Sunday, September 06, 2015

Are Digital Magazines Dead?

WHEN pondering the future of digital magazines, the “I’m not dead yet” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail may come to mind. Is the digital magazine industry ready to be carted off with the rest of the dead? Gregg Hano, CEO of MAG+, wrote a great piece pointing out the fact that we are actually just in the infancy of digital magazines. Digital magazines at the moment only represent a small portion of total magazine circulation, but their subscriber base doubled from 2012 to 2013 (AAM semiannual periodical snapshot report). Coincidentally, there is a rise in the number of digital magazines published each year, especially in international markets.

It is often forgotten that the digital publication industry has only been around since 2010. This should come as no surprise considering it is also the birth year of the modern tablet industry. As is to be expected with any emerging market, it takes several years for the pioneers of the digital magazine age to develop an earnest understanding of the underlying technologies. At the same time, digital magazines are far less static than traditional publications, given the devices they are viewed on and the intimacy of the user experience. Understanding how to properly produce content for such a new, yet familiar medium has been an exercise in passion and patience requiring a set of skills that takes years to develop.

Digital publications must also deal with a number of barriers that other publishing avenues have never encountered. Unlike their print counterparts, these publications have to abide by the consumer uptake of a small subset of digital devices. A mere 3% of the US population owned a tablet following the initial iPad release in 2010. In the first part of 2013 that number approached 34% (Pew Research Internet Project). The barriers for digital magazine distribution are thus decreasing. At the same time digitizing platforms are broadening the scope of where digital magazines can be published, such as within websites and on smartphones.

Other industries are beginning to recognize the advantages of entering the digital magazine publication realm — namely the ease with which they are able to distribute content and capture a unique set of data. Of all the interested industries, retailers are the most vehement. They are drifting away from the traditional catalog layout towards lookbooks, which offer a more lifestyle-oriented experience to consumers. In an attempt to increase productivity and decrease production costs, brands are also beginning to use digital publications to showcase new products to retailers. The growth of business to business digital magazines is even greater than that of consumer focused magazines, reinforcing the point that we are just beginning in what should be a continued expansion of the digital magazine market.

With viewership increasing year after year and more organizations producing content, it looks as though we are only witnessing a beginning in this form of communication. It is, however, still far too early to speculate what that path of its evolution will look like. As barriers continue to fall, the adoption rate for digital magazines should see growth. Digital magazines provide a unique experience in an age where information flows quickly and readers jump around between content. They have the opportunity to captivate audiences in ways that many of their counterparts cannot. Creativity, therefore, will reward digital magazine publishers well (by Ryan Jones is co-founder and CEO of Pixbi).

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