Who's Reading Digital Magazines?

By By William Dunkerley on May 01, 2014

Not editors. A survey reveals only a minority are digital subscribers themselves.



We did a quick survey about reading habits and practices of editors vis-a-vis digital magazines. The results show: editors are digital pushers, not users. What this means is that we are doing more digital publishing than digital reading.  That's an interesting dichotomy to ponder as you plan the digital future of your publication. If we are not eager adopters of digital magazines, what makes us think our readers will be?

The Push for Digital

A lot of the push for migrating from print to digital is based on financial arguments. Many magazines never recovered from ad losses incurred in the Great Recession. Attempts to reinvigorate print ad content may have failed. That's prompted hopes for digital revenues to make up the shortfall.

A lot of statistics bandied about suggest that print is indeed dying and that digital is the key to survival for magazines. We examined this issue in our sister publication STRAT in October 2013 in an article titled"The False Allure of Going All Digital." We found evidence that interest in digital advertising greatly exceeds that of print advertising. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Interest in digital advertising far exceeds that with print. The graph exemplifies this in relative terms. (Source: Google Trends)

Some ad industry publications harp on the meteoric growth in digital advertising. But they often quote figures in terms of percentages, not dollars. When you look at the dollars, you see a different picture: for now, and even projecting into the future, the actual revenue from digital advertising is a relatively small percentage. See Figure 2.

Figure 2: For most print publishers, digital revenues are still a very small part of the revenue pie. By 2016 digital is expected to double, but that still leaves it well below print circulation and advertising in size. (Source: Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications Industry Forecast, 26th edition)

The First Survey

As editors, our fortunes are tied closely to success in ad sales. More ads, more editorial pages and greater budgets.

So we surveyed a sample of Editors Only readers to see how many are engaged in producing digital magazines. This was just a quick survey, and we don't claim a high degree of accuracy. But it should be accurate enough to give us insights into the current situation.

The results?

We found that a resounding 85 percent of editors are involved in producing digital magazines. Almost all of them are doing print magazines too. For example, Nancy Doucette, managing editor ofRough Notes magazine, explains: "The publication I work for is a trade publication. It is a print publication. We also have on our website a digital version of that same print publication." Our survey didn't ask whether or not participants' digital magazines are replica editions, but half of the respondents volunteered that they are. That means that if we had included that question in the survey, the percentage of replica editions reported would likely be significantly higher.

The Second Survey

Then we did another survey of EO readers. For this one we drew a separate sample that did not include participants in the first survey. This time we asked whether the editors themselves are subscribers to any digital magazines. We found that only one-third are. What's more, less than half of those digital subscribers spend more than a single minute reading the issues they subscribe to.

Karen Hildebrand, VP-editorial at Dance magazine, says, "I receive digital editions of a few magazines as part of a print edition package. Honestly, I rarely read the digital editions. I simply forget about them."

A number of respondents reported that they read the digital editions of their competitors. Mike McNulty, editor of Wire & Cable Technology International, explains, "I don't subscribe to any outside digital magazines; but I read my own digital edition, as well as that of my competitors."

Our Methodology and Results

A note on our survey methodology: Why did we do two separate surveys instead of asking all the questions in a single survey? It's because we anticipated that after reporting engagement in the publication of a digital edition, respondents might be reluctant to admit to not subscribing to any outside digital publications themselves.

That suspicion was born out in the results. Even though we kept the questions separate, there appears to have been reluctance to report not subscribing to outside digital magazines. How do we know that? The response rate in the survey about subscriptions was about half that of the other survey.

If we had asked the same question in both surveys, one would expect the response rates to be approximately the same. The vast difference in response rates indicates a reluctance to answer the question about subscriptions. The response rate would likely been even lower if we had asked both questions together.

This all suggests that the actual percentage of editors who subscribe to outside digital magazines is actually less than the one-third that our survey indicates.

So, in conclusion, we ask the question again, "If we are not eager adopters of digital magazines, what makes us think our readers will be?"

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants,www.publishinghelp.com.

May 01, 2014
Categories:  Print|Industry News

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