Pop Sci Adds ‘Genius’ Digital Title

With a new crop of electronic handheld reading devices in development, Popular Science is launching a new digital magazine offshoot called The Pop Sci Genius Guide that it hopes will position the title for the day that e-readers are no longer a novelty.

“We believe in the not-too-distant future there will be penetration into the marketplace of magazine e-reader technologies,” explained Mark Jannot, editor of the 137-year-old title, which is published by the U.S. arm of Sweden’s Bonnier. “We’re using the Genius Guide as a test bed to work out how best to produce these magazines and condition our users and clients to embrace this medium once it’s really mature.”

Made to be read on a PC or Kindle wireless reader, Genius Guide will publish four issues this year, themed around home entertainment, greening the home, gadgets and cars. The Guide is testing various price points of 99 cents to $4.99 per issue, with the goal of getting 900,000 readers combined for the first four.

“We don’t envision the paper version going away,” Jannot said. “We do envision the proportion of paper readers versus digital users changing over time. And it will save us money in the long run in paper and postage.”

Print titles haven’t attracted large numbers of readers to their digital editions. Pop Sci, despite its tech-oriented readership, reported just 707 digital subs as of December 2008, or 0.1 percent of its 1.3 million circ. “Flat magazines have just not resonated with consumers or advertisers particularly well,” publisher Gregg Hano said. “[They] don’t translate well to computer screens.”

He and Jannot said the Genius Guide is different, though. It’s the first consumer magazine to use the newest version of Zinio’s digital publishing platform, which lets the publisher embed video, animation and hyperlinks. In the first issue of the Genius Guide, for example, users can click on pages to see the inside of a PC, a video of a DIYer narrating a project and a multilevel guide to installing a home entertainment system.

And while people may not be running out to buy new TVs or cars these days, Jannot insisted the publication is in keeping with Pop Sci’s DIY ethos: “It’s not all about buying; it’s also about how to optimize what you’ve got.”

Advertisers have been dubious about the value of digital editions, and often don’t have creative prepared for the platform. While acknowledging those challenges, Hano believes marketers will come around to the new product once they see its reader appeal.

“I believe very, very strongly that when consumers that are tech-savvy get their hands on this, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, it’s worth my money,’” he said. “And, we’re going to have advertisers knocking at the door.”