Britney Spears, Playboy and Disney in the Same Digital Bed

By Ericka Chickowski Print this article Print

Disney and Playboy share more than that infamous Mouseketeer, Britney? It comes in the form of 'digital newsstands,' and the company is Zinio.

Who knew Disney and Playboy had something in common besides Britney Spears?

Within the past month these purveyors of nice and naughty, respectively, both signed big deals with digital publishing firm Zinio to use its technology as an alternative and a complement to conventional print publishing.

Though Mickey's overseers and Hugh Heffner with his "bunnies" have different clientele, both have been making a big push to repurpose traditional print assets into digital vehicles to expand distribution, provide environmentally friendly content and entice a new generation of customers with a broader array of content options.

Founded in 2000, Zinio has established itself as a leader in digital periodical publishing. Its signature technology is an e-periodical platform that transforms printed content page for page into digital form. Playboy and other magazine customers are right in its wheelhouse and in the past seven years it has wooed more than 350 magazine publishers to put out more than 1,700 titles in the Zinio format.

"Zinio's really trying to think of ways to make the magazine experience, which is incredibly intuitive off paper, as intuitive on the screen," says Zinio CEO Richard Maggiotto.

Playboy Enterprises has had Zinio producing digital versions of its U.S. Playboy editions since 2005 and recently struck a deal with Zinio to expand its digital offerings. The two companies recently announced the launch of the Playboy International News Stand, which features all U.S. editions, special editions and editions from eight other countries.

"We believe the younger reader we are trying to attract for our magazine, the aspiring young professional man, is going to be the first on his block to pay for access to the kind of pipelines digital products can be put through," says Bob O'Donnell, managing director of Playboy International Publishing. "Digital magazines are a way to reach the consumer, but a different concept and a different paradigm [than online content]. Here we want to deliver the magazine, in its entirety, through and including every advertising page. We want to register those eyeballs and we want to keep them in the reading print surrogate mode as opposed to whatever you call that stuff online."

Playboy is solving very specific business problems through the launch of the digital newsstand. In the past, its international titles faced difficulties in distribution not experienced in the U.S.

"In the U.S., historically, most publishers have gone the route of traditional print subscriptions because we have a lot of things going in our favor: a fairly reliable postal service, fairly decent rates through second-class postage and more-private-than-not mailboxes with a lot of single family homes," O'Donnell says. "All of that works against you in almost every other part of the world. Only three of our 24 editions have significant subscription business and the rest of them lack reliable or affordable postal infrastructure and they are living in these large apartment blocks with these little bitty mailboxes en masse that magazines just don't fit in. They hang them on doors and they get stolen."

Additionally the digital newsstand helps Playboy cross-promote foreign editions of the magazine to expatriates who might not otherwise have access.

"We want a more open-skies policy on our digital editions," O'Donnell says, "so everybody's copies can go in everybody else's market. In certain markets with huge expat communities, that is very important."

The Playboy deal was a big win for Zinio, but it was far from the only customer success story in 2007. Zinio recently reported that in the first half of the year it launched 65 international titles.

Maggiotto believes his company is a study in what outsourced technology should be: It is easy for business practitioners to use —all the publishing company must do is send Zinio the same PDF of the issue it submits to the printing house— and it is easy for end users to access via its newsstand portals.

"We always say technology is only half the solution ¡it has to map with a whole marketing services arm for it to be successful," Maggiotto says, explaining that the company recently launched its Publisher's Growth Services Group to work individually with new and existing customers to tailor programs to their needs. "This group is really taking that idea of taking the marketing services and putting it on steroids."

The main theme Zinio's marketing arm has stumbled on since partnering closely with publishers is a consistent wish across the board to attract "screen-agers," or younger consumers who have lived most of their lives exposed to more content on screen than on page.

This feedback formed the basis of Zinio's drive to work with McGraw-Hill to expand into online textbooks. It also prodded the company to look beyond traditional print publishing business models.

Zinio's signing of Disney's Hollywood Records is a good example of this expansion outside its core line of business. This wholesome record label is best known for its roster of bands catering to tweens and teens, with such sensations as Hannah Montana and Hillary Duff.

Hollywood Records is using new technology developed by Zinio called CDVU+ to replace the paper-based album booklets included with its CD releases.

"A lot of record companies aren't addressing what the consumer wants in the marketplace so there is a reason CD sales are declining and shifting-although certainly not dead," says Ken Bunt, senior vice president of marketing at Hollywood Records. "We felt we should not necessarily reinvent the CD, but make it exciting again."

Special CDs come preloaded with a magazine-style digital publication created in tandem by Hollywood Records and Zinio that includes photos, videos, lyrics and a passel of information about the artist. The product also helps Hollywood fulfill younger, more environmentally conscious consumers' wish to purchase greener products. All records with CDVU+ come packaged in a cardboard box made of 100 percent recycled material.

The first test run of the product was released on the Jonas Brothers' most recent album. Not only was the album the top-selling album in the U.S. for three weeks, but more than 90 percent of those who chose to participate in a survey about the technology rated it as 7 out of 10 or better. Based on this success, this month Disney announced its intention to release most of its future albums with Zinio's product embedded.

"They really offered the suite of solutions to everything we wanted in our package," Bunt says. "It's presented in a really nice magazine-style format, it's not clunky in a bunch of files and folders, the videos work seamlessly, the photos work really well, the printability is easy, the file-size works. So from that standpoint we were happy all the way through."

Maggiotto says he believes this new agreement with Disney is a sign of Zinio's future, using more creative ways to use digital publishing's flexibility to extend brands beyond their traditional reach.

"We're trying to put our tentacles out there in as many different ways possible that publishers would never even think of and this is an example of that," Maggiotto says of the Disney deal. "Our idea is to get to as many platforms as possible that are relevant and develop a concept of a high-fidelity publication and be a distributor and agent to help our clients monetize all their content."

This article was originally published on 2007-12-03
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