Maclean’s gears up for its first CD-ROM issue

Early next year, the first cd-rom 'issue' of Maclean's will be on the market, and others are slated to follow.But even though there are some things still undecided about the pilot project, the newsweekly's publisher is clear about why the magazine...

Early next year, the first cd-rom ‘issue’ of Maclean’s will be on the market, and others are slated to follow.

But even though there are some things still undecided about the pilot project, the newsweekly’s publisher is clear about why the magazine is moving into cd-rom territory.

Familiarity with technology

According to Brian Segal, the move is result of the familiarity young people have with newer technologies and the pursuit of that 18-to-24 age group by Maclean’s.

Segal says Maclean’s believes there will be increasing numbers of younger people using the new technologies who will want to have access to the magazine, but in a different format.

He says Maclean’s is preparing to deliver editorial to its readers in whatever format they choose.

He says Maclean’s is now an ‘editorial software company and magazine,’ summing up how many magazines may soon have to describe themselves.

Segal says that with a new format, content is an essential consideration.

University issue

‘So the first [cd-rom] we’re doing a pilot with is the university issue, the measure of excellence, because [university-age Canadians] are the people who have access to cd-rom technology and know how to use it effectively, and because it is a subject that is accessible to manipulation,’ he says.

By manipulation, Segal says Maclean’s does not want to take the magazine and just put its content onto cd-rom.

Rather, the magazine wants to give the user the chance to employ the computer product differently from the way they would use the magazine.

With the first issue, for instance, Segal says, a Maclean’s cd-rom user might find out which Eastern Canadian university would grant him admission based on his or her 78% high school average.

Moreover, by integrating audio and visual elements, the Maclean’s cd-rom can also give users a much greater feel for what various institutions are like, rather than relying on two-dimensional photographs.

Integrating advertising

Segal says one issue that has to be addressed is how to integrate advertising on the cd-rom, adding the magazine is now doing some ‘interesting testing’ with advertising.

‘One of the issues for us is not just to get the advertiser into the cd-rom and to have [the advertising] as exciting as the content is because that’s what the advertisers are interested in,’ he says.

‘But unlike a magazine where you literally do go by the advertising pages, you could, potentially, in the case of a cd-rom, double click [on the cursor] and not go into [the advertising.]

‘Or, alternatively, the definition between editorial boundaries and the advertising boundaries, could become blurred.’

Segal says the easiest way to deal with this situation is to have a commercial window and let the user click on that window at his discretion.

Can be helpful

But, he says, sometimes advertisements can be particularly helpful, so he is not sure that Maclean’s should take the easy road on this matter.

He believes, instead, Maclean’s should consider how to maintain its editorial integrity while making sure the advertising is as user-friendly and relevant as possible.

Segal says the response of advertisers – and advertising for the first cd-rom has been kept down because Maclean’s wanted to limit the variables on the project – has been good.

The two large advertisers signed for the first cd-rom were excited about the opportunity, as were the advertising agencies for these charter advertisers.

Yet, despite this initial excitement, it is tempered with some concern about how to charge for the advertising.

Segal says Maclean’s does not have all the answers, so the only way to find out is to do some testing.

He says, not unreasonably, advertisers will want an explanation why they are being charged a certain amount on this and subsequent cd-roms.

Pragmatic outlook

As for the reaction to cd-rom by those few media buying shops that spend billions of dollars on behalf of their clients, Segal says there is interest, but it is based on a pragmatic outlook.

‘ `Can I measure it? Who am I reaching? At what cost? At what cost per thousand? What are my benefits?’ he says are the questions asked.

‘So, I would think there’s an open mind to it as long as no one tries to come in and say, `This is the new panacea, and we’re going to try and charge you all kinds of particular sums for it without having any strong evidence as to what the number should be.’ ‘

Other numbers, this time in an area different from advertising, are also up for discussion at Maclean’s.

cd-rom projects, however attractive, will not work unless there is a sufficiently large installed cd-rom base to make them economically viable.

On this score, Segal believes the prospects look good.

Using data collected in the u.s., Segal says an installed base of 16 million cd-rom drives is expected south of the border by the end of this year.

800,000 drives

In Canada, he says, the installed cd-rom base is expected to be about 5% of that 16-million u.s. figure or 800,000 cd-rom drives.

However, ‘that [16-million] figure is galloping,’ says Segal, with the installed cd-rom base in the u.s. likely to be about 30 million drives by the end of 1995 and the installed base in Canada about 1.5 million.

Just now, Maclean’s is considering its marketing and distribution strategy for its cd-rom series.

After the universities pilot project, Segal says the next cd-rom will likely be on the new economy, but, adds, beyond that, nothing has been decided.

He says one option for those who want the Maclean’s cd-rom will be to buy it as a standalone item.

Part of a package

A further option could be to get it as part of a larger subscription package to the magazine, or it could be bought as part of a series.

Segal says Maclean’s is not far enough along with the universities project to decide how much one or more cd-roms will cost.

He says Newsweek in the u.s. offers four cd-roms for US$199, a figure Maclean’s believes is too high.

After all, Segal says, to produce a cd-rom for public sale costs $2 or less.

Beyond the immediate demands of getting Maclean’s onto this new format, there is also a return trip, as it were: in a year or two Segal suggests Maclean’s will probably be designing editorial content for its cd-roms that will then appear in the magazine itself in some other form.

‘Has to relate’

‘Content, to some extent, does have to relate to the medium,’ he says.

‘So, certain content really works well on paper, and other content may really work well on cd-rom, but not as well on paper, or differently on paper.’

But, Segal says, considerations of form and content should not be over-emphasized.

Maclean’s does not believe that in 10 years any more than 5% to 7% of the people who read magazines will be doing so in formats other than ink on paper.