up e-commerce procedures,’
Hirsch suggests that a magazine should ’serve as an appetiser for what’s
on-line. A magazine can spark debate, and the internet can service
that.’ This is happening with John Brown Contract Publishing’s work for
Finnish paper company Metsa-Serla. The company is targeting editors and
art directors, and the print magazine has recently been used to spark an
on-line debate about use of colour.
Print and on-line may be regarded as complementary, at least in the
medium term, but the benefits of on-line communication are such that
some companies may decide that they only need to communicate with
customers in this way in the future.
’None of our clients are abandoning the off-line magazine in favour of
on-line, but with some of our business-to-business titles, and in-house
staff titles, where speed of information and cost of distribution are
significant factors, that is a possibility,’ says Homfray-Davies.
Many customer magazines are only published quarterly, or at most
monthly, and one of the great advantages of the on-line medium is that
it means information can be bang up-to-date. This can be particularly
significant when it comes to e-commerce.
TPD publishes a quarterly magazine for Perks4U, a company offering SMEs
perks for their employees. ’The magazine has features, but it can’t keep
up with the offers, which change daily,’ explains Treasure. The web site
- handled in-house by Perks4U - can do this easily.
As far as contract publishers are concerned, personalisation is the
This means tailoring communications to the precise needs of
’In the future there will be much more segmentation and publications
which are much more targeted at individuals. There will be a time in the
future where we publish in almost a bespoke manner,’ says Le
’The marketers’ holy grail of one-to-one marketing is much closer,’
agrees Homfray-Davies. But he still sees a place for printed
publications within this scenario. ’We will see a growth in tandem
publishing. The on-line presence will deliver segmented off-line
magazines on request, satisfying both demands - quick, targeted
information and a quality read.’
The APA’s survey shows that customer magazines are already influential
in persuading people to buy products and services, but on-line
publications could prove far more influential. Hirsch mentions
technology being used in the US similar to the barcode system which
enables people to order by scrolling their mouse over a symbol.
The future for customer publishing seems to be one in which passive
becomes interactive, static become dynamic, and fixed becomes mobile.
’Our future will be to assemble content - words, pictures, animation,
audio and video - and deliver it through the most appropriate medium, as
selected by the customer,’ says Treasure.
He believes that video will become a part of customer web sites within a
year to 18 months, but not before there have been improvements in the
technology. The roll out of ADSL, which enables the old copper-wire
telephone network to be used for broadband, data-intensive applications
like video, will be key.
’The vast majority of content on the internet is static at the moment,
but as bandwidth increases streamed audio and video become possible,’
The way people interact with information will also change dramatically
in the future, says Treasure. ’The voice is going to be a very
significant form of communication,’ he says. It’s natural to talk and
listen, and that’s the way people need to be looking to communicate with
CUSTOMER MAGAZINES SURVEY
On-line publishing represents a great opportunity for contract
publishers to drive e-commerce, but research by the industry body, the
Association of Publishing Agencies, in conjunction with Royal Mail shows
that traditional customer magazines are already very successful in
influencing purchasing behaviour.
The survey, carried out by research agency Millward Brown, was the first
generic survey to look at the effectiveness of customer magazines as a
marketing medium. And the results, certainly as far as contract
publishers and their clients are concerned, make very good reading.
Millward Brown conducted the survey among over 1,000 readers and 300
non-readers of business and consumer customer magazines. Nearly 70 per
cent of those questioned were from the ABC1 demographic profile, and 58
per cent of consumer and 52 per cent of business readers were in the 25-
44 age group.
There may be few doubts nowadays that customer magazines are a good
read, but what has not been so clear is how effective they are as a
Customer magazines, it seems, really do influence purchasing
No less than 47 per cent of consumer and 28 per cent of business readers
in the survey said they had purchased a product or service as a result
of reading a customer magazine.
Retail consumer magazines proved even more effective, with 73 per cent
saying they had made a purchase. A total of 53 per cent of consumer and
44 per cent of business readers said they would be more likely to
purchase products that featured in a customer magazine.
Customer magazines were also shown to have a healthy influence on brand
image and awareness. Of consumer readers, 82 per cent felt that
companies supplying them with customer magazines could be trusted, and
76 per cent felt that they offer good value for money. An encouraging 77
per cent of both consumer and business readers felt magazines are a
better way of telling them about products and services than other forms
There was also evidence that customer magazines engender loyalty: 40 per
cent of consumer and 29 per cent of business magazine readers said they
were more likely to go on using a company or choose that company in the
future as a result of reading a customer magazine.
The survey revealed that readers really do value their magazines: 81 per
cent of consumer and 79 per cent of business readers enjoyed their
publications. In addition, 92 and 94 per cent respectively found them
informative, and 71 and 57 per cent respectively rated them as
’The research proves that customer magazines play a unique but critical
role in building sales, increasing brand awareness, and improving
customer loyalty and retention,’ concludes APA director, Hilary
BRITISH MIDLAND’S ON-LINE CUSTOMER MAGAZINE voyagermag.com
When British Midland’s voyagermag.com went live last year it became the
first standalone ’inflight’ magazine on the web in the world. ’The web
site was created to support the monthly hard copy version of the
airline’s customer magazine Voyager, but supplement it with additional,
more up-to-date information,’ explains David Le Lacheur, sales and
marketing manager of publisher Mediamark’s new electronic division.
The initiative to go on-line came from Mediamark. ’We thought it would
bring added loyalty and give benefits to passengers,’ says Le
The content of the on-line magazine is essentially the same as that of
the off-line version, with the key difference that up-to-date
information on all 32 destinations served by the airline is carried
At the moment this information is not comprehensive, and there are
details of only a handful of hotels and restaurants. Mediamark has more
ambitious plans for the future, however. E- commerce is not surprisingly
high on the agenda.
’We would like passengers to be able to click on a restaurant in Paris
and book a table there,’ says Le Lacheur. In the meantime, the
destination pages are linked to British Midland’s home page, allowing
readers to book flights direct.
Other areas of the web site are essentially slimmed-down versions of the
magazine. Le Lacheur explains the relationship between print and on-line
versions: ’The magazine is used to drive traffic to the web site so
users can gain updates on stories found in the magazine. Users are
encouraged to read the offline version for the full, in depth
This highlights one of the fundamental differences between a magazine
and a web site. Magazines tend to be read at leisure and savoured,
whereas web sites are used to research information and, or so the owners
hope, book products and services.
Le Lacheur is well aware of the differences: ’Voyager is a glossy,
European lifestyle title. On the computer screen you don’t have that
luxury. You have to make it easy for people to access the information
they need.’ So whether transferring interviews - the latest issue
carries a piece on director Guy Ritchie - from magazine to web site
really works is open to debate.
However, Mediamark has plans to make on-line features more
’We plan to add video clips and sound,’ says Le Lacheur. ’This will
probably come on board when British Midland starts flying long haul,
hopefully next year.’
Another advantage of the on-line medium is that it enables Mediamark to
monitor the popularity of different sections, and use this information
to determine the content in the future. ’We invite readers’ comments and
there are links on every page enabling them to contact us. We’ll act on
anything that comes in and we aim to have a good, ongoing communication
with readers,’ says Le Lacheur.
But the overriding impression is that there are real commercial reasons
behind putting Voyager on-line.
Le Lacheur acknowledges: ’Development work is ongoing to generate
revenue through partners, sponsorship and some banner advertising to
turn the site into a profit centre for both Mediamark and British
Midland.’ One of Mediamark’s plans is to create an on-line shopping mall
for consumer goods in the What’s New section of the site that would
provide income from e-commerce.
Mediamark was unable to provide figures on how many people are visiting
the site. But Le Lacheur has no doubt it has been a success. ’We know
from running successful competitions that there has been a very
favourable response, particularly from frequent flyers.’