Shaun Milne, founding Director of digital publishing company Planet Ink, shares his decisions and ambitions for new online-only magazine ecoforyou.
Why did you go for a turn-page magazine format?
There were a number of good reasons, not least it is a fairly straightforward skill to learn. We purchase the technology on license so we don’t need to know much about coding, we can just concentrate on the journalism and design side.
Also we think it adds a familiar process to the art or reading. People are used to turning the page of a newspaper or magazine, and this allows them to retain the ‘idea’ of that. We see it as combining the traditions of print with the best of the web and hope to build a community around it. At this stage not everyone has had a chance to play with digital magazines yet, so there is a certain novelty factor.
Is this your vision of what Web3.0 will be?
Not completely, no. I do think it’s a step on the right path to where Web.3.0 will lead us in terms of greater interactivity, tracking and understanding of user habits. But as technology adapts further, so will publishers. We’ll have more touchscreen availability which will allow people to turn pages with their fingers; we’ll have mobile phones with five inch pull out screens; and e-paper itself, all of which if done the right way can have huge eco and financial benefits.
But the Holy Grail will be whoever can crack the best way to let readers decide themselves what content they want delivered to their handset or computer on a daily basis.
Is it to prepare for a paid content model, or will revenue come through advertising and sales, e.g. merchandise?
We could easily DRM protect the content and charge for it, but that’s not the plan at all. Given that we’re linking to a lot of content and video already available for free on the web, it would be a bit cheeky, and goes against trying to get people to share the magazine, forward it onto friends, colleagues and clients.
We hope that it’s an enjoyable, maybe even useful read, but it is in many ways something of a Trojan horse. By having a digital magazine, we expect people will read it who have never come across the format before, and won’t even realize they’ve broken their duck doing so. If we can educate people that digital is an easy, viable alternative to standards sites and print, then it can only be good for our business. Potentially it could be a loss leader for some time. But if we get the content right and attract the readers, then hopefully advertising will follow and at least cover costs.
What kind of user community are you building with the site?
Feedback so far suggests we are attracting a lot of hits from people at various levels of Government in Scotland and around the UK, quangos, charities, campaign groups, specialist businesses, dozens of PR and marketing companies – the target market you’d expect.
We’re thrilled with that, but we also want the general public to get involved. We want anyone and everyone to feel they can use the magazine. That could be a parent who wants to educate their child; it could be a business wanting to adopt the mag for their customers for CSR uses, or simply those interested in the environment.
That’s why we’ve set up a Facebook Group, a blog and Twitter alerts to sit alongside the website and, ultimately, the digi-mag which it’s all about, and begin to mould the content accordingly.
How will people interact with your content?
We hope people will start contacting us with their own ideas, stories and letters, but for now we’re just presenting information in a readable form. We’re using lots of Flash for interactivity. With the Facebook Group and blog, we’ve opened up a forum of sorts that they can use down the line, or simply keep up to date by signing up to Twitter or our subscriptions on the main site.
We’ll be able to track the way people read the pages, how long they spend on an article, what links they click, if they download, print or forward a section on; that way we will learn to understand what areas are popular and which are less so.
Is eco your thing, or was it a commercial decision?
Essentially we thought there was a gap in the market for a title like this and thought well, we keep telling our clients and future prospects how eco friendly these things are, why don’t we do something ourselves.
The result has been dramatic on everyone in the office. I’d say we have all in some way become greener. I live by the beach and felt I was fairly aware, but we’ve done all sorts of things in the past few months from starting a compost bin, to recycling our waste, turning the heating down, walking to the station rather than drive. It’s just made us more aware of the eco benefits, regardless of whether it eventually turns out to be a success in its own right.
Why did you choose to go solely online?
We’re all former national newspaper journalists so it would have been the easiest thing in the world to stick to the programme. But we felt strongly that, since we could use the technology, there would be little point trying to do something promoting the environment while using newsprint, ink and heavy machinery, long before we look at distribution issues.
There are drawbacks in trying to alert people to the fact that the magazine is there. It’s much easier to, say, flood the supermarkets and newsagents with copies, or put them in dump bins, to make the product easy for people to find.
And apart from the eco benefits, there is so much more you can do with digital – include video, audio, moving images and links. The way we consume news is changing, digital will be part of that, just hopefully without destroying the planet at the same time.
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Ah, the old page turning flash style magazine idea. Again.
I spent 90 of my time on the site waiting for content to download wondering why on earth they had bothered doing it this way. This is the kind of idea that sells to people who are print based who want to go online but without doing any additional work (or indeed understanding the web or their audience).
The novelty factor in this is a negative point, not positive. If the content is good enough it will ‘survive’ html…
Going digital is a good point, but there must be a happy balance. It will take time for every reader to adapt to computer screen. I am personally reading a lot online, but I do buy printed magazines! I spend all day in front of the computer and it is actually nice to be able to read something off the screen at your own time on the sofa. Reading news online is great, but it is not always convenient to read a lengthy article.