Some interesting conversations with publishers last week about digital editions of magazines. The excitement of the launch of these products has settled into a realism about their use and about their limitations.
There are still a few publications where the digital version is being set up as the replacement for the print edition, but in many more cases the new medium is viewed as supplementary to the old.
As the Dovetail Digital Subscriber Survey shows, the number of “digital only” subscribers (i.e. ones that have no print product subscriptions) is vanishingly small (<1%). It will grow, but the much greater number are those mixing print and digital products.
This chimes with publishers’ experience. They had initial euphoria as large numbers of shell apps/sample editions were downloaded, but this growth wasn’t (indeed couldn’t be) sustained or turned into digital-only revenue streams. Digital only subs are still growing for most publishers, but these growth rates are much slower and, in some cases, have completely levelled out. The potential for substantially expanding a title’s market through digital editions is much more limited than publishers first thought.
Where publishers are seeing interesting stats is with ‘bundled’ subscriptions. What seems to be happening is that the digital version deepens these readers’ relationship with their title. Rather than just reading the magazine in the same way, at the same time, in the same place as they always have with the print version, the digital edition allows for different engagements. We’re not talking here about consumption of different content, but a more frequent interaction with the magazine – it allows a reader to, say, dip in and out of their magazine during the week without having to carry the physical product around every day, or revisit an older issue that wasn’t finished, or even just for subscribers to be able to read the new edition when they’re away from home.
It is early days, but subscribers are using the digital version to engage with the magazine more frequently and seem to be renewing their subscriptions at significantly higher rates and so have much better lifetime values.
If that’s true, then, far from being a threat to print magazines, digital editions might just help (some of) them survive.