Serving up Spin online

Times Staff Writer

new york -- Spin Magazine’s print subscriptions jumped in January at least in part for a surprising reason: Its pages were posted on the Web for free.

Spin Digital, a highly interactive online version of the magazine, quietly made its debut on MySpace three weeks ago. It feels more like the print edition of the rock-music monthly than its Internet cousin,

In fact, the digital version is the print edition. Text and photographs are reproduced intact for online viewing, then enhanced with clickable text so that readers can listen to -- and buy -- the music they’re reading about as well as find out more about products they see in the ads.


Under the partnership with MySpace, News Corp.’s popular social-networking site, access to Spin Digital will be offered free for the next 12 months to registered users of MySpace Music. (The Web address is /spinmagazine; click on “Spin Digital.”)

The idea is to bring the print product to the demographically desirable crowd of younger Web surfers who hang out at MySpace, said Tom Hartle, president of San Francisco-based Spin Media.

“We want to extend the reach and the reading time” of the monthly edition, he said.

It could point to a way of breathing life into the magazine business -- and give a boost to the embattled music industry at the same time.

Paper, ink and distribution costs are mounting for all magazines, and younger consumers are getting increasingly hard to recruit as print subscribers. Hartle said he hoped the digital version would find potential subscribers where they “live” online and persuade them that the monthly and its digital twin, which will probably be reserved for print subscribers after the yearlong trial, are a good buy.

The investment in the digital product is part of an ongoing revival effort for Spin, which was founded in 1985 as an alternative to venerable Rolling Stone.

Spin built a following by paying attention to the punk, hip-hop, reggae and alternative country genres, but in recent years its star was in decline. When Spin Media’s parent, McEvoy Group, bought it from Miller Publishing two years ago, it paid just $5 million for what is now a title with a circulation of 450,000.

Advertisement will maintain its role as the site for breaking news that a monthly magazine can’t cover, while Spin Digital gives added life to the pictures and text developed for the print edition. Through the online archives, it also lets readers stumble across articles and ads published months ago.

For Spin’s print advertisers, the digital extension is a freebie for now, but with the added value of the digital exposure and the high-tech audience-tracking data that come with it, Spin hopes it will be able to charge more as it sees higher demand.

Early feedback from Spin Digital, which has been available in a lightly promoted “soft launch” on MySpace for three weeks, indicates that viewers are spending an unusual amount of time with it -- six to seven minutes per visit, about double the time spent on a typical MySpace visit, according to Josh Brooks, vice president for marketing and content at the social network.

Renewals and new subscriptions to Spin were up 50% in January year over year, a sharp jump over previous months. Although Hartle said it was too early to say for sure, he thought some of the increase could be attributed to the digital product. is convinced. Jonathan Sasse, vice president for marketing at the San Diego-based “personal radio” website, said he was trying to build name recognition for the music service when he bought a full-page print ad inside Spin’s January edition, with a psychedelic drawing that looked like a ‘60s-vintage concert poster from the Fillmore West.

Sasse wasn’t aware that Spin had chosen the January issue for its soft digital launch. A couple of weeks ago, “we started seeing activity -- a lot more traffic on our site. We couldn’t figure out what it was, whether maybe Spin was running a promotion, but it was enough for us to call them to ask.”


It was because MySpace visitors browsing through the digital version were being whisked to his site when they clicked on the ad.

One of the things Sasse liked about the digital edition was that “it had a magazine feel to it,” he said.

A reader who opens Digital Spin’s January edition sees all 112 pages laid out in rows and columns like a big game of solitaire.

The pages are vivid replicas created by Texterity Inc. of Southborough, Mass. Click on an image and two facing pages of the magazine come up. Click again to zoom in and read the article or ad copy just as you would in the print version, with none of the scrolling text or pop-up ads that might be found on a regular website.

The pages look just as they do in print, except for a discreet yellow button or two that links the reader to, say, a musician’s fan page at MySpace Music, a music video at YouTube or Apple’s iTunes store. If it’s an ad, the button might bring you to the advertiser’s Internet site or to a promotional video.

The Texterity technology also enables the magazine and its advertisers to measure and track viewership in great detail, giving them a leg up in behavioral marketing campaigns.


“We joke that you’ll never need another focus group,” said Cimarron Buser, Texterity’s marketing vice president.

Spin Editor Doug Brod said he saw the digital version as a welcome and logical extension of the brand. “It’s a magazine about music and visuals,” he said, “so it’s great to be able to read it and immerse yourself in the music at the same time.”