Though we publishers fret about rising postage rates and drool over the iPad, our financial statements tell another story: So far, digital editions have not lived up to the promise of bringing us more profits or even of saving us money.
Greed is not the main reason publishers often charge more for e-books, iPad magazines and other electronic formats than they do for the dead-tree versions, as I explain in iPadded Profits?, an article I wrote for Publishing Executive. It was posted on the magazine's Web site today.
The article shows how, despite common assumptions to the contrary, digital publications often cost more to produce and have a less favorable business model than their printed counterparts.
The article is significant in three ways:
1) Plenty of Web sites and publications have wanted to use my articles for free, but finally someone paid real money for an article. My roommate/partner is happy that we’re seeing some return -- beyond the usual AdSense nickels and dimes -- on my huge investment of time in this hobby.
2) The article strays from traditional Dead Tree Edition fare – paper, printing, postage, and the like – into such 21st Century topics as apps and e-books. Moral of the story: Pay an old print dinosaur a few bucks and suddenly he thinks he’s a new-media maven.
3) An actual expert reached much the same conclusion I did in my article. I submitted the article to Publishing Executive shortly before I saw this statement from John Squires, a former Time Inc. bigwig who helped found Next Issue Media:
"Despite the problems of the U.S. Postal Service, the cost of printing and distribution represents a relatively low percentage of publisher expenses–somewhere on the order of 20 to 25 percent today. Of course there are significant creative and technical costs in publishing a beautiful new magazine in tablet form. Just adapting to the variety of screen sizes, screen resolutions and operating systems requires significant new investments. These costs . . . more than eclipse the savings from eliminating paper and postage."
Not only do publishers have to adapt to the various e-publishing formats, we know from experience that some of those formats will soon be obsolete. Sure, inefficiency at USPS and in the newsstand system annoy us, but we know we'll still be mailing and selling printed magazines two years from now.