Necessity and invention spur pivot from print to digital.
Change has been the watchword for B2B publications over the past few years, and one major change many publications made was pivoting from traditional print formats into entirely digital offerings.
The realities of the pandemic accelerated this decision for many publishers, who faced a mailing list full of subscribers no longer working from their offices, plus the rising costs of printing and shipping.
For Scott Costa, publisher of tED magazine, the decision to shift to a fully digital magazine had an additional element — audience.
“We realized that so much of our content, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, was for a larger audience,” he said. “The subscriber list was less than 30,000 people and we have 180,000 people who are employed by companies who receive the magazine. We wanted to expand our coverage and our readership … to include best practices no matter your position at the company.”
tED, which covers issues surrounding electrical distribution across North America, won the Azbee Awards’ 2023 Digital Magazine of the Year award for overall excellence in the digital magazine format. ASBPE spoke with Costa to learn more about the benefits of digital, how the team caters to its newly expanded audience and why going digital involves a lot more than just converting a traditional print magazine to a new platform.
ASBPE: What did you change in the magazine’s layout, design and wayfinding when you moved to digital-only?
Costa: We felt it was essential, especially at a time with so much upheaval due the pandemic, that we stay true to our brand, which meant keeping the look of the magazine and the three main sections (Current, Sales, Business). We wanted to make sure we were providing the comfort of a reliable publication with best practices information at a time when people were wiping down groceries and fearing a virus.
ASBPE: You produce two digital issues a month, with clear differences. Tell me about that strategy.
Costa: Not having to “wait in line” for printing, and, quite frankly, avoiding the printing and mailing expense, allows us to produce more content. And we produce it at a much faster rate. So, we threw away editorial calendars to allow us to be more flexible with our cover stories and the stories we cover. If a merger happens, and it has a major implication on our industry, we can make it the magazine’s cover story within days of the publication.
The issue that comes out on the first of every month is the tED magazine that our members have been reading for years. It has the three main sections, a cover story, a people section, a stock report, something on how the economy is behaving and what to expect in the near future, and a featured article.
The second issue that comes out on the 15th of every month is like the Harvard Business Review. We take one specific topic, like your digital future, succession planning, solving supply chain issues, creating employee resource groups, or data-driven decision making, and we dive as deeply into the topic as possible with seven to nine stories on just that topic.
ASBPE: Another clear point you make is that stories in your digital issues are exclusive to those issues — they’re not found on tedmag.com. And the stories on your website are not in your digital issues. What’s the thinking behind this strategy?
Costa: We treat our website like your local newspaper. We get stories that are happening today and post them today. We do a few features, but most of the features are podcasts or profiles on the individuals who won our “30 Under 35” awards. Having new content every day creates the opportunity for readers to come to the website every day and learn something new, instead of coming to the website, finding the same content as the day before, and making the decision that they only need to visit once a month to get information.
The magazine provides depth of coverage on key issues. It is a completely separate entity meant for those parts of your day when you have 30-45 minutes to sit down and read.
ASBPE: What feedback have you seen about this digital strategy, both anecdotally from your audience, and also in the metrics?
Costa: We were so incredibly successful with our printed magazine before the pandemic that we didn’t do a lot of promotion of our digital edition. OK, let’s be honest, there was barely any at all. Big mistake. We had to make a massive decision and lead people to a version of the magazine they probably didn’t even know existed. That meant we had to create a massive marketing campaign and make it incredibly easy to sign up for the announcement that a new digital edition was available. And, we had to do it immediately. We’ve had some feedback from people who liked the printed magazine, but we tell them that you can still read the digital edition on any electronic device just like the printed version.
The pandemic did provide us with some help with the promotion by letting people who were staying at home know that they can still get the magazine. Our analytics have grown exponentially in the past three years, and we expect them to continue to grow.
We love the metrics. We can know how many people read each page, how long they were on that page, and if they clicked on any of the hyperlinks. Now we absolutely know which stories our audience wants to read, and where they should go inside the digital edition. We are using that data to decide which topics we should explore in our “Special” issue that comes out in the second half of each month.
When we were printing and mailing the magazine, all we knew was that they were delivered. We never really knew if anyone ever read any of the stories. Our new metrics opened up a long list of opportunities.
ASBPE: How about feedback from your advertisers and other industry partners?
Costa: Advertisers really like the metrics. They have a much better idea of which ads create the most interest from the audience they want to attract. We cut the price for ads at the beginning, but that price is now creeping back up to the pre-pandemic level as our audience grows with each digital edition.
ASBPE: What’s next in your digital strategy as you continue to evolve the publication?
Costa: We are incorporating more video stories in the digital edition, which is a nice break from having pages of words and graphics. The videos are fairly short (less than 3 minutes), and it allows us to create specifically branded pages for topics that interest our readers the most.
In the future, I envision some polling, and ways to make each issue more interactive while people are reading the digital edition.