Following on from last week’s story regarding the iPad app launch of COSMOS, Publishers Australia spoke to Wilson da Silva and Heather Catchpole at Cosmos Media who explain how the move to digital can open doors not close them in expanding to multi-platform products.
The publishing industry is increasingly turning to the digital world to stay afloat and COSMOS are no dummies. They knew they had to reinvent themselves but saw it as a positive step towards expansion rather than a necessary evil on the road to downsizing. The international nature of digital publishing is what really caught their eye. Editor–in–Chief Wilson da Silva explains that there are two categories magazines can fit into, ‘hyperlocal’ and ‘hyperglobal’, and you just “can’t be national anymore”.
COSMOS has always had an overseas presence with approximately 15% of their subscribers being international. Science’s global outlook allows the publication to market itself everywhere.
Managing Editor Heather Catchpole, says that a critical question they asked themselves was “Where could we be?”. After looking at similar media products, whether they were websites, print publications, or apps, they knew they had the ingredients needed to be incredibly successful but perhaps not the recipe. So nine months ago they set about working it out.
Catchpole said that the entire process was a “massive learning curve” with entirely new processes established to move into digital. da Silva is adamant that the best way to create a great engaging product is to “let your people play”, and says at COSMOS everybody is encouraged to voice their ideas in staff brainstorming sessions. This has resulted in the iPad edition pushing the platform beyond what the designers even knew and makes reading the iPad edition “like reading COSMOS…but better”!
However content will remain at the centre of all that is COSMOS. “Key in our mind is audience” says da Silva, and although the leap into digital publishing is important, COSMOS follows the mandate that it should be “story first, platform second”. Da Silva and Catchpole both agree that other magazines just don’t focus on content enough, favouring design instead. “If an article doesn’t catch your eye visually you may not read it but the same can be said for a visually stunning piece that is written badly”. Therefore, the aim of COSMOS is to “write like the New Yorker but look like Vanity Fair”. With the release of the iPad App landing front page on the Apple iTunes Store and hitting No. 1 in NZ, No. 3 in Australia, and No. 51 in the United States, it seems they could be hitting the mark.
In terms of putting the print and digital editions together they have allowed the platforms to feed off each other. They are used to having an overflow of content – the iPad allows them to use all of it! “Nothing goes to waste” according to da Silva, for instance previously one picture for a story would have been selected, now an entire gallery can be uploaded for readers to flick through. They also don’t have a set length for the iPad edition, allowing them flexibility that print just doesn’t give. Another visual aspect is that images are available in both portrait and landscape which makes the experience of interacting with them richer, as the picture expands with a simple 90° turn.
COSMOS say that the biggest challenge they faced was managing the complexity of the digital edition. Though they established “rigid digital production processes” the intricacy of having video, images, words, as well as portrait and landscape capabilities meant pulling everything together so that it remained functional was difficult. da Silva’s focus on the narrative structure has meant that maintaining the fluidity of the magazine in a multi – platform way has been the challenge. Pushing the envelope but preserving functionality.
Integration of advertising
Advertising has never been the big money spinner at COSMOS however they are dedicated to continuing the innovation in this arena as well.”Magazines are the most engaging media type…and the advertising world needs to catch – up” says da Silva. This can be done by making advertisements a little bit more interesting via animation and interactivity, making the reader less likely to skim over it. Digital publishing provides new opportunities for content creation, and COSMOS feels the same can be said for advertising and believes this is something all publishers need to be aware of.
Marketing and subscriptions
One important question for publishers considering the expansion into digital is how to retain your print subscribers but also create a market for new subscribers. Currently the iPad edition of COSMOS is available free for print subscribers focusing on “future proofing…giving [subscribers] no reason to abandon” the print version. In doing so they recognise that not everybody has an iPad and so with each multi platform subscription there is a browser edition and full access to the last 7 years of digital archives. Wilson da Silva expresses that they “want everybody to be able to interact with the brand at all levels, at all times…for COSMOS to be a trusted friend on the road to discovery”. This tactic seems to have worked at least initially with 7200 app downloads in the first three days of release.
COSMOS has a number of pieces of advice to publishers considering the digital realm.
• Look at your entire brand: Don’t just release an iPad edition without thinking carefully about your print publication, website, etc. as these should all flow together seamlessly representing your brand to readers.
• Nurture creativity in your team: Magazine publishing is a creative and collaborative business so ensure high levels of teamwork. Have processes in place that allow everybody to voice ideas because sometimes the best ideas are the craziest. If you make your team feel valued then they’ll do their best work.
• The reader doesn’t always know what they want until they get it: Don’t conduct market research without having a product first. For instance, if you’re deciding on covers get feedback for options that have already been created.
• Observe your competitors: Look at what your competitors are doing within your niche. Then open up and find out the best practice amongst people doing similar things but not necessarily within your subject area. Ensure you remember your biggest competitor may not be using the same platform as you.
• Have a clear aim: At COSMOS the aim is to be “amazing, surprising, and deep” according to Catchpole and da Silva, and publishers should think about how they want to be perceived by their audience.