Ultigo Debuts Print-to-Web Convergence System

A new competitor in the offline-online ad convergence market Tuesday took the wraps off its first deal, with Teen Magazine — and hurries to reassure critics concerned about privacy issues.

Systems like Ultigo’s new UltiMedia system allow offline publications to link to Web-based content. Ultigo’s system involves magazine pages recreated on the publisher’s Web site, rather than a peripheral that scans in a bar code, like competitor Digital:Convergence’s handheld :CueCat scanner.

Ultigo’s system will debut in the November issue of Teen, which will enable readers to link to products covered in the magazine to learn more about them or to find out how and where to purchase them.

On each of the magazine’s four product review pages, Ultigo’s symbol will appear to indicate to readers that the content has been reproduced and enhanced on the magazine’s Web site. By clicking on the “Powered by Ultigo” search box on Teen’s front page, readers are directed to the interactive content.

Consumers interesting in making a purchase are sent to the product page of a Web e-tailer, or are shown maps to a local brick-and-mortal retailer carrying the product. A number of the 16 products in this month’s Teen can only be purchased at offline retailers.

Users will be able to link from advertised products beginning with Teen’s next issue.

Ultigo handles all of the back-end processes for this system, including hosting the interactive pages and locating offline retailers.

“Ultigo literally wipes out the limitations of print and allows us to provide a far more expansive experience for our readers both editorially and commercially. This is especially important for the teen reader who needs service more than any other demographic,” said Teen Magazine editorial director Tommi Lewis.

“We get thousands of reader requests each month asking where to buy items readers have seen in edit layouts or ad pages in our magazine. Although we provide purchasing info on our pages plus run an extensive ‘Where to Buy’ in the back of Teen, the editors still spend hours researching and responding to reader product queries,” she said. “With Ultigo, we can extend this reader service to a new level by offering a customized ‘where to buy’ for each reader. Now we can tell them not just the store’s name, but also where the nearest store is to them.”

The debut of Ultigo is fairly advantageous for the company. Teen, which is published by Emap, U.S.A, has a readership of nearly 10 million.

In addition to bragging rights, it also gives Teen a powerful value-add for advertisers by enabling instant e-commerce or helping users track down a product. And with women between ages 12 to 17 — the magazine’s chief demographic — spending upwards of $66 billion annually, that could amount to some serious ad revenue.

“By partnering with Ultigo, we become the only magazine in the teenage market to offer a fast and easy way for readers to learn more about — or actually buy — items they crave from edit layouts, or next month, from advertisements,” said Teen president Lynn Lehmkuhl. “Others may talk about convergence, but Teen is at the forefront of the teen category by every measure.

Nevertheless, this sort of convergence technology is something of a controversial topic at the moment.

Digital:Convergence’s :CueCat, which attaches to a PC and directs users’ browsers to a Web page when swiped across a bar code, has come under criticism for potential privacy abuses and for ease-of-use concerns.

Bar codes for :CueCats appeared last month in The Dallas Morning News, the first newspaper to start using the technology. Magazines with the system’s bar codes include Wired and Fortune, which, with consumer electronics retailer RadioShack, distribute the scanner to customers for free.

But privacy advocates are concerned that the device allows the company to observe users’ Web surfing and purchasing behavior.

Each time a user scans a bar code, their browser reports the bar code and the device’s unique serial number to Digital:Convergence. The device’s first-time users must register personal information — name, email address, gender, age and ZIP code — at the company’s Web site. The new user also receives a cookied identification number. Digital:Convergence also sees the serial number of the user’s :CueCat each time a bar code is swiped.

Critics say these practices potentially allow the company to covertly trace the Web activity of an individual user and create a detailed database on their Web habits.

At the time, Digital:Convergence said customer registration information is retained only so it can track demographics, and to see from which publication a user came.

But that’s not all of the recent bad news for Digital:Convergence. Last month, a hacker gained access to some 140,000 :CueCat users’ demographic data and email addresses through a known security fault.

While admittedly lower-tech in that it doesn’t require peripherals, Ultigo touts this as its product’s biggest advantage from an ease-of-use factor: users have nothing to install.

And, for its part, Ultigo says that it will not share, sell or distribute personal information without users’ consent, although it says it does collect information for demographic purposes and to locate nearby retailers for featured products.

Yet it’s unclear how consumers and privacy advocates will respond to Ultigo — basic demographic information is required for a temporary account even if a user does not wish to make a purchase. Users must give their names and email addresses for a premium account, which cookies a user’s browser.

According to the company’s privacy statement, Ultigo records information from users’ browser including IP addresses, Ultigo cookie information and the pages a user requested.

It’s also likely that Ultigo, while not reselling lists, plans to send users marketing messages: the company says it uses this information to target advertising and to contact users about specials and new products.

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