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Tablet expansion defines the Future digital philosophy

For some time now, Future has been particularly active in the digital arena and, over the past twelve months, has wholeheartedly embraced tablet publishing. CEO Mark Wood explains the company’s digital strategy.

By Mark Wood

The evening of the 9th of June was a very special one for everyone involved in digital media at Future. On that evening, we walked away with the two biggest accolades of the night at the annual Association of Online Publishers Awards: Consumer Digital Publisher of the Year and the overall Grand Prix.

And when I say everyone, I mean virtually everyone at Future – because virtually everyone has a stakeholding in our digital progression. From editorial, developing workflows which create content across multiple channels to marketing, implementing social media strategies activating fans as ambassadors for brand activity. From publishing, creating entirely new ways for their brands to interact with consumers in the mobile and tablet spaces to advertising, deploying truly integrated solutions from website takeovers to digital watermarking. From syndication and licensing, pioneering our content in a brave new world where international territories are no barrier, to the digital development teams themselves, making opportunities into realities across video, online, mobile, tablet and beyond.

Two core philosophies

At the heart of Future’s success has been a very simple approach, focused on two core philosophies: speed-to-market and launch-and-learn. And these two have been coupled to a relentless focus on delivery. Our experience in the tablet space perfectly exemplifies this approach.

Late last year, we undertook a project to test the iPad app market with a range of products at a variety of price points. In very short order, we set ourselves the goal of creating a series of apps: from The 50 Best Guitars To Play Before You Die (Guitarist magazine), to the Best Landscape Photos (Digital Camera World); 101 Best Movies Of All Time (Total Film) to 200 Best Rock Albums Of The 70s (Classic Rock).

Why? Well, simply put – the iPad is the perfect showcase for our unique archive of specialist content, and we wanted to see what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t a time-consuming or expensive undertaking and it provided incredibly rich learnings. Not just about how we create our apps but how consumers use them and what they are prepared to pay for them.

And as a result, earlier this month we announced the launch of our 100th digital edition for iPad, with sales of digital editions and bespoke apps on tablets now on track to become one of the company’s biggest drivers of revenue and profit growth.

And our launch-and-learn philosophy continues to allow us to test price sensitivity in the app market: which is why we have a range of free sampler products at one end of the spectrum, all the way up to Teach Yourself Photoshop – our new premium product for the iPad from Digital Camera and Practical Photoshop magazines, retailing at £11.99.

Future has clearly established itself as one of the UK’s most successful digital publishers on the iPad. Sales revenues have been growing at more than 10% a month this year and have now gone past the £2m-a-year mark.

Importantly – our speed-to-market, do-and-learn ethos means that we’re not prescriptive in our approach. Subscriptions models are great – but so are single issue sales and specials. And in terms of software we utilise what works best for the project – whether that be WoodWing, Adobe or our own bespoke platforms.

Classic Rock Fan Packs

And through this continued mode of experimentation, the learning and the innovation continue. In print, we’ve had great success in the music sector with our Classic Rock Fan Packs. A simple but brilliant idea: brand new albums from classic artists ahead of general release, available with exclusive extra tracks and a 132 page deluxe magazine charting the recording of the album and celebrating the artist’s rich history with full access and unseen material. Motorhead, Whitesnake, Slash and Blondie have all had the Fan Pack treatment to much acclaim. So, when the opportunity came to work with Alice Cooper on his new album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, it became an obvious next step to port the model to iPad. Alongside the re-purposed text and imagery, in this space we of course wanted to play to the strengths of the medium. As the Fan Pack runs through Alice’s classic back catalogue, fans have the chance to sample tracks and, if they’re missing the album from their collection, click through to buy – with Future taking its share of the revenue. We’ve made the Alice experience truly come alive: filming exclusive video with Alice introducing each track of the new album, and bringing the rich pictorial experience to life, with video of his infamous recent show at the 100 Club, complete with guest star Johnny Depp.

This rich, exclusive multimedia package is on sale now through the App Store for the premium price of £14.99, exactly the same price as the physical version.

T3’s iPad success

Of course, outside the special editions, the App Store subscriber market is key – and again Future is leading the way, with T3 – the UK’s premium technology lifestyle brand, and a true exponent of our launch-and-learn philosophy.

Now firmly established as one of the UK’s highest grossing iPad apps and consolidated in its position as the UK's top grossing lifestyle app, T3 is the UK’s biggest selling iPad magazine – not bad for a brand which isn’t listed in the top 100 titles on the UK print newsstand.

Because of our defined desire to engage with Apple, T3 has had clear first mover advantage. And developing and maintaining that positive relationship with Apple from the outset has been critical, leading to T3 being chosen as the only UK title to launch Apple's subscriptions offer.

The T3 app has been downloaded more than 130,000 times since launch, from which over 100,000 content items have been downloaded. T3 now sells approximately 18,000 digital editions each month, with the majority of these sales locked into subscription, which have been sold through iTunes, although Zinio has also been equally successful for the brand.

And because we’ve been working in this space for so long – we’re now on our 12th iPad edition – we’ve garnered a huge amount of learning about our consumers in this space – who they are, how they behave, what data they are prepared to share and what their renewal rate is. And we are ploughing all that hugely valuable experience back into our tablet publishing business.

Getting advertisers involved

This, in turn, allows us to help unlock the potential of the tablet for our advertising partners. A good example: our recent partnership with Renault to create the world’s first video cover-wrap for an iPad magazine, in partnership with T3.

The innovative campaign, created in-house by our own specialists for the iPad platform, promoted Renault’s Z.E. Electric car range. The cover-wrap featured a fully interactive video advert branded with the T3 logo and appearing immediately before the front, and directly after the back-cover pages of the interactive T3: iPad Edition. The bespoke campaign creates massive standout for Renault, with the interactive advertisement appearing as soon as consumers load the magazine app. Links in the ad take consumers directly to the Renault website for more information about the products.

And the ability to deliver links into content creates other opportunities in the tablet space – especially for our portfolio of specialist brands. Our consumers are very often in a mode to purchase – and we can progress them down the purchase funnel towards our chosen affiliate partners – again with revenue sharing front and centre.

Of course, the imminent arrival of Apple Newsstand will create a new opportunity to target our products at the burgeoning tablet market.

And, as you’d expect, we have been working closely with Apple to ensure we’re right there from the start. Our expectation is that the Apple Newsstand will launch with more than 50 subscribable editions of our brands.

Not just about apps

Now, speed to market and doing and learning aren’t just turbo-charging our tablet business, they’re driving growth in all areas of our digital activity.

We’re driving a programme of smart phone optimisation for our existing websites.

We’re harnessing the power of social media – Metal Hammer now has over 275,000 Facebook friends, while across the business we have seen Facebook friends for our brands grow by over 470% year on year. And we’re driving those friends to engage with their favourite brands across a range of touchpoints, enriching their experience and generating subscriptions and merchandise revenues.

Our deployment of community editors working ahead of the launch of our hugely successful print brand Mollie Makes ensured the highly engaged crafting blogger community was primed and ready to make issue one of the title a sell out, now changing hands on eBay for over £30 a copy.

We’re accelerating our website development, expanding content channels where we can see the hunger and creating web presence to exploit a clear opportunity. An example: was built in six weeks and for under £15,000. Now, after 14 months, it’s the largest PC Gaming site in the world, delivering over 8.8 million page views from 2.6 million unique users every month.

And we’re building a powerful short form video resource within the business, feeding the hunger for video across all our core markets, and creating the opportunity to monetise that video beyond our brands – for instance through our recent content / revenue share partnership with Blinkx, the world’s largest video search engine.

So what has all this launch-and-learn, quick-to-market activity delivered in terms of revenue growth? Well, we’ve seen digital revenue growth of over 40% year on year – and have just passed the £200,000 mark for tablet advertising, underlining our absolute and continued commitment to creating a digital business ahead of the curve.