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Jul 17, 2008
Case Study

How to Use a Desktop Widget to Deliver Auditable Content: 4 Steps to Boost Subscriptions & Readership, Cut Costs, Increase Revenue

SUMMARY: Users download widgets to their desktops to get simple services, such as weather and travel alerts. But how about a widget as a brand new channel for receiving media content?

Read how a trade publication marketer created a desktop application to deliver a digital edition of its weekly magazine and other preferred content directly to their readers’ computers. More than 29,000 of those readers now view four times as much content as an average website visitor. Subscriptions increased as costs were cut.

Dan Gallagher, Vice President, Audience and Architecture, Network World, saw a lot of value in offering a digital edition of his company’s weekly trade magazine. He wanted to offer content in multiple places and formats to reach his audience, and moving more subscribers to digital content could cut ever-escalating printing and shipping costs.

The problem: Many digital distribution platforms aren’t auditable by BPA Worldwide – the audience-measurement service that provides the calculations on which a controlled-circulation publication bases its advertising rates. Many magazines simply emailed a PDF of the latest edition to subscribers – with no way of confirming whether readers downloaded the PDF.

Third-party platforms offered auditable services, but they aggregated content from multiple publishers. Gallagher didn’t want to give up control of the digital-edition channel.

“We didn’t want to go the emailing route. There was no real validity behind whether it was delivered or not,” says Gallagher. “We wanted to build our own application that sat on the user side and would alert them when a new issue was available for download.”


Gallagher and his team created a desktop widget for subscribers to download to their computers to automatically receive the weekly electronic edition. After Gallagher experimented with the widget, he began to use it as a multi-channel device to deliver more than just a PDF of each week’s magazine.

Here are four steps Gallagher and his team took to develop a desktop widget and encourage subscribers to use the new channel:

-> Step #1. Create simple, one-channel widget

Gallagher and his team created a widget with a technology vendor that offers a customizable software and communications platform for the desktop.

After a user downloads the application, the company’s servers send out a weekly alert to the widget. It tells users through a pop-up message that a new edition of the magazine is available. The widget then automatically downloads the PDF.

-> Step #2. Add more content channels to the widget

Gallagher’s team sent digital editions through the widget for several months before they expanded the channel’s functionality.

“What we quickly found out was that we weren’t building a way to distribute digital magazines, we were developing a new channel to the user base,” says Gallagher. “We could add channels to this client and have other content delivered.”

The team created more than 12 additional content channels for the desktop widget. Users can mix and match according to their preferences. The channels are organized under two primary categories:

- Topical channels echo the most popular technology subject areas on the company’s website, such as:
o Network security
o Data center
o Wireless

- Media channels allow users to subscribe to popular content features on the site, such as:
o Cool Tools, a video series
o Twisted Pair, a podcast series
o Popular blogs, including Buzzblog and Layer 8

After they subscribe, users receive a daily alert telling them which of their widget channels offers new content they can read, watch or listen to within the application.

-> Step #3. Make user preferences easy to establish

The widget includes several channels and alert mechanisms. But the team still makes sure the download process is easy for users to set their preferences.

“We tried to keep as much control as possible in the users’ hands to appreciate the fact that they were inviting us onto their desktop,” says Gallagher. “We don’t want to spam them.”

The digital edition is the only channel users are required to include.

A main preferences page shows users a list of available topics. Users click on arrow buttons to move those topics from the main list to a “my topics” column.

Additional selections allow users to specify their alert preferences, widget appearance, and connection settings – such as use of a proxy server.

-> Step #4. Promote widget in multiple channels

The team used several techniques to let subscribers know the desktop application was available for them to download and read content.

Their readers are required to renew their free subscriptions each year, so the team began offering digital distribution as an option during the renewal process. Those who select digital delivery on the renewal form are given a link to download the application.

In addition, they pitched the widget through:
o Website promotions
o Email messages to the print-subscriber database
o Partnerships with vendors, who offered a co-branded desktop application to their user base.


The widget has become more than just a digital-edition platform. It’s cutting printing costs and quadrupling readership of the content.

“It becomes a whole new audience segment,” Gallagher says. “The whole idea of being where your audience is really applies here.”

o More than 29,000 of those users that downloaded the widget continue to use it
o Approximately 60% of those downloads came from subscriber renewals – the remaining 40% represent new subscribers
o Overall circulation rose about 4%

Of the new subscribers:
o Roughly 50% came from email marketing
o Half came from partnerships and telemarketing

Gallagher maintained control of the digital-edition channel for auditable purposes.
- 17,000 of the widget users – those that match their demographic for the advertising base – are included in the magazine’s BPA audit
- digital edition users make up 10% of the total subscriber base
Eliminating paper delivery for those 17,000 subscribers also saves the company “hundreds of thousands of dollars” per year in printing costs, says Gallagher.

Widget users also are consuming much more content through the channel. Users view content in the widget 12-15 times per month compared to website visitors who typically come to the site 3 times per month. “For us to do at minimum four times that amount of visits, and in most cases more, spoke a lot to the engagement factor of the channel.”

After cutting production costs, Gallagher’s team now expects the channel to begin generating new revenue. Currently, existing ads from the website, podcast or video channels are delivered into the widget with the content. But with an audience of 29,000 users, the company’s advertising team is negotiating with customers to create new advertising placements within the widget itself.

“We hope to move it over next few months from a place to save money to a place to make money.”

Useful links related to this article:

Network World Digital Edition Samples

OTOlabs provided the desktop application platform

Network World

Case Study: How to Turn Subscribers Into Affiliates With Widgets & Viral Marketing

Case Study: How to Add Widgets to Streamline Lead Generation - 4 Steps & Test Results

Special Report: Marketing With Widgets - Usage Data, Tactics & Test Results

See Also:

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