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Wired Puts a Print Spin on Web 2.0

Magazine publishing is now a land of the online-print hybrid. To survive, many print magazine publishers have had to create a Web presence that not only captures the interests of the online audience, but that encourages them to consider the print publication necessary.

However, publishers are listening to the lessons taught by the Web 2.0 movement, and what they hear is that reader expectation for personalization on a publication's Web site could also be a draw if applied to the print side.

The notion pricks the ears of advertisers looking to tap into online marketing campaigns that are more personalized (meaning more focused) than their print offerings.

Wired magazine's Josh Stinchcomb recognizes that advertisers are looking to blur their online and offline campaigns, as they pursue integration. "But creating such campaigns where the online and offline strategy depend on the other are rare," said Stinchcomb, who is the magazine's director of integrated marketing.

Still, Wired gave it a try. Last month, the magazine, together with Xerox, asked readers to submit photos to be published on the cover of the July issue. In four days, 11,000 subscribers flooded the promotion Web site with submissions forcing the magazine to close it early.

The magazine chose the first 5,000 appropriate submissions, all of which will be printed on a Xerox iGen3 110 Digital Production Press using the company's newly acquired XMPie PersonalEffect software.

People posed with their kids or pets, most hammed it up for the camera, and all were eager for that moment when they opened their mailboxes to see a magazine with a familiar face on the cover.

The magazine had pulled the "Cult of Me" cord.

The popularity for this promotion reflected people's enthusiasm for customization and promotion, tying in with the magazine's iGeneration-themed issue, Stinchcomb told internetnews.com. "We saw very few submissions that were inappropriate. We were very impressed with the highbrow-ness of our readers," he said.

Publishers have always spoken of custom print content as a way to focus advertising campaigns and to motivate subscribers to renew.

"It's an interesting question," said Stinchcomb. "Can I get a print issue that is as interactive as a Web site? The technology is there. We now have this giant high-quality, high-resolution printer available that can print custom issues. But the question is how does it make sense?"

The bottleneck lies with logistical and distribution issues. Delivering a customized magazine issue to the right person at the correct address in a timely fashion when it is just one in a million-document print run is still a manpower and resource nightmare for many magazines.

"That's the Holy Grail, isn't it? To do that today is a logistical feat," said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at the Poynter Institute.

Barbara Basney, Xerox's director of global marketing, agrees that the key issue is distribution. Custom publishing is an excellent value-add that raises awareness and reduces waste, she said.

For now, customized print will have to remain a value-add pipe-dream, as magazines are making decisions based on current economic evaluations. For example, veteran computer trade weekly InfoWorld announced last month that it would no longer publish to print, and will instead focus on its Web presence. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Wired isn't struggling because readers look to the monthly publication for the long-form articles that drill down into the topic, [which is what established the magazine]," Stinchcomb said.

The trend is for publications to become hybrids, establishing both an online and offline presence. The roles of the print publications and their complementary Web sites are clearly defined. It's the weeklies and newspapers that won't find customized print as useful, he added.

"For a monthly magazine, it is possible for people to choose what they want to read and for us to end up printing 600,000 different issues of Wired, but the question is what content would they pick from and how would we get that issue to them?"