Adult Magazines Go Digital

Joe Zigfield
The company's core business might revolve around digital editions of coffee-table staples like Redbook and Reader's Digest, but digital newsstand Zinio Systems clearly sees potential in adult magazines.

Zinio's new initiative, Undercover Media (, offers subscriptions to downloadable versions of Gent, Genesis, Penthouse, Rockstar, Ultra for Men and other adult titles. The magazines require Zinio's proprietary software, which optimizes PDFbased files for on-screen reading. Publishers also can embed video clips and other multimedia in their digital editions.

The impetus for Undercover Media came from Zinio's experiences distributing Playboy and Penthouse through its flagship site,

"Playboy did a remarkable job of marketing the digital edition of its magazine," says Richard Maggiotto, Zinio's senior vice president of strategic development. "We were very impressed with the response rate we got."

Maggiotto added that Zinio also saw "incredible success with sales" of Penthouse.

These successes whetted Zinio's appetite for the adult market.

"We decided the best way to go after this particular market was to spin off a different brand that would allow us to do some marketing specific to that demographic," Maggiotto says.

Zinio solidified its plans for Undercover Media about six months ago. The site is still in beta.

"Right now we continue to add new titles," Maggiotto says. "We're pretty happy with its performance so far," even after some of the initial concerns Zinio had with getting involved in adult marketing. "The concern was about being a responsible retailer, making sure that we'd be doing all the right things, that access was only given to adults and that we were doing the right thing by way of the consumer and by way of the overall industry."

Zinio also wanted to make sure that its partners and mainstream vendors were comfortable with the new approach — not an idle concern when your clients include blue-chip publishers Ziff Davis, Time Inc., McGraw-Hill, Hearst and Hachette Filipacchi.

Age Verification
Unlike,'s splash page requires surfers to attest that they are not minors. The homepage bears ASACP's approved-member logo. There's still overlap, though, between the two sites, with some adult titles available — at least for now — on both and

San Francisco-based Zinio Systems was founded in 2000 by Kevin McCurdy, founder of, whose panoramic imaging technology allowed virtual tours of homes for sale. Zinio is privately held and offers more than 1,700 magazines and 160 textbooks to its global subscriber base of three million. In addition to digital content, Zinio offers subscriptions to print editions of some publications.

Maggiotto lists a number of benefits to digital distribution through "One of the big driving factors is savings on manufacturing and distribution," he says. "The cost of actually delivering the magazine to an end user, regardless of where that user is, is insignificant compared to print."

The consumer gets immediate access to a publication's latest issue, sometimes a lot earlier than when it's available at a newsstand or other print outlet, especially if it's a foreign magazine.

"There's also the ease with which publishers can repurpose their content," Maggiotto says. "Particularly in the adult industry, if you have the kind of content that can be repackaged in different ways."

Undercover Media allows you to repurpose quickly and cost-effectively. "You can actually create premiums or digital-only publications very simply that don't necessarily have a print equivalent," he says. "Magazines like Rockstar, Playboy and Penthouse have done a very good job of seamlessly integrating things like video of specific models that were in the magazine into the digital editions. So suddenly that page comes to life." Rockstar's September issue, for instance, features embedded video in most of its pictorials.

Are adult publishers concerned about cannibalizing their print sales, or even website subscriptions? Maggiotto doesn't think it is an issue.

"It has not come up yet for us. If anything, digital distribution is seen as something that helps promote the overall brand and is just another option for the consumer," he says.

Rockstar's circulation manager Art Stevens agrees.

"We're pretty sure that the portability and tangible benefits of paper magazines will never go away entirely," Stevens says. "But digital access allows readers to make more impulsive and personal purchasing decisions and, in many cases, provides consumers with greater anonymity and privacy."

Magazine's Portability
Maggiotto emphasizes the portability of digital magazines. "The nice thing is you actually download it, you own it, you can archive it, you can take it on a laptop with you wherever you want to go," he says. "And it's something that's pushed to you in a real discreet and timely manner."

Another selling point for publishers is the lack of startup costs. "We only get paid if the publisher sells," Maggiotto says. "Essentially the publisher pays us a delivery fee. Think of us as a digital U.S. Postal Service."

Preparing magazines for digital distribution is also relatively simple. Publishers basically save each issue as a PDF file formatted to Undercover Media's specs.

As for its publisher clients, they can promote their digital editions in myriad ways, such as announcements in their print versions and on their websites. How much energy they put into it seems to vary from publisher to publisher. Ultra for Men's homepage features a prominent link telling visitors to "Read Our Digital Edition Now!" (It links, however, to a subscription page for the magazine on, not On the other hand, Genesis's homepage doesn't mention its digital edition. Seems like a missed opportunity because, as in all things adult, marketing is everything.

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