The CD ROM Magazine Strategy Magazine February 4, 1994

And we  thought we were so sophisticated!!

I’m sitting here at my computer, ‘reading’ the world’s first magazine on cd-rom.

Called Nautilus, it is published by Metatec, located at 7001 Discovery Blvd., Dublin, Ohio 43017-3299, and costs US$137.40 for 12 issues.

Nothing to fear

Despite the usual hoohah about the death of print, I can assure you publishers of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair have nothing to fear.

A magazine on cd-rom is a different kind of medium from the print-heavy magazines that offer lengthy, juicy reads while riding on the subway, or propped up in bed.

You do not flip the pages of Nautilus; you boot it up on your computer. A couple of minutes pass, while the computer absorbs the basic startup data. Graphics slowly form on the screen, and you hear an announcer giving you highlights of what is inside.

Elements

There is a ‘table of contents,’ and there is an ‘index.’ And, once you get the hang of it, you will find there are articles and pictures, just like in a printed magazine. But that is where the similarity ends.

With a multimedia/interactive ‘publication’ such as Nautilus, there are also music videos with cd-quality sound and visuals that run in a kind of stop-motion animation.

A roundtable ‘article’ about computers and the automotive industry features the participants as talking heads that can be seen and heard.

There is an ‘electronic new car showroom,’ which provides information about 19 of the 1994 models.

If you want more information on something in particular, you point your mouse and click, and another window opens with more details.

There are computer games, and there is even free computer software. There is a sample language lab tutorial, a children’s field trip to the Columbus, Ohio zoo, and a few dozen other features.

The biggest difference between Nautilus and ordinary print magazines is the amount of data it contains.

Storage capacity

The magazine takes advantage of the enormous information storage capacity of the cd-rom – about 650 megabytes per issue (a cd-rom disc can store the equivalent of 360,000 pages of text.)

That capacity permits the editors to create a grab bag of contents, as well as using the computer memory-intensive tricks of animation, color pictures and music.

What’s missing from this picture? A few ads, perhaps?

Jeffrey Wilkins, the founder of Metatec, says in a computer magazine interview last July:

‘I really believe that people who use information services do not want intrusive advertising, but they do want access to advertising.

‘As time goes on, we will provide more and more access to advertisers, but only if users choose to look at it,’ Wilkins says in the interview.

‘You could say that the software demos we include on Nautilus are advertising, but there are no pitches about why to buy the product,’ he says.

In reality, of course, Nautilus is a marketing tool. It does market software directly, and offers free samples/previews of computer games, and demonstrates other computer software products that are for sale commercially.

Marketing the medium

More importantly, for the moment, what it is marketing best is the medium of cd-rom.

For a concrete example of what this mysterious thing called ‘multimedia’ is all about, Nautilus is an excellent place to start.

There is, of course, audio and video and text. And there is the sheer tonnage of information that can be stuffed into it. What makes it really different is the power of the computer.

You point and click, and things happen. You can ‘use’ the magazine, ‘play’ with it, and you can extract software to put on your computer and use after you have removed the Nautilus disc.

But, most important, you can learn from it – and it is a powerful communications tool. And that is, after all, what we, as professional marketers hope to do – reach an audience, communicate with it, and impart something that it can use, or absorb, as a ‘call to action.’

Nautilus is also just the tip of what is turning into the biggest communications iceberg any of us may ever live to see.

Right now, as Wilkins says, Nautilus is a special product for a special audience – what he calls ‘early adopters.’

They are mostly upscale computer users at job and home, ‘very male,’ and well-educated.

But competition from the mass market consumer publishers is already here.

Newsweek is offering quarterly editions of current affairs material on cd-rom. And there is advertising on its cd-rom editions.

Admittedly, it is just tv spots for at&t, ibm and Lincoln/ Mercury, reprocessed for the limited quality of video animation available on cd-rom.

But there are plans for custom cd-rom advertising on the Newsweek discs; and that should be just around the corner.

Any visit to a computer store these days would also reveal a heavy new marketing push on cd-rom software, especially from companies such as Sony, Warners, and Microsoft, who have introduced a new brand, Microsoft Home, to market a growing line of sophisticated cd-rom programs.

These include everything from a tour of the National Gallery in London, and an elaborate program on dinosaurs that includes video from the pbs dinosaur series, to such highly regarded reference tools as Encarta, an audio/video/interactive encyclopedia.

There is Microsoft Bookshelf, which includes seven key reference books, from the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia to Bartlett’s to the Hammond Atlas.

All of them feature random accessibility of information through a cross-indexing system. Pick a topic and the computer searches the mass of data and instantly tells you, for example, the history of Afghanistan, shows you a map, gives you pictures, reproduces its flag, and even plays its national anthem for you.

The bottom line is that here is a medium people are getting excited about. And yet….

The marketers who seem to understand this medium and choose to take advantage of it are still extraordinarily rare.

Early adaptor

Last month, I described the case of one such ‘early adaptor,’ the Canadian branch of Searle Pharmaceuticals.

Drug companies are frequently leaders in the marketing arena, and Merck in the u.s. is now issuing its Physicians’ Quarterly Reference Journal on cd-rom.

To help its salesforce demonstrate it, it bought 3,000 Sony TIX-100 portable mmcd (multimedia cd) players.

These come with a monochrome liquid crystal display (lcd) screen, but have a video output, so they can be plugged into an ordinary tv set, for a much better picture.

For them, it almost seems self-evident to take advantage of a new medium whose strong suit is the ability to store huge amounts of information and make it instantly accessible.

Surely, there must be somebody besides the drug companies, and in the case of the November issue of Nautilus, the car companies, who have products to market that are information-intensive, and can benefit from a multimedia presentation, with sound effects, music, narration, color pictures, animation, video and text.

Well, there are. For starters, how about the real estate industry? We will review an example in next month’s column.

And how about direct marketing? There is an exciting field trial in the u.s. of multimedia/ interactive catalogue shopping through cd-rom.

Next issue, we will check in on preliminary results as we continue to explore what the future holds for marketers in this strange new world of multimedia and interactive communications

Charles de Gruchy is President of Salter de Gruchy, a Toronto and  New York based direct marketing agency

 

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