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Nxtbook Media: Digitally Transforming Magazines & Journals Into An Exceptional Curated Experience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Michael Biggerstaff, Owner/CEO, Nxtbook Media…

September 25, 2018

“We look at publishing like a three-legged stool, you have websites, you have print, and you have digital. And they should all support each other. And one shouldn’t be shortchanged or you’re going to have a rocky stool. We look at that as an opportunity from a print standpoint to support the print product and the website. And the website can support print and digital, but we also look at it like you need to be providing something different in a digital edition. You don’t have the constraints that you do in print.” Michael Biggerstaff…

“I think print and digital will always exist. I think magazines in general will always exist, because people want content and they want to be able to get content, but I also think they want to be able to get content where they want it, how they want to get it, and as people who are creating content, you have to be able to give it to them in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places and on a variety of different devices.” Michael Biggerstaff…

Partnering with publishers and brands to provide innovative digital publishing solutions that make content stand out is what Nxtbook Media is all about. Privately-owned, the Nxtbook story began in the early 1990s, long before digital was an everyday experience. Michael Biggerstaff and two business colleagues actually met while working at a printing firm. They eventually started their own business that delivered reprinted magazine articles, which ultimately became what Nxtbook Media is today.

I spoke with owner/CEO Michael Biggerstaff recently and we talked about the past, present and future of the digital publishing business that brings most any kind of print media to life on the digital device of your choice. According to Michael; today, the Nxtbook platform sees over one million readers every month to thousands of digital publications. And with the platforms offered, nxtbook4, PageRaft basic, and PageRaft upper level, content is available how the customer wants it, when the customer wants it, and in a variety of ways.

Michael expressed his belief (and his company’s) at looking at publishing like a three-legged stool, “You have websites, you have print, and you have digital. And they should all support each other. And one shouldn’t be shortchanged or you’re going to have a rocky stool.”

And indeed, Mr. Magazine™ would agree; in today’s world, there is no way to have a successful publishing entity without all three components, or legs, if you will. So, step into a world where each leg is supported and stabilized by each other: print+digital+web, as we learn about the Nxtbook Media way of publishing, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Biggerstaff, owner/CEO.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he and two of his colleagues in the ‘90s came up with the idea of what is today Nxtbook Media: What we were doing back in that time, my education is in printing, in graphic arts, and we had a company called Reprint Management Services and we did magazine reprint programs for publishers. So, not only did we print them, but we sold them. We called people up and tried to sell quantity reprints to them, so that they could use those reprints to promote their business, their products and services, those kinds of things. Around 1999/2000, we started selling PDFs, so people were buying PDFs to use in a kind of digital way, putting them on their websites, that type of thing. We had an opportunity to look at some digital software that was being produced in France from a company that was doing that. And we started selling reprints where the pages flipped.

On how he solved the frustrating problem of having to create a print replica and link it to an exact digital replica: If you’re doing a 1,500 word article in print, you can do 4,500 word article in digital and it’s not going to be that much more costly. You can do things in a digital product that enhances print. Maybe the author talking about what they found when they were researching the article, or the data that was behind the article that they created, so there’s a lot of opportunity to provide additional information, a lot of video and things like that, that just make it a different experience and give people the opportunity if they want to go deeper, if they want to read more, they can do that in the digital product.

On whether he tells publishers if they want to keep their brands alive, they need to keep the three-legged stool intact – print, digital and the web and not kill their print product: No, I don’t do that because I look at that as a business decision and I’m not in their print world. If they come asking what are my thoughts on doing that, I will talk to them about the three-legged stool and how they can all support each other. But if they come to us and say they have decided they’re going to be digital-only, that they’re not going to produce a print product, I don’t argue that with them, because I believe as business people they’ve thought that through and they know the pros and cons of that decision.

On whether they provide their customers with any data or research about the different platforms and how much time readers stay engaged with them: We give them the information that we have. We have data on people who look at the nxtbook4 platform. So, we know how many people look at it and how long they stay engaged, and that type thing. We also have metrics on PageRaft and we know that people stay in PageRaft and they’re more engaged in a PageRaft product, about three to four times what they do in a digital nxtbook4. So, they’re in nxtbook4 and they’re in there for a few minutes and they’re in the PageRaft product for about seven and a half minutes, which is much longer than they would be on their website. The typical website is about a thirty second or less engagement.

On how they can tell if it’s real people or bots out there reading the content: One thing I can say is that we have a lot of people who go in and read digital publications and if a group of bots are scouring content, our people pick that up and we redirect it or indirect it from our magazines. We take its access away, but we’re constantly looking for things like that, but it’s not a problem that we see. I don’t know if other people with digital products run into that, but we don’t really see it in our digital magazines.

On whether he feels like he’s reinventing the reprint business in what he’s doing, or the reprint business was just the cornerstone: The reprint business was just the cornerstone, we ended up selling the reprint business in 2007. In 2003 Nxtbook Media was created and we still had Reprint Management Services, and Reprint Management Services was sold in 2007. Then we could totally focus on digital products. So, yes today, I’ve spent this time talking about magazines because I’m speaking to Mr. Magazine™ (Laughs), but we also do books, catalogs, travel brochures, and we just work with corporations to help them get their messaging out to people.

On why he wrote in a recent blog that he was excited to read an interview with Mr. Magazine™ in South Africa’s Media Update: The reason that I was really excited is because of what you said in the interview. The thing that publisher’s really should grasp is don’t try to make a digital product the same as a print product, make it different. In my blogpost I used the same thing that we’ve been using for 15 years, you wouldn’t run a radio ad on television, you would make a television commercial. You wouldn’t want to do the same thing in print and digital, you want it a different experience in print than you have in digital. You have so many ways to connect with magazine readers in a digital ad. Get them involved; get them to see things in a completely different way than you can in a print ad. And it’s just taking the easy way out to run the print ad and put it in the digital spot. And so many people do it. And that’s why I was excited because you talked about it and the more people that talk about it that’s when change will actually happen.

On the three different platforms available on Nxtbook Media: nxtbook4 is a replica product. It’s replicating what the product looked like in the print version, except it has a lot of enhancements. Then you have PageRaft and you have something that’s more of a standard PageRaft to be able to keep the pricing down and it doesn’t have as many design feature elements that are in there, again to help people with pricing if they have pricing concerns. And then there’s the upper level of PageRaft. You can do anything in it, you can design it the way you want it to be designed; you can create a great experience for your readers and you control the whole thing.

On anything he’d like to add: I think print and digital will always exist. I think magazines in general will always exist, because people want content and they want to be able to get content, but I also think they want to be able to get content where they want it, how they want to get it, and as people who are creating content, you have to be able to give it to them in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places and on a variety of different devices.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: So, I’m looking at this as sort of like a tombstone (Laughs). Michael was a good person that tried to always do the right thing and make things the best for people that he could possibly do and that’s what he committed his life to.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You would find Michael and his wife taking the dog for a walk, so that they could get home and cook food on the grill and have five bottles of wine (Laughs). I’m kidding about the bottles of wine, but we would be having some wine and sitting and talking about the day.

On what keeps him up at night: Our industry is in a constant state of change and we’re working on PageRaft right now and we’re working on making it better and doing other things to PageRaft, but we also have to be thinking of what’s next. Where does it go after PageRaft? And that’s how a business like ours has to look at things; it’s constantly changing and evolving. You have to be there at the front of the change rather than in the back of the change. So, it’s always thinking about what do we need to do next.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Biggerstaff, owner/CEO, Nxtbook Media.

Samir Husni: In the 1990s, before digital media was the digital media we know today, you and two other colleagues came up with the idea for what would become Nxtbook Media. And you came from a print background, were actually working at a print entity at the time. Can you go back to that moment of conception; how did you come up with the idea for what is now Nxtbook Media?

Michael Biggerstaff: What we were doing back in that time, my education is in printing, in graphic arts, and we had a company called Reprint Management Services and we did magazine reprint programs for publishers. So, not only did we print them, but we sold them. We called people up and tried to sell quantity reprints to them, so that they could use those reprints to promote their business, their products and services, those kinds of things.

Around 1999/2000, we started selling PDFs, so people were buying PDFs to use in a kind of digital way, putting them on their websites, that type of thing. We had an opportunity to look at some digital software that was being produced in France from a company that was doing that. And we started selling reprints where the pages flipped.

Then over the course of 2001, we connected with another company that had digital software and we were using it in 2001 and 2002. At the end of 2002 we made an investment in the company; in the beginning of 2003 we made another investment in the company and two months later the company ran out of money. So, we bought the assets – well, it finished up in July 2003, but we were in the process of buying the assets of the company that was going out of business.

We took the assets, which were really nothing more than the software, the company had no other hard assets, then we made that into Nxtbook Media. We took that idea, because we were having some traction with the digital product and thought that this makes sense for us and we also had this software. So, when you look back at 2003, we were actually taking magazines that were in print and we were laying them out for digital. We were taking them and reflowing them for a computer screen, so the initial people that we were working with were actually paying us a lot of money to relay their magazine out so that it could be read on a computer.

Then over the course of that time publishers were like, look, we can’t pay you to relay this out, we want it to look just like print. So, we started to change and create a replica Nxtbook product that looked just like the print version, realizing pretty quickly that by surveying readers, the readers didn’t really like it that much. And we’ve been telling publishers that; this is a difficult read for the readers themselves, but again, we’re talking about 2003/2004/2005, and in those years, people were still primarily reading on a computer. So, it wasn’t as bad.

But over the past few years it’s gotten really bad for a reader, because they’re trying to read on a phone. So, they try to read on a mobile device, something that was intended to be an 8 plus something by 10 by something in a lot of cases and sometimes it’s even a tabloid. And it’s created as a replica.

Samir Husni: You mentioned in a recent blog that you felt that was the most frustrating part of the business, having to create a print magazine and link it to a digital magazine as an exact replica. What was your solution? How did you decide enough was enough?

Michael Biggerstaff: One of the things that has always been an upside for digital is that you can save money in print, because you can have some people opt out of print and into digital. And still, one of the main reasons that people do it is to save trees, it’s an environmental play that some people get into and they’re able to use digital circulation to support print circulation. So, from that standpoint it’s always been a good thing for publishers, because it’s been a cost-saving device.

But it’s never really been important for readers from the standpoint – publishers value their readers, I’m not saying they don’t, but they also look at it like they’re cost-associated and I can’t pay more money to have something that’s going to be a great reading experience because really I want to continue with print anyway.

So, we look at publishing like a three-legged stool, you have websites, you have print, and you have digital. And they should all support each other. And one shouldn’t be shortchanged or you’re going to have a rocky stool. We look at that as an opportunity from a print standpoint to support the print product and the website. And the website can support print and digital, but we also look at it like you need to be providing something different in a digital edition. You don’t have the constraints that you do in print.

If you’re doing a 1,500 word article in print, you can do 4,500 word article in digital and it’s not going to be that much more costly. You can do things in a digital product that enhances print. Maybe the author talking about what they found when they were researching the article, or the data that was behind the article that they created, so there’s a lot of opportunity to provide additional information, a lot of video and things like that, that just make it a different experience and give people the opportunity if they want to go deeper, if they want to read more, they can do that in the digital product.

We saw all of these magazine publishers that were in the process of having these replicas that were hard to read; readers that were saying I don’t like the digital experience that much, it’s just like print, I might as well just read the print magazine; it’s hard to read on my phone, that type of thing. So, we’ve been working on PageRaft for a number of years now to give readers a responsive designed product that they can read just as easily on a computer screen, no matter the size, down to a phone of any size.

So, it’s been a refreshing change for readers in general, that they’re now able to read on a mobile device, because as a parent of kids I know what it’s like to go to a swimming practice and sit there and watch kids in a swimming pool swimming back and forth. And you have opportunities to look and digest content and that’s what people do now. They look at their phones, they not only do social media things, but they have opportunities to read work publications that they wouldn’t have had five years ago. It would have been just that difficult to do. This frees them up to do that.

Samir Husni: You mentioned the three-legged stool, web, digital and print; what do you say when a publisher comes to you and tells you that they’re going to kill their print product because then they could save money in printing and save money in distribution and in mail? Do you raise a yellow flag and tell them that they can’t really do that and keep their brand alive?

Michael Biggerstaff: No, I don’t do that because I look at that as a business decision and I’m not in their print world. If they come asking what are my thoughts on doing that, I will talk to them about the three-legged stool and how they can all support each other. But if they come to us and say they have decided they’re going to be digital-only, that they’re not going to produce a print product, I don’t argue that with them, because I believe as business people they’ve thought that through and they know the pros and cons of that decision.

If I look at it from the print side, I would look at it as it may not be the best idea, but what they would want to do as a business is determine who is reading the print product and what kind of conversion are you going to have to digital and also what are you going to provide them in a digital product. If you’re going to take a print magazine and get rid of the print component, but keep a digital product that’s going to look like it was a print magazine, I look at that as a big waste of money.

Samir Husni: Do you provide your clients with any type of research on how the audience interacts with the different platforms, specifically with your platforms, with the PageRaft? Do your gauge their engagement, the time they spend?

Michael Biggerstaff: We give them the information that we have. We have data on people who look at the nxtbook4 platform. So, we know how many people look at it and how long they stay engaged, and that type thing. We also have metrics on PageRaft and we know that people stay in PageRaft and they’re more engaged in a PageRaft product, about three to four times what they do in a digital nxtbook4. So, they’re in nxtbook4 and they’re in there for a few minutes and they’re in the PageRaft product for about seven and a half minutes, which is much longer than they would be on their website. The typical website is about a thirty second or less engagement.

Now, we don’t have print metrics because they exist in the publication, they exist with the magazines. We’ve all been sold print advertising and we’ve all been given the BPA statement or whatever, and those numbers that people are sold to are somewhat different than you would find in digital, but digital we know. There’s no gray area. Here’s how many people looked and here’s how long they were there. So, digital is much more defined and accurate than you would have in a print product.

Samir Husni: What would you tell the people who ask you how can you tell those are real folks out there and not a Bot?

Michael Biggerstaff: One thing I can say is that we have a lot of people who go in and read digital publications and if a group of bots are scouring content, our people pick that up and we redirect it or indirect it from our magazines. We take its access away, but we’re constantly looking for things like that, but it’s not a problem that we see. I don’t know if other people with digital products run into that, but we don’t really see it in our digital magazines.

Samir Husni: You do more than magazines, you offer catalogs, books, you name it. Do you feel like you’re reinventing the reprint business in what you’re doing? Or the reprint business was just the cornerstone?

Michael Biggerstaff: The reprint business was just the cornerstone, we ended up selling the reprint business in 2007. In 2003 Nxtbook Media was created and we still had Reprint Management Services, and Reprint Management Services was sold in 2007. Then we could totally focus on digital products. So, yes today, I’ve spent this time talking about magazines because I’m speaking to Mr. Magazine™ (Laughs), but we also do books, catalogs, travel brochures, and we just work with corporations to help them get their messaging out to people.

So, what we’re really doing is we’re providing a platform for people to get communication out to customers or people that they need to communicate with in the best possible way we can.

Samir Husni: And here’s my selfish question to you, why were you excited when you read my interview with South Africa’s Media Update platform? You wrote a blog where you said that you were excited to read that recent interview with me. Why?

Michael Biggerstaff: The reason that I was really excited is because of what you said in the interview. The thing that publisher’s really should grasp is don’t try to make a digital product the same as a print product, make it different. In my blogpost I used the same thing that we’ve been using for 15 years, you wouldn’t run a radio ad on television, you would make a television commercial. You wouldn’t want to do the same thing in print and digital, you want it a different experience in print than you have in digital. You have so many ways to connect with magazine readers in a digital ad. Get them involved; get them to see things in a completely different way than you can in a print ad. And it’s just taking the easy way out to run the print ad and put it in the digital spot. And so many people do it.

We talk to sales people, we talk to publishers; make it different, make it more interesting, make it more engaging. It’s better for everybody, but I think either some publishers have difficulty selling it because they don’t understand it, and some agencies that they’re selling to just don’t want to say we’ll make a different ad for a digital publication. And I don’t think customers are savvy enough to say I want a different experience in a digital ad than I do in a print ad. And that’s why I was excited because you talked about it and the more people that talk about it that’s when change will actually happen.

Samir Husni: You have the nxtbook4, the basic PageRaft, and the enhanced PageRaft, can you briefly give me the elevator pitch on each of those three?

Michael Biggerstaff: Sure. nxtbook4 is a replica product. It’s replicating what the product looked like in the print version, except it has a lot of enhancements. People have asked us to do things over the course of years to make it better and it has a significant amount of enhancements that are built into it.

Then you have PageRaft and you have something that’s more of a standard PageRaft to be able to keep the pricing down and it doesn’t have as many design feature elements that are in there, again to help people with pricing if they have pricing concerns.

And then there’s the upper level of PageRaft. You can do anything in it, you can design it the way you want it to be designed; you can create a great experience for your readers and you control the whole thing.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Michael Biggerstaff: I think print and digital will always exist. I think magazines in general will always exist, because people want content and they want to be able to get content, but I also think they want to be able to get content where they want it, how they want to get it, and as people who are creating content, you have to be able to give it to them in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places and on a variety of different devices. I think that’s really important.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Michael Biggerstaff: So, I’m looking at this as sort of like a tombstone (Laughs). Michael was a good person that tried to always do the right thing and make things the best for people that he could possibly do and that’s what he committed his life to.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Michael Biggerstaff: You would find Michael and his wife taking the dog for a walk, so that they could get home and cook food on the grill and have five bottles of wine (Laughs). I’m kidding about the bottles of wine, but we would be having some wine and sitting and talking about the day.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Michael Biggerstaff: Our industry is in a constant state of change and we’re working on PageRaft right now and we’re working on making it better and doing other things to PageRaft, but we also have to be thinking of what’s next. Where does it go after PageRaft? And that’s how a business like ours has to look at things; it’s constantly changing and evolving. You have to be there at the front of the change rather than in the back of the change. So, it’s always thinking about what do we need to do next.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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