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How Will Magazines Remain Profitable In The Digital Age?

By Expert Author: Joe Jenkins

The online and digital media industry has been welcomed by billions of people across the world for its ease of access and convenience of location, however the magazine industry has seen a decline in hard copy sales since the dawn of the digital age and the future doesn't look promising as magazine after magazine drop out of the industry, leaving those left looking for a new and viable option to maintain presence within the market. Now this presence may have been found through the intervention of digital media and the development of tablets such as the iPad and smart phones alike, but just where does this leave the print industry?
It all began in the late 90's when the age of online browsing ignited and people began to realise the potential that the online market had to offer. The continued advances within the online sector and advances within smartphones and ease of portability have made it possible for the world's population to access online entertainment anytime, anywhere, resulting in the digital industry now burning brightly.
However, magazines find themselves under attack from a number of different sources, be it the advances of digital media, such as the introduction of multi-channel television from Sky, or competition from newspapers which have tendencies to print features and content which are predominantly written for magazine publication. These other options for viewing content, combined with the problem of their being too many magazines within the industry already, have put a large burden on the ability for a magazine to succeed in the print industry. Such pressures from rival mediums has left many wandering just how long print production can carry on before the novelty of 'the magazine' wears off.
The continued worry within the industry has led them to advance into the digital domain, in order to maintain coverage in a growing multimedia world. The way in which many have chosen to take on the digital realm is through production of content which can be easily accessed via gadgets such as the tablet and smartphones. Jim White, Chief Sports Editor at the Daily Telegraph, believes that "Tablet versions of magazines are as attractive to look at, while adding additional value in terms of inter-activity. The migration of Newsweek - America's second largest circulation magazine - to a digital only platform is indicative of the fact traditional magazine format is now as vulnerable as newspapers." Many professionals now consider that the only way magazines will survive within the print industry is if the specific title has a significant value within its presentation. An example of this is Private Eye and the old fashioned feel the magazine gives to the reader, this attractiveness would not be possible to replicate online and is the reason the magazine will likely survive.
Online publishing seems like the only possibility for most magazines to stay in circulation and is beginning to take form on a number of platforms, including smartphones, tablets and the internet. There are a number of reasons for this switchover including the ability for the reader to take advantage of digital user content through multimedia options, creating an option for their reader that is a great deal more fulfilling. Not only that, but whilst the reader is enjoying a multiplatform experience, the publishers is saving costs on production and managing to deliver content to the reader at a faster pace, through bypassing the middle men, otherwise known as distributors. Making the change over to the digital platform also allows the publisher to make its product available to a wider audience, with statistics indicating that the number of tablet users will grow by 50% per year.
There have however been concerns over the decisions made by some titles to switch to the digital side. These include questions over costs that will be taken directly from the cover price of a magazine, to fund extra editorial costs such as 24 hour multimedia production and costs to intermediaries such as Apple, who will ensure they receive a percentage for allowing each title to be placed on their newsstand or be made accessible using any of their devices. These factors plus additional costs such as technical expertise, needed to ensure that titles are always viewable, leave magazine publishers on a sticky wicket. There are also threats to the digitalised industry due to expectations of lower add rates, although Jim White declares "the advantage for advertisers is that an e-magazine format can allow much quicker linking to advertisers' own websites, with all their home shopping potential." Meaning that for some specialist magazines the likeliness of gaining equal ad rates are limited, but for those with a wider audience and a wider ad range, the switchover may not be so costly after all.
But for magazines to remain profitable in the digital age they need to have a niche that a reader is willing to spend their hard earned on, White explains "The only way magazines will remain profitable in the digital age is to offer a specialist or unique service. Something that cannot be found online." This type of magazine will have to have the ability to display a forte which cannot be replicated digitally. An example of this is Economist magazine, which continues to write specialist print that it does not release online, making sure its consumers continue to buy hard copies month after month. However general interest or specialist magazines which can be published online to an adequate standard will struggle within the market. As White clarifies "People still like the feel of a magazine, the fact they can read it on the toilet. A certain type of magazine nerd likes to collect back copies. But e-readers and tablets are quickly reducing the number of that kind of reader."
So for now the industry is left in limbo, as magazines make the decision to either switch to digital platforms or ride the storm and hope eventually their content has that little extra to remain profitable and sitting on the newsstand.

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