Why digital magazines are thriving

25 Oct 2012  |  James Papworth 

James Papworth, marketing director of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA), on magazines and their digital revolution...

Digital magazines, a commentator recently wrote, have failed. Unlike their creative industry cousins of books, music and film, magazine publishers are "failing to adapt their business models" and "must think more creatively".

Furthermore, the industry has, apparently, "yet to meet its insurgent" - the product or service that will singlehandedly redefine the "stagnating" market.

This isn't really a picture we're familiar with so, in the interests of balance, here are six reasons why digital 'magazines' are thriving.

1. Our revolution is just beginning

It's clear that the content industries have undergone and are undergoing their own digital revolutions catalysed by new technology but it is equally clear that these revolutions are playing out at very different speeds: it was back in 2007 that book publishers were introduced to the Kindle; the iPod was launched into the music industry more than a decade ago; and Netflix began digitally distributing film even before that.

In contrast, the iPad (which is, arguably, the 'insurgent' for digital magazines) was first announced just 2 years ago and Newsstand - the real catalyst for the boom in digital magazines - has only just celebrated its first birthday.

This has also given magazines the chance to learn from what has gone before and publishers, in tandem with the PPA, have kept a close eye on issues such as distribution and piracy.

2. Audiences are growing rapidly

Magazine readers have, if you'll excuse the pun, grasped Apple's tablet with both hands. The familiar content-consumption experience, which The Economist refers to as Lean Back 2.0, allied to the Newsstand shop window has pushed digital magazines high up iPad owners' purchase priorities.

This is reflected in the most recent ABC figures where the audience figure for the 60 titles (25% of the total) that opted to include paid-for digital editions within their audit was recorded at 185,210 - a period on period increase of 92%. And if you average out the copy sales per title, this represents an increase of 226%.

3. There are no signs of this growth stopping anytime soon

In the third quarter of this year Apple sold 17 million iPads, an 84% increase compared with the same period the previous year. The company has just unveiled a smaller and more affordable iPad, opening up a further tranche of the tablet market.

Google has also tapped into this rich vein with the launch of the Nexus 7. One analyst estimates the company shipped 1 million devices in the three months between July and September alone.

With further new models priced at under £160, such as the Kindle Fire HD, it's going to be a bumper tablet Christmas (again).

4. The audience are willing to pay

While business models, pricing strategies and monetisation continue to work themselves out, it remains clear that consumers are happy to pay for content on tablets and digital magazines are no exception.

In its trading update last month Future stated that sales of digital editions on Apple devices have passed £5 million in the period since the Apple Newsstand was launched in October 2011.

5. It's a new creative platform for advertisers

The PPA's Magnify study into print advertising gave clear evidence that magazine readers are equally engaged with editorial and advertising content and the same is true of both on tablets.

Furthermore, the medium's dynamic nature is handing advertisers - such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz - new opportunities to deliver interactive creative into the hands of consumers and early research indicates that these executions are outperforming static pages. But then let's remember, our revolution is just beginning.

6. It's a new creative platform for publishers

It might not be what we expected but for some titles - and more pertinently, their audiences - it is enough to deliver their replica content in the pages of a digital edition, with the curated, crafted page designs sufficiently brought to life through a retina display.

Other titles and audiences, however, have fully embraced the possibilities of the format with open arms, adapting their content and tapping into the expanding audience base.

The most recent data release by the ABC, for example, also coincided with the first ABC Digital Publications Certificate, which enables publishers to give advertisers access to a verified audience circulation figure for digital publications that do not fall within the current ABC digital editions rules.

Whichever route they have taken, the results are undeniably impressive as the examples of T3 and Vogue demonstrate. Furthermore, the fact that 40% of all digital editions read across the entire world are produced in the UK is testament to how UK publishers are mastering the art.

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