Meredith takes an analytical approach to tablets and e-readers
At first glance, Meredith Corp.’s approach to tablets and e-readers seems all over the mobile map. In rapid succession over the past few months, the women’s publisher has launched iPad versions of Better Homes and Gardens, Parents and Fitness, introduced Zinio editions of several titles including Successful Farming and Wood, and released Android editions of Fitness and Parents through Next Issue Media. The new offerings join Nook editions of Meredith’s Family Circle and More titles.
A disjointed strategy? Hardly. It’s all part of Meredith’s research-driven approach to testing new markets and platforms. Expect more experimentation as the tablet and e-reader space evolves.
“We’re quite analytical, and we do a lot of testing and learning,” Liz Schimel, EVP of consumer relationship management and digital media for Meredith's National Media Group, said in a phone interview. “We’ve always been a very research-driven company, and now we’re turning that insight machine on these digital editions and platforms to understand how they’re engaging our audiences.”
The goal, she explained, is to map the platform and its demographic reach to Meredith’s brands and the audiences for those brands. As the digital team scopes out new platforms, it evaluates several criteria, including:
- the device’s installed base
- the demographics of different consumer groups
- the user experience on each device
- the level of effort required to move into a new platform.
What has Schimel’s team learned so far about the user experience? For one, there are distinct differences between users of tablets like the iPad and users of e-readers such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Users of tablets, she said, are looking for interactivity in the form of videos or hotspots – basically, more sophistication from a technology point of view. E-reader users, on the other hand, seem happy just to have content that’s portable. “The delight factor there is the fact they can get great magazine content on their e-reader device,” she said.
The New York Times wrote recently about how magazines on the Nook Color are rivaling iPad magazine sales among women. This has played nicely into Meredith’s strategy to go broad into e-reader devices while remaining more targeted with the iPad (just the three aforementioned titles to date).
“The e-reader is more female and more mass market than the tablet universe,” Schimel said.
Schimel’s digital group drives the strategic plan about which platforms to support and which make the most sense at a brand level. It then shares those insights with the brand teams and works with them to determine the right approach.
“Tablets require our digital expertise to come together with our existing creative and production expertise in the brand teams,” said Schimel. “It is a team sport.”
The teams also include outside vendors such as Woodwing to help with design, development and deployment of digital editions. Schimel noted, however, that as Meredith’s experience in the tablet space evolves, it’s moving more development work in-house. The publisher is still figuring out the best way to layer tablet production onto its print and online publishing workflows. The company has provided incremental resources and external expertise to fuel the transition, along with training for existing personnel. “It’s one part of our overall transformation of the business,” Schimel said.
Meredith is still experimenting with tablet business models as well. The traditional print model – subscriptions buffeted by advertising – has served as a “good hypothesis” for mobile publishing, but “we have way more to learn” about which model works best, Schimel said.
She noted that subscriptions are a “critical path” for Meredith’s consumer base. Meredith has yet to follow the lead of Hearst and Conde Nast in adopting Apple’s in-app subscription service for its iPad editions; Schimel said discussions with Apple are ongoing.