Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Troubling Sign for Tablet Magazines?

A study that purportedly shows tablet users' "preference for digital magazines over print magazines" actually suggests that people really don't like tablet magazines.

"23% of tablet users prefer digital magazines on tablets over print," says a blog post from Mequoda about its new study "How American Adults Consume Magazines on Tablets." The blog post and trade-media coverage interpret the data as meaning that tablet magazines are about to enter a boom period.

But here's the real news: Three-fourths of U.S. tablet users do not prefer digital magazines to print magazines. Read that sentence again: It doesn't say three-fourths of U.S. Luddites or of adults or of magazine readers; it says three-fourths of tablet users.

Isn't that a bit like people with Blu-Ray players preferring to watch VHS tapes?

In the same study, 51% of tablet users prefer streaming video to broadcast and 39% prefer e-books to printed books.

Yes, tablet use is growing. Mequoda found that a majority of U.S. internet users have access to a tablet. And yes people are learning to do more and more with them. Tablets are displacing laptops for many people.

But tablet owners apparently haven't fallen in love with reading magazines on their tablets.That may be why Newsweek has reportedly gone from 1.5 million subscribers to 470,000 less than six months after dropping print to go digital-only.

Despite all the hype about iPads and Kindles, U.S. magazine publishers are making far more money on the web and generally wondering when their tablet investments will pay off.

In fact, though no one seems to talk about it, the real game-changing technology for subscription magazines has been browser-based editions -- that is, digital replicas that can be read on any computer. Many a B2B publication has shifted 50% or more of its subscription base to these simple page-flip editions, but few print-and-digital publications get even 10% of their circulation from tablet editions.

Other recent Dead Tree Edition commentary on the magazine industry includes:


Marc Zazeela said...

Digital is not all it's cracked up to be. Once the shine has worn off, perhaps people will rediscover how much easier it is to read print versus digital.

Mark Harrison said...

Small wonder Newsweek is for sale yet again.

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased a tablet with the intention of saving money on book purchases.

Unfortunately discovering that I absolutely HATE reading e-books. Nothing replaces print media. Perhaps I am just too old to adapt?

So now I have an expensive iHeart radio receiver.

Ron said...

This column is misleading. If you read the report, it is loaded with facts about the rapid adoption of digital magazines by readers and the huge projected market in just the next couple of years. You come off as having an agenda by taking one fact from the many presented and twisting it to form your seemingly predetermined column idea. You're better than that DTE.

D. Eadward Tree said...

Ron, you are correct that the report claims there is rapid adoption of digital magazines. But the data don't bear out that claim. As for an agenda, mine is not a print-vs.-digital agenda but rather a matter of how the magazine industry prospers in the future. The web looks very promising but so far tablet magazines have been a disappointment, despite the rapid adoption of tablets. As an industry, we need to figure out why.

Anonymous said...

Its because you cant physically turn the pages! ?! I get several subscriptions in both formats - I strongly prefer reading my magazines in actual print. You can touch it. You can feel it. You can smell the perfume ads! You also dont have to worry about battery life or the issue downloading onto your device.

New generations may be different, as they wont be given the choice eventually. I sincerely hope that is NOT the case!!!

Mary Van Doren said...

It's pretty hard to decide whether digital magazines are going to take off without having more data. Mequoda's study is intended as a benchmark so we can actually how things go in the future.

And I admit I'm old too, but I love reading digital magazines and books. I love not having stuff cluttering up my house, and not killing trees in order to read. And that second part -- the environmental issue -- is something that we're hearing a lot from digital natives.

newsstandpromos said...

While tablets are becoming (or may become) ubiquitous, apps are not necessarily ubiquitous and that may be the issue with long term adoption by magazine readers. Sometimes it's just easier to call up the web page and browse the content than wait for some godawful app to download on a balky wi-fi connection. The same may be true for pdf flip versions. For one of the publishers I work with, the rate of adoption for the pdf version vs. the app suggests that is the case.

Scully0007 said...

Mary Van Doren writes, "...not killing trees in order to read."

Please understand that paper is the most renewable and recyclable resource we have. All the books and magazines I can read in my lifetime will have been long re-used before one tablet will biodegrade - not to mention the fact that books can easily be passed on without the worry of software compatibility and once produced they never need electricity again.

Also, the trees used to produce just about anything in this country are grown by tree-farmers that responsibly manage their forests. Saying you're "saving a tree" is as ludicrous as saying you're saving the farmer down the street by refusing to buy his corn. Want the forests to stay forests? Then the demand for the tree-farmers product must stay strong, otherwise he'll have to find another way to feed his family.

There are a variety of websites out there that begin to dispel the myths propagated by large corporations looking to "save green" by not paying to print and mail your monthly statements. Please visit to read the farmers point of view. There are other sites out there but they aren't coming to mind just now.

Mary Van Doren said...

Scully, I'm not arguing science, but I do know that millenials think what they think. You can't change that or argue it away if you want to survive in the magazine business.

Heck, as a certified Old Person, I still remember my 1970s training when we really did worry about killing trees. Either way, there are a lot of consumers who like the idea of tree-free reading.

Al said...

@Mary ditto on millenials ('m not one) and like it or leave it, can't change it so assimilate. BUT anyone from print heritage betting digital only is smoking their trees. Publishers doing it right know readers are connected from multiple "touch" points (notice I didn't use "device") and use tablet editions as an arrow in the quiver for clever print + digital bundling tactics to drive incremental sub rates and ad revenues.

Anonymous said...

I once read an ad from a custom media company that posited the following:

"Flipbooks are for kids, not magazines."
The ad went on to ask:
"Ever see an online magazine that let's you flip through the pages like a printed copy?
"We have, too.
"Ever sit down and actually read through one of them?
"Neither have we.
"And chances are your members won't either."

While the company was selling their own service, their point about flip books was so very on target. Just because pubs are deploying them doesn't mean readers are reading them.

One other thought: We would all be better served by being careful and specific when referring to "digital" pubs, so we know whether the reference is to flip books, websites, mobile-optimized websites, or tablet editions (with pages designed specifically to maximize tablet viewing). They are very different things and deliver very different qualities of experience.

victoria said...

Hi! I work in Zetenta Digital Publishing ( where we speacialize in tablet magazines development. Through experience, we found that the interactivity is the key to readers' engagement. The publishers must start thinking contents for tablets from the very start , so they can be fully taken advantage of, providing a rich high-value product that generates engagement.