An interview for “What’s new in publishing” with Ian Jackson – Head of Digital at HJ Marketing Ltd

WNIP Interview

In another instalment of WNIP’s in-depth interviews, Ian Jackson of The Digital Publisher (a division of HJ Marketing Ltd) explains why an e-publishing ‘bureau service’ is so important.

Jackson is Head of Digital at The Digital Publisher, a boutique e-publishing solutions provider that pioneered e-publishing for the UK trade union movement as well as a number of organisations within the education and retail sectors.  TDP lists two of the UK’s biggest trade unions as clients – Unite and the teachers’ union NASUWT – as well as high street brands such as Wickes.


WNIP: When did The Digital Publisher start?

Ian Jackson: The Digital Publisher has been going since 2007 when a number of our retail clients started looking into converting their printed catalogues to digital catalogues.  At the time we were already a thriving digital business and the move into e-publishing made logical commercial sense, so we started producing e-Catalogues for some major high street brands like Mothercare, New Look and Wickes.


WNIP:  How did you get into magazine e-publishing?

Ian Jackson: Again, it was a natural extension of our business.  We were experts at producing and distributing e-Catalogue content by email, amongst other things, and a few client companies approached us about putting their business collateral on line as well as distributing it.  This collateral included magazines, such as Unite trade union’s in-house magazine, United (now titled Works).


WNIP: You’re reputed to have pioneered e-publishing for trade unions |and universities|, is that true?

Ian Jackson:  Partly, yes, but I don’t want to exaggerate our role – they would have done so anyway, they just chose us to do it!  But, to answer your question, in 2009 we were approached by Unite trade union to help convert their in-house magazine, United, into a digital edition. It sounds quite straightforward but it was anything but.


WNIP:  Why?

Ian Jackson:  You have to remember that Unite was formed in only 2007, when the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union created a 1.5 million-strong union, Britain’s biggest.  When we started talking to them, the union was still coming to terms with its merger and it actually had two separate CEO’s.

It was a huge challenge because Unite’s in-house quarterly magazine was purely a hard copy title and its readership expected nothing less than to feel the weight of paper in their hands. You also had the issue of just how many of Unite’s blue collar membership used the internet and email on a regular basis – there’s no point in promoting an e-title to an audience that rarely uses the internet to consume media.

But Unite were determined to embrace e-publishing, not least because to print and distribute 2 million magazines, four times a year, was costing the trade union £millions per year.  Furthermore, Unite also had exacting environmental targets to meet and it was felt that a digital edition would play a key part in helping them meet their objectives.

Unite eventually took the plunge and became the UK’s first trade union to produce a page-turning digital edition.


WNIP: Was it a success?

Ian Jackson: Yes, most certainly, and it’s still going strong now.  Initially the magazine was emailed to a trial volume of 120,000 secure users and was subsequently rolled-out to

The beauty of digital publishing is that the readership stats are deadly accurate.  You know how many people are reading what pieces of content and when.  This has allowed Unite to refine and improve its content.

We didn’t want the online publication to simply replicate the offline version.  Unite’s digital editions use rich media with Unite able to audio-visually communicate with its members through the use of newscasts and video features.  It’s a vast leap forward. In addition, to make the magazine more interactive, we developed a number of interactive games in order to ‘bring the online magazine to life’ and to make it a more enjoyable reading experience.

We’ve calculated that for each emailed digital edition, Unite has saved upwards of 90% of the costs involved in the printing and postage of its offline magazine.  At a conservative estimate, yearly savings are in the region of £millions of pounds and the trade union has bolstered its environmental credentials. Feedback from readers has also been superb.


Did you ever have concerns that Unite’s mainly blue collar readership base would find reading e-publishing a turn-off?

Ian Jackson:  Concerns?  Yes, but we tested the concept rigorously and our worries were unfounded.  Just 11% of UK citizens have never used the internet, down from 29% in 2006, and this minority group tends to be the Over 65’s and widowed. The internet is now a normal part of daily life for almost everyone.

WNIP:  What digital publishing platform do you use? 

Ian Jackson:  After a good year of trialling different solutions we settled on YUDU as we felt they had the best technology and the strongest development team. We use YUDU’s e-publishing platform which we found more flexible as it allowed on and off-line viewing.  We also found that their product updates always kept us in a leading position.  We’ve been with them ever since and we’re really pleased with their latest iPad and iPhone solutions.


WNIP: Why do publishers use you rather than go straight to the solutions providers?

Ian Jackson:  Good question.  Some publishers have the in-house manpower and expertise to use an e-publishing platform competently.  But many don’t, and even large in-house IT departments can be caught short when dealing with publishing.  It’s one thing to know IT, another thing altogether to know how to present content professionally.

We have what’s called a ‘bureau service’ which means we work very, very closely with publishers – holding their hand if you like – and we manage every part of the digital publishing process on their behalf. Basically, content providers employ us to put their publications into digital format and we become almost a separate in-house department for them.

It’s ideal for publishers who don’t have the time, expertise or resource to publish digitally. Also, with the emergence of tablets and smartphones, publishers can just put in a call to us and we handle everything for these devices too.

Based around overall proposition we can also help on the marketing……very personalised service


WNIP: Where do you see the immediate future for digital publishing?

Ian Jackson: Mobile devices, and I’m referring here to tablets and smartphones.  The iPad, just like the iPod and iPhone before it, has created a new market and the take up has been extraordinary – I think 67 million iPads have been sold worldwide to date and October will see the launch of Microsoft’s Surface, the first mainstream computing device the company has ever made – it’s a dynamic space.  Obviously, because of this, app development is now a significant part of our business and likely to grow further.

What people also don’t realise about tablets is that the demographic of people who use it are affluent professionals.  iPad magazines tend to be read late at night, early in the morning and on weekends when people are more relaxed and open to purchasing.  We see from our catalogues that basket sizes are much bigger for the iPad and if magazines can start offering relevant products, they might be surprised at the sales. We think this is definitely a big trend to watch.


WNIP: Many thanks.

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