Digital Magazines – a new content type?

Posted on March 14, 2012

Magazines are a really interesting content format and they fulfil many different needs. People read magazines for different reasons, some are routed in cultural norms and others for entertainment. Think of the North American or French in-depth news weeklies like Time, Macleans or La Nouvelle Observateur. Think too of Men’s Health, Cosmopolitian or Runner’s World as entertainment.

There is a large variety of magazines available today, but they all have two things in common:

1. They are released periodically, usually in a bound form that is either digital or print – mostly still print.

2. They are sold either as individual editions or as a subscription at a vastly reduced rate (and your personal details are then sold on).

Antony Kosner in Forbes magazine argues that with the digitization of magazines, a move towards unbundling articles from an edition into individual articles that can then be bought on that basis is possible. He argues that as with album sales, people only read some articles so should only pay for those that they read.

In this case though, doesn’t that turn magazines into a paywall-based newspaper? What’s the difference between a magazine and a paid blogging site apart from nice graphics?

I’d argue that bundling of content is here to stay, but bundling into editions makes little sense. Bundling was necessary in the print world to make logistics costs bearable. As magazines become increasingly digital, and are increasingly consumed on mobile tablet devices such as the iPad, it makes less and less sense to bundle articles into editions. Independent articles can be published as and when appropriate and can be drip-fed to consumers. That would certainly change consumption patterns and may lead to increased overall article consumption. Articles can still be bundled as part of a theme, for example, The Economist has Technology reviews with about eight to ten articles. These can all be released together and promoted as one theme.

The magazine industry is perfectly suited to this. As subscriptions are the preferred payment model, it no longer matters if articles are bundled together. That model came from the print world as neat little bundles were necessary to make distribution costs modest. Digital doesn’t have this constraint.

Hence going forward, a digital magazine can offer two purchasing options: 1. a month for, say $5 and 2. a year for $25. Easy and cheap to try, good value for the year.