What’s behind the rise in digital magazines
They could overtake print editions as soon as 2020
August 16, 2012
Digital editions make up less than 2 percent of total magazine circulation, but their numbers are growing at a torrid pace. During the six-month reporting period that ended June 30, the number of digital editions more than doubled compared to the previous year, going from 2 million to 5.4 million, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Over the next eight years magazines will undergo a huge change, with digital editions edging print by 2020, according to a forecast from mediaIDEAS, a global research and advisory firm. But magazines still face some hurdles in this arena. Some have criticized them for not being more creative with their digital editions, turning them into little more than a replica of the print experience. And others say that magazines need to come up with better distribution platforms than the ones that are currently available before digital editions can really take off. David Renard, partner at mediaIDEAS, talks to Media Life about the future of digital editions, when digital will overtake print, and why publishers' tiff with Apple over its newsstand turned out to be nothing more than a small speed bump.
ABC released numbers last week on digital editions. Were its numbers in line with what you expected?
They are part of the decline [for print editions] we predicted four years ago in our "Forecasted U.S. Periodical Market from 2007-2020" study.
The periodical industry, worth approximately $37 billion in 2007, has been declining and will reach a low of $30 billion in 2014. The biggest declines come from the print business, which includes newsstand sales and print advertising. The digital business has been slowly increasing but this increase has not yet overcome the decline of print.
As of now digital editions still make up less than 2 percent of total circulation. How long until we see them start to eat into print circ?
We believe that over the next five years you will see a dramatic rise in digital magazine adoption and sales, to the point where the value of the digital part of the magazine industry–including digital magazines, web sites, apps, and all digital ads–will overtake the print part of the industry by 2020.
What are the qualities of a successful digital edition?
The main quality of a digital edition is not to be an edition. There needs to be a different product created for the digital platform, not just a replica of the print edition. To me that is more than just an edition of a singular print product.
And each of the various classes of digital platforms–the PC, e-reading devices, smart TV, etc.–needs a distinct product because users interact with content differently on each of them. This is obviously an ideal, given the costs involved in making the transition to a distinct product per platform, but it needs to be a goal for each magazine publisher if they want to remain relevant over the next 10 years.
How much have platform issues, i.e. getting on the Apple newsstand, deciding which tablets to tailor to, impacted digital editions' growth?
I think these have not been the main impediments to digital growth for magazines.
It has been clear from the beginning what platform to develop for: first Apple and now both Apple and the various shades of Android. And Apple Newsstand, though it created a barrier for publishers wanting to get user data, many publishers like Hearst have seen a high opt-in rate by users wanting to share their data.
The main issues with regards to the growth of magazine content on e-reading devices is that the experience is still too similar to a printed edition.
On a smartphone or a tablet, people want to interact with the content differently than with a printed magazine. They want interactivity and other immediately engaging functionality that most publishers have not developed or are taking too long to do so.
The magazine industry should be developing and actively investing in new forms of interactivity with content. When we get a device with a screen that is actually the size of a magazine, that is light and flexible enough to not break and to be easily carried around, we will have a device that is ideal to present magazine content as it is now.
But until then we rely on devices with a much smaller form factor, and we need to be innovative in terms of our content: how to display it, how to let people interact with it, how to make it engaging.
How have your projections for published content on e-readers changed over the past two years?
Our projections for published content–magazine, books, business documents/reports, catalogs–on e-reading platforms has increased because of the amazing adoption smartphones and tablets have had worldwide. The growth has been far more aggressive then we projected initially.
How long until we get to the point where the majority of formerly print content goes digital?
We have not looked at this beyond magazines and books. As stated above, the value of the digital part of the magazine industry, including digital magazines, web sites, apps, and all digital ads, will overtake the print part of the industry by 2020.
We forecast the same for the book industry.
What's the most important thing media buyers and planners can keep in mind during this evolution?
The key question for a media buyer and planner to ask a magazine is: How are you proving that readers are engaging with my ad? It is easier to prove on a digital platform because you can get data on views and click-throughs. But in print, how are they tracking and measuring it?
As an industry, magazine publishers need to increasingly be able to answer this question because it will continue to gnaw at the print business. Print can deliver amazing brand exposure to readers that love the content and the ads and make purchasing decisions based on what they see in the pages of the magazine. But publishers still need to prove it.
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