VSM Tests eBook Market
FAQ on the VSM e-book test.
Visual Studio Magazine subscribers received an e-mail recently that tested reader interest in receiving the magazine as an eBook, in addition to their regular print subscription.
The e-mail included this introductory text:
Welcome to the digital edition of Visual Studio Magazine, the world's leading independent Microsoft development magazine. Because you're a valued subscriber of Visual Studio Magazine, we would greatly appreciate your opinion on delivery of the magazine in eBook formats. FTP is continuing to test eBook editions of its magazines to augment the print versions. We hope that you like this PDF version and that you'll let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Response to this e-mail has been strong—and surprisingly positive so far. Historically, PDF-based eBooks have met a mixed reception. A couple of the main drawbacks include file size and the ease of navigating an eBook. But such books also confer some nice advantages. PDF files are easy to print, and the output mirrors what you find on the magazine page. They are also more portable than a magazine, and you don't need an Internet connection to view them once you have the file stored locally. In today's world of ubiquitous high-speed bandwidth, the issues of large file sizes figure less prominently than in the past. Readability on a computer screen has improved, as well, although I think there is still a fair amount of room for growth in this regard.
Apart from the technical issues of what an eBook is, and whether it makes sense for this kind of magazine, the magazine has been fielding questions about its long-term plans, especially with respect to how the subscription will co-exist with the magazine's physical subscription component. The magazine understands such concerns, so it prepared a short FAQ, which I'll share.
Q: Does the eBook replace the print edition?
No. The eBook supplements VSM's print edition. Most of the distribution will be sent to current print subscribers, although test distributions will be sent to other lists as well. The eBook provides additional distribution and an alternative way of interacting with both the editorial and the advertising.
Q: What are the benefits of the VSM eBook?
For the reader, the benefits are portability and more convenient searching. Our focus groups show that many subscribers keep their issues for years, marking pages to review when they work on various technologies. Also, an eBook provides both more rapid and more reliable delivery for international subscribers.
For advertisers, this means extensive, extra exposure at no additional cost. Advertisements include live links to take readers to the advertisers' sites, and the e-mail includes links for all ROP advertising.
Q: What are you testing?
We are soliciting reader response to gauge the level of interest in eBooks, as well as how they would prefer to see such books distributed. Previously, FTP has tested many formats, including proprietary readers, HTML-based eBooks, Flash-based eBooks, and various types of PDFs with different DRM systems. More than 20,000 VSM subscribers have already signed up to receive eBooks, assuming we continue to do this on an ongoing basis in the future.
Q: How will you use eBooks with VSM in the future?
We're looking at reader and advertiser feedback to evaluate just that for 2007. Again, eBooks will not be used for wholesale replacement of the print edition, but might be used in addition to print to provide extra benefits to both subscribers and advertisers, as well as to extend distribution in some geographic markets.
Q: How is advertising handled?
The original advertising creative in the print edition is faithfully reproduced with links to the advertisers' sites. There are many other options, including embedded Flash advertising, animated cover-tip-ons, and "polybagged" inserts, all of which we have tested. But no additional advertising is being done so far during this test.
Q: Aren't PDF files large?
Yes. We put significant effort into optimizing the files, but a given issue with advertising might run from 9 MB to 14 MB. That's one reason PDFs aren't for everyone. However, surveys show that the vast majority of VSM subscribers have broadband connections. Finally, the PDF isn't included in the email. Rather, we provide a cover letter with a link for downloading.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.