Zinio Poised to Bring eMags to the Mainstream

I discovered Zinio’s electronic magazines when I first started using Tablet PCs In the mid-00s. The company has been in existence for 10 years, so I was a fairly early user. I found that despite the Tablet PC’s relatively significant weight, short battery life and tendency to get hot, somethings VERY hot, the experience of using Zinio to read was a pleasant one. The magazines looked good on the relatively high resolution screens. The links in ads and some articles jumped you right to the product’s page. And I often got notice of my Zino downloads a day or two before the paper equivalent arrived at my home. It was clear even then that Zinio’s vision for moving full color magazines to the digital realm was something whose time would eventually come, and that when it did eMags would morph into something more than electronic replicas of their dead tree equivalents.The technology to make it happen, however, wasn’t quite there.

Technology has moved rapidly forward on many fronts. Devices are lighter, have better battery life and far sharper screens than ever before. Zinio has proven that it is able to think far enough out of the box to create a reading experience on the iPhone and iPod touch that keeps the graphic power of magazines while also making it possible to easily read content on the small screen. The iPad arrives in less than a week. Yes, times have changed and after speaking with two of the company’s top people last week it is pretty clear to me that the day when eMags might finally becomes widely adopted has finally arrived- or at least is about to do so.

A bit of history.

Zinio began a decade ago as a VC-funded vision to bring magazines online. It was a great idea and started with a good bit of enthusiasm and publicity. Somewhere along the way it stalled a bit and seemed to spend a few years languishing. No, the company wasn’t dying, after all they were the benchmark for eMags, but at the same time they were doing anything truly innovative. Part of the problem was that they were initially focused on “replication technology”- that is- digitizing the content– but not doing much more than that. That, mixed with the state of technology a few years back meant that Zinio pushed as far as it could at the time. A new owner, new leadership and… things started to change. Zinio now offers over 2000 consumer publications from over 400 publishers. They have cornered more than 80% of the fledgling eMag market and have a clear vision of where they want to take the technology. Perhaps more importantly, over the last year they have seen a new category of customer emerge. After years when eMags were the thing of geeks like me they are starting to see people begin adopting eMags who could care less about the technology behind it. Instead, they care about the content. In other words, mainstream customers are slowly beginning to adopt electronic magazines and make them their own.

Last Friday I had coffee with Zinio’s CMO Jeanniey Mullen. Later in the day I had a chance to talk with Rich Maggiotto, Zinio’s President & CEO. Both shared a good deal about what they have done, their vision for eMags and their upcoming plans.

First and foremost, both made a point of how important it has been for them to move away from “replication technology” and begin working with publishers to create content that has the electronic medium in mind from the start. For example, Mullen pointed out that VIVmag is, in a sense, a laboratory for the future of eMags. Only available in a digital version, each edition is created from start to finish with the electronic medium in mind for content, user-experience and enhanced features that would not be available if it were a print magazine. It is anything but a “copy” of the traditional print magazine And a very successful on at that… They currently have a readership of over 375,000 women who make over $150,000 a year. Such is the potential of such creative, targeted and modern magazine format. As Maggiotto commented, the real tipping point for eMags will come when publishers begin taking the same tact– envisioning the end product as a specifically electronic format rather than a e-cousin of its older print sibling. (my bad metaphor not his.)

That tipping point is closer than ever before for two reasons.

First, Zinio has introduced a concept called “UNITY”.

UNITY is the eMag equivalent of Amazon’s Whispersync. Just as I can read my current James Patterson novel on my Mac, then pick it up on my touch and then read the next chapter on my Kindle (had I not sold it to make way for the iPad), Zinio has made content available across multiple platforms. That means that my current copy of Macworld arrives on my Mac but I can also read it on my iPhone and, some time soon, I’ll be able to read it on my iPad. “UNITY” takes into account that, on average, most professionals currently use four different electronic delivery devices each day. According to Maggiotto most of us will use a desktop, a notebook, a smartphone and one other device such as Kindle. To have access to your Zinio magazines on only one of the four devices would be rather limiting. The move toward “UNITY” means that your exact same library is not available on any device for which there is a Zinio reader… And that is most of them. Thus I have my eMags on my iMac, my MacBook Pro, my iPhone and touch and, if I had a netbook, I could have them there too. Put another way, in this era “to focus on putting your content on only one device is just dumb.” With platform unity, Mullen explained, “You buy it on one device and access it on any device you choose.”

In other words, moving eMags forward is about more than the technology and publications, it is about understanding how people interact with technology today as compared to just a few years ago. The company is already well-positioned in this regard because they Already offer “ubiquitous access” to the magazines they sell And, as a result, they have become a “clearinghouse” for publishers Who want to get their product into consUmer’s hands.


Which brings us to the second tipping point point– the iPad cometh.

Zinio is actively at work on a reader for the iPad and hope to have it out shortly. (Obviously they could not share the exact time-frame due to the confidentiality agreements with Apple but from the way both talked about their plans I suspect that if we don’t see it on launch day we won’t have too terribly long to wait for the initial release.) As Mullen, who carries an Android phone and an iPod touch and, I suspect, an iPad within the month, put it-

We believe the iPad will be one of the single most important devices for moving publishing into the electronic realm…

Their commitment to the upcoming platform is huge. Like many others they have been scrambling to get their content available Flash-free so it is iPad friendly. No, they aren’t abandoning Flash but rather they are developing the two approaches, HTML5 and Flash, in parallel. (DC comment- at least for now. Never underestimate the power of Steve Jobs to build or kill a technology.)

Digital reading is in its infancy yet even during last year’s recession Zinio grew. With the release of the iPad the hope, and expect, it will skyrocket. Zinio for iPad will be “an important moment” for Zinio as it hs the potential to truly make Zinio a global newstand. When the app is out your be able to fire up your iPad, go shopping for magazines and, within seconds, be reading them. Better still, many of the magazines will have dynamic content such as video clips, interactive articles and more. (For a taste check out the current Zinio version of National Geographic or the upcoming Viiv cover.) The iPad will make it easier than ever for publishers to create content that “breathes”, that is, interacts with the reader, gives access to additional content and lets readers jump to product pages.

Maggiotto explained to me that the new Zinio for iPad app will have three major functions, each meeting specific needs and will initially highlight a number of specific brands. Among them will be Spin, Dwell, Macworld, Car and Driver, Sporting News, Viiv and Nat Geo.

The first function will be “Explore”

Explore will let the reader see and experience content that is specific to that brand. For example, Spin will show videos of Green Day, National Geographic will offer slides and video to enhance content, and Dwell will have floor plans you can “walk through”. All of this will be available without signing in or purchasing anything. Of course the goal is to get you to WANT to sign in and WANT to spend money to get full access to the magazine.

That leads to “Shop”

The Zinio app will make it easy to access and purchase over 2400 magazines. Obviously content will be rolled out over time just as the iPhone app launched with only a few magazines available but already has a huge assortment from which to choose. Everything will be localized so as the iPad rolls out in specific countries more content will become available. To be honest the full eCommerce part of this wasn’t entirely clear to me but while Maggiotto wasn’t at liberty to say too much there was a bounce to his voice in what he did say that strongly suggested to me that whatever system is rolled out will be more than a bit impressive.

Finally there is “Read”.

As previously noted all content purchased on an account will be available on the iPad. Not all subscriptions will show up on day one of the app’s launch but they will al be there eventually. Both Mullen and Maggiotto commented that they have put “tons of thought” into ensure that the reading experience is nothing short of awesome. Judging from the way in which they made the experience on an iPhone quite nice I have no doubt this will be the case. Unfortunately, like you I’ll have to ait until the app is out.

In all I came away from my conversations on Friday rather convinced that the hype over the iPad (and similar tablets) transforming and saving the publishing industry isn’t all hype. The reading experience on the iPad will likely be superb, Zinio has a clear plan to move the adoption of the technology forward and publishers are looking for someone to work with in order to help them make the shift. Let’s hope we see the new Zinio for iPad app on or close to launch. When it does we’ll have an even better sense of the potential that exists for eMags in an iPad-era.


About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.