ZDE's 'OmniDigital' strategy: lots of mobile - and no print
On Tuesday, the company announced plans to release native apps and mobile-optimized websites for its four brands across a variety of smartphone and tablet devices. And in a move that may seem inevitable for many B2B publishers, Ziff Davis Enterprise also said its publications would go paperless beginning in January. eWeek, CIO Insight and Baseline have a combined controlled print circulation of about 400,000. (Channel Insider is an online publication.)
A digital-only strategy from a venerable trade publisher such as Ziff Davis is not as shocking as it would seem on the surface. Print accounts for just 9% of ZDE’s total revenues and is not profitable, CEO Steve Weitzner said in a phone interview.
In addition, ZDE’s target audience – IT professionals – is already fully immersed in the world of digital content delivery. “Our segment has a high level of adoption of smartphones and tablets – most IT pros have two or three devices,” said Weitzner. “So we think we’re at a tipping point.
“We’re not getting out of the magazine business,” he added. “We’re getting out of the paper business.”
There's some precedent for a digital-only strategy; earlier this year, UBM Canon killed the print versions of its plastic industry brands. Former ZDE parent Ziff Davis Media took PC Magazine digital-only in 2009. Ziff competitor IDG killed the print version of its Infoworld brand way back in 2007. And newer B2B publications such as TabTimes are bypassing print altogether. But most B2B publishers continue to invest in print, even if it doesn't represent the cash cow it once did.
Weitzner believes ZDE can make up for lost print revenues with its growing suite of digital products and increased frequencies for all of its digital editions, which it will continue to produce. The digital editions of Baseline and CIO Insight, for example, will go from quarterly to monthly publication, and eWeek will move from 19 issues to a bi-weekly publication schedule.
The essence of the strategy that Ziff Davis has dubbed “OmniDigital” is the connectedness and social sharing capabilities that digital platforms enable. “The ability to look at what others are tweeting, share on your social networks, and pull in related content are things that print can never do,” said Weitzner.
ZDE is developing native apps for all major smartphone and tablet devices, including the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7 and Symbian/Nokia-powered smart phones and iPad, RIM Playbook, and Android-powered tablets.
And while Weitzner expects digital editions of ZDE publications will continue to have a print-like look and feel for the near term, he notes that the removal of print restraints could have a liberating effect on publication design.
“Increasingly, on both the editorial and advertising sides, we’ll be looking for new ways to take advantage of features like a horizontal landscape,” he said. Rich media and personalization are other features ZDE expects to tap into more as it builds out the OmniDigital strategy.
I asked Weitzner if he anticipates any shift from Ziff’s current ad-supported model to one focused more on paid content, given mobile users’ apparent willingness to pay for apps. “We don’t have enough experience in the app store yet,” he admitted. “In the B2B world, you can get your audience to pay for certain things – events, research, maybe even in-depth lab testing. But it’s very tough to go from a qualified audience to paid subscriptions.”
Disclosure: I worked at Ziff Davis from 1986-2000 – when eWeek was called PC Week and weekly print folios regularly hit 100 or more pages and easily topped 200 pages for big trade shows such as Comdex. I’ll limit the nostalgia to one cover shot, of one of the last issues (104 pages) before the name-change to eWeek: