« March 2015 | Home | May 2015 »

Issue for April 2015

Isn't It Time for Print to Die and Go Away?

Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 11:33 AM

A reader's question: When will print advocates finally admit the future is digital?

By William Dunkerley

Q. I had a conversation with a friend about the future of print magazines. Frankly, we couldn't see what role they have to play. What are the economic justifications for their survival? There may be a few, but from a business standpoint I don't find them convincing. Digital publications are much cheaper to produce and distribute. They offer unmatched flexibility for making changes and corrections. And there are many convenient device options for reading them: tablets, phablets, smartphones, laptops, and desktops. What could be better than that? These devices make digital publications as readily usable as printed publications. Print magazines also fly in the face of the evolving reading behavior of young readers. My son hasn't read a print magazine for many years now. When I look around on public transportation, I see not a single young person reading either a printed magazine or even a book -- only electronic devices. What's there to say for the hard-copy approach to publication? Older people won't have to become accustomed to something new? Would they miss the smell of ink on paper or the rustling of pages? It doesn't seem to me like there's much business future for print. What do you think?

A. Digital publications certainly can be cheaper to produce than print magazines. But while cost of production and distribution are important factors in the success of a publication, they're not the only ones. A better measure of the efficacy of print vs. digital is profitability. And even today, many publishers are finding that their print products are far more profitable than the digital ones. As long as that remains the case, there will be an incentive to continue printing.

Despite the popularity of the array of digital reading devices that are available, there are still some things they don't do well. Here's just one: If you are looking at a two-page spread in a standard-size magazine, you can have a considerable amount of information, text or graphics, right before your eyes. You can scan it quickly, you can compare one thing with another, you can appreciate a well-designed spread. Try doing that on a smartphone. It's true that you can come close to print's display capability on a tablet, laptop, or desktop. But those devices are far less portable than a print magazine, and the batteries on a print magazine never run out. Perhaps future electronic displays can somehow overcome the small-screen-itis that afflicts the pocket-size devices. I don't know when that will happen, though.

The point you make about evolving reading habits is a very important one. It actually goes far beyond the mere print vs. digital dilemma.

The kind of material that is well suited for large-dimension viewing modalities (i.e., print, tablets, etc.) becomes very clunky when you try to access it on a small-screen device. Some publishers have taken the lead in producing smartphone editions. They are responding to the changing trends in reading.

But I think even they are just looking at the tip of the iceberg regarding modern reading preferences. Just as young people are accustomed to reading on digital devices, they are also used to hyperlinked text. They are three-dimensional readers. That necessitates a very different approach to the preparation of copy. With the old print model, text had to be presented in a linear flow. In other words, people read from start to finish. (The use of sidebars is a minor exception.)

It seems to me that the most convenient digital product will have far less linear text and far more links to click. The core article can then be much more compact and much more small-screen friendly. This approach empowers the reader either to click on a link to an elaboration on something or to ignore it if it's not of particular interest.

Some have speculated that evolving reading habits actually call into question the role of a magazine itself. Traditionally a magazine has represented a selection of articles that is made by the editors. The selection is presumably based on the editors' understanding of the readers' needs and interests.

So here's a question for you: In a digital world is it even necessary to have editors making selections like that? Why not empower the reader to make his or her own selections? Theoretically this is possible now by using search engines. But when, for instance, you do a Google search for something, you are bombarded with results that include a lot of irrelevant garbage. Perhaps publishers should step in here somehow.

What about this: As a publisher, produce only articles. Forget about the concept of a magazine. Instead, provide readers with an intelligent searching facility so they will be empowered to get right to the heart of the available content that interests them.

Maybe it's time for the magazine concept to die and go away. I don't know about that. What do you think?

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

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

ASME Guideline Changes

Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 11:28 AM

In the news: The magazine industry is evolving in recognition of the changing relationship between advertisers and magazine content producers.

Earlier this month, the American Society of Magazine Editors updated its advertising guidelines. The move reflects industry-wide changes in the relationship between editorial and advertorial content, as discussed in the above linked article. AdAge sums up the changes in the deck of a recent article: "Now OK for Editors to Make Ads."

Michael Sebastian writes on AdAge.com, "Unlike the old guidelines, where discouraging cover ads was the first item on the list, now there's no specific language dissuading publishers from selling cover ads." Read his analysis here and the updated guidelines here.

Also Notable

How Effective Is Native Advertising?

As discussed above, native advertising is a hot topic in magazine publishing right now. But does it actually work? In a recent Copyranter column on Digiday.com, Mark Duffy evaluates the overall effectiveness of sponsored content on editorial websites. The article opens with a bold declaration: "Native advertising doesn't sell for brands. It does little for consumers looking to make a product choice. And it continues to compromise editorial content." He focuses on BuzzFeed's recent conflicRead the full article here.

Staff Changes at Meredith

Last week, Meredith Corporation laid off approximately 100 staffers. The magazine publishing giant now employs under 4,000. Sydney Ember of the New York Times writes that the layoffs "affected employees across all divisions of the company, with the majority coming from its offices in New York and its headquarters in Des Moines." Read more here.

Six-Year High for B2B

2014 was a good year for B2B media, which raked in $27 billion. It was the segment's best showing since 2008 and a 3.3 percent increase over the previous year. Read more here.

Add your comment.

Posted in (RSS)

« March 2015 | Top | May 2015 »