Friday, March 8, 2013

Zinio's new library program with partner Recorded Books is moving out of beta phase as the number of library systems signing up quickly begins to grow

There has not been a week that goes by, it seems, that I do not stumble upon a new story in a local newspaper about its local library now offering digital magazines as part of its services. The new development is the result of an effort by digital newsstand company Zinio, along with its partner Recorded Books, to being rolling out digital magazine services to both public and corporate libraries.

The partnership between Zinio and Recorded Books was announced back in the summer of 2011, but it was not until September of last year that the "Zinio for Libraries" program got off the ground.

"We have been considering different ways to work with libraries – both public libraries, school and university libraries, and even company-corporate libraries – for quite a while," Jeanniey Mullen, Global Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, Zinio, told TNM. "We felt that as the entire world is moving from a print to digital format, and from our side at Zinio we are seeing more magazines like Newsweek and PC Magazine move to an only digital format, that there is a tremendous opportunity to assist corporate and public libraries to provide access to their patrons who are interested in content without the restrictions and limitations that print has."

By restrictions, Mullen is referring to the fact that print magazines, both in a library and corporate setting, tend to get picked apart, with pages torn out by readers.

"I remember this from my days at Ogilvy. I was on the distribution list for The Economist and I would get it two months after it would come out because it had to be rerouted to so many people before it could come to me," Mullen laughed.

"We chose Recorded Books as a partner in the public library space to work with us because they've built really great relationships with libraries over the years and offer a pretty phenomenal mix of digital services – from audio books to language and a number of other services like independent films to libraries already," said Mullen.

While Zinio, which currently has over 5,500 titles, is working with Recorded Books in the public library market, the new program is getting the attention of corporations that maintain their own libraries. "What we've seen, as you've seen, as the public libraries get more excited about this and talk about this locally the corporations are starting to reach out to us directly."

Mullen said the program has been in a beta phase and will remain so until the end of Q1 as the company gathers response to the program.

"We've been doing a lot of data and insight gathering on all front – from the libraries, from the patrons, from the publishers, everybody – on what's working, and what's not working as far as accessibly, cost, readership, engagement levels. Are patrons who are accessing a magazine, an issue of Car and Driver from their local library, then subscribing to a year long subscription. Are they reading some free and paying for others? How is it all working?" Mullen said.

"We think it’ll increase the readership," VP Business Development at Recorded Books told the Arizona Republic. "The subscriber pays for the cost of print (magazine) and its distribution. In the digital world, you don’t have that cost ... the distribution is through digital, and it’s very efficient ... and it supports the advertisers."

"We took one look at this and said This is going to be huge," said Wendy Bartlett of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, according to The Plain Dealer.

"For digital magazines, this is brand new territory for all of us," said Zinio's Mullen, "but the libraries are being extremely challenged with some indecisive book publishers, and in the book publishing space it has been crazy for them – some publishers are not allowing them to distribute e-copies, others are or giving them only a certain limited amount, some make you come into the library, some let you let you download it from home."

One of the first things Zinio is finding is that libraries are making changes to their magazine portfolios, adding titles one might not at first expect.

"One of the interesting we started to see was the libraries' selection mix. The first thing is that a publisher has to approve being part of this program. It's not just every single magazine on Zinio, and there are some publishers who have opted out at this time, and some who have said 'sure'."

"So if you are in the consideration set, the library gets to choose which magazines they want. In the early days one of the concerns that the publishers had was 'oh God, if the library is buying a print subscription to Car and Driver magazine, and they get it digitally, they are not going to buy the print anymore.'"

But Mullen says that they are not finding that the program is "cannibalizing print at all."

"And that was one of the first fallacies that the libraries basically laughed about, because they said that with food magazines, with fitness magazines, with any kind of auto magazines, these magazines get destroyed. The first day that Men's Fitness comes out they guarantee that every single exercise page is ripped out and taken," said Mullen.

"So for them, being able to buy the print (magazine) because they still want it there, and they still want people to see it on the shelves, and then have a digital copy where people can actually enjoy the content that they expected is huge."

For many magazine titles that are creating customized tablet editions, or creating hybrid editions of their print magazines for tablet reading, one consideration publishers should keep in mind is that not all digital readers will have subscribed to their digital magazines directly, and may be reading them through another system such as Zinio for Libraries. Because of this, they will want to include subscription promotions even in their digital editions to encourage readers to directly subscribe.

Mullen also sees huge opportunities for international and niche titles through their library program.

"The second thing we realized is that in this mix of selections a lot of libraries are taking this opportunity to add content they could never get in print because it was too cost prohibitive, which primarily means content that comes from a different country," Mullen said.

"They are saying that it would take us three weeks after an issue of 'XYZ Italy' came out for us to even get that the library, and it costs three times as much so we've kept to domestic titles. Now all of a sudden they can get access to international titles. And the third piece is they can also add these niche titles."

Zinio is finding that libraries are picking titles they would not expect because of local tastes and interests - everything from skateboarding and wind surfing or ethnic titles in order to serve the community better.