The future is mobile!
This was the message last Wednesday from Google chairman Eric Schmidt as he took to the stage at the Magazine Publishers Association conference flanked by Wired editor-in-chief Scott Dadich. This may not exactly be news to a lot of us but when the subject in hand is magazines, how they fit into the digital structure and the environment in which the subject is being aired is taken into account, you tend to take notice.The print v digital debate has been raging for some time now with different parties firmly ensconced in both camps for varying reasons, some even have a have a foot in both camps such is the pull between both parties. What isn’t in doubt is we have been witnessing a shift in attitudes and habit amongst consumers for some time, the introduction and rise of smartphone and tablets has only accentuated this shift in consumer opinion and trends.
Print v digital the figures
The first newspapers and magazines have been around since the early 17th century, their popularity propelled by the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. While Bibles and other books were among the first things produced by Gutenberg’s press, it wasn’t until the 17th century that the first newspapers were distributed in Europe. In the earliest days of newspapers, they were handwritten and thus did not enjoy widespread circulation. Literacy was also rare, so the earliest examples of news writings were almost certainly the purview of the upper classes and those who served them in an intellectual capacity. Newspapers would gradually become a staple of everyday life, so much so that they dominated our as our portal for access to information for centuries to come. Print first started to show a decline with the advent of first radio and then television, people no longer had to rely on newspapers are their only source of information, the introduction of the internet has hastened this process to an alarming level.
A recent ABC survey which combined print and digital figures have shown that while print figures are falling, digital is helping to offset this loss, indeed in some cases it has overtaken print circulation altogether. The analysis by PPA showed that 6 out of 55 titles surveyed had turned around their deficit in circulation to yield a profit, all largely due to digital editions. Two such examples Total Film and GQ are leading the way in this print/digital amalgamation. Total film has an average digital circulation of 12,280, this accounts for 16.4% of their total circulation figures. Men’s lifestyle magazine GQ also fares well, selling 12,231 digital copies monthly. This figure, while being slightly lower at 9.4% of the monthly combined total still represents a success for GQ as figures have shown a 27% rise in digital figures which offsets their fall of 1.97% in print sales into an overall increase of 0.17%.
The biggest increase was for BBC History Magazine, which grew digital circulation by 693 per cent to 8,770, while Conde Nast’s flagship title Vogue saw its digital circulation increase by 463 per cent to 7,601. These figures imply that all may not yet be lost, there are still readers for these publications, the consumer hasn’t stopped craving quality, relevant content. It may be the case that they have just so many access points that people are being divided by the choice on offer. It is without question that the advent of digital and the internet in particular has changed the landscape indefinitely but this doesn’t mean it has to be to our detriment, far from it, as Eric Schmidt continued to say:
“Tablets are now more popular than PCs,” he said. “You can read it, it knows where you are, it has an accelerometer. There are all sorts of stuff [publishers] can do in tablet magazines [that they] couldn’t do in print magazines.”
Five years from now, the world will have “powerful, tablet-looking things — [devices] that look roughly like a tablet — as a substitute for traditional media,” Schmidt predicted. Those tablets will have apps that are “incredibly immersive,” including magazine apps, which will take advantage of people’s social graphs, location data and other features to offer a more interactive experience, he said.
“It should be very positive for [publishers],” Schmidt added. “In the world of online advertising, the location signal allows you much more targeted ads [than print] ads today … [The more targeted they are], the more likely [readers] are to click, and the more likely advertisers will bid up the price of [ads].”
What the future may hold
The argument shouldn’t be between whether print or digital triumphs one over the other, but rather what both formats can do to complement each another in these tough economic times, times which have seen the rise of digital media to behemoth levels and a time when print circulation is falling. Figures that have been covered earlier in this blog clearly outline the benefits of a measured, focused and defined approach to dovetailing the two mediums. Like people themselves, no two mediums are completely the same, and as such, both should be treated with equal respect and given due consideration and thought.
Too often people and sometimes the publishers themselves look on digital magazines as an afterthought to the magazine itself, assuming that all the effort and creativity should be put into the print edition primarily as this was the traditional medium of choice. This approach couldn’t be further away from the path that should be embraced; digital offers us so many inroads to avenues that up until recently we had no access, how much more powerful is a story that includes audio? Video? These facets of digital should be utilized to their full potential for the consumer’s end use; after all it is the consumer who will be paying the subscription, digesting the content.
Sure, digital holds obvious advantages over print, the fact that it is more accessible and portable, can boast interactive features unthinkable only a few short years ago, offer low production costs, reader interaction, offer customizable publications targeted to specific sector or readers and offer possible new revenue streams only strengthens its case. The benefits of digital are transparent; they are there for all to see. This doesn’t mean that print has completely lost its appeal; it will always command an audience who prefer the ‘paper page’, the physical aspect of the printed word which is unique in its own respect. The printed word holds provenance, can define a person by their collection, hold nostalgia and are highly collectible.
Who knows, maybe the trend of digital will actually push print editions into the ‘prestige’ category from where it began, perhaps print will be the coffee table staple of the sophisticated household. One thing is for sure, print and digital are going to have to learn to live and thrive with one another, one doesn’t necessarily have to die for the other to flourish. It may be that both mediums can cater for the many tastes that we as a race imbibe. The many talented journalists, editors, photographers can work together with the web designers and software programmers to ensure both mediums can thrive side by side, one complementing the other, only then may we see a true reflection of what digital and print unified as a force can ultimately achieve and provide for the end user.