The demise of print
If you were considering launching a book or a magazine in 2010, would you choose paper or the internet as your publishing medium?
Conventional wisdom would have it that print is in decline, but hard evidence suggests it is not so clear cut. Where books are concerned, Amazon's Kindle, a lightweight portable e-book reader, seems like an ideal solution and that may be true for reading books on the train whilst commuting but not so with text books. In a recent test, Amazon distributed its Kindle readers to students at a number of US colleges. The usability study showed that 90% of students enjoyed using the Kindle when reading for pleasure, but 80% of them didn't enjoy using it as a study aid. The electronic book was great for linear reading, its legibility is good and it has a long battery life, but pretty hopeless for flicking through to find the right page the way one often does with paper, for flipping back and forth between two pages when checking something, and clunky at best when it comes to highlighting sections or scribbling notes in the margin. With the release of Apple's iPad it may be that they spur each other on to better book reading interfaces and raise consumer interest in eBooks.
With magazines it is even less clear cut. We do get a great deal of our news now from online sources and many paper titles have ceased to exist. However, in December 2009, Sweenies of San Francisco published a 320 page newspaper titled Panorama which was printed in full colour on old-fashioned broadsheet and included articles by Stephen King and Pullitzer-prize winning journalist Robert Portersfield. Panorama was a one-off issue as a homage to journalism and was priced at $5 on the street and $16 in book stores. It sold out its entire print run of 20,000 copies within days, and a second print run of another 20,000 copies almost as quickly.
Whilst people are still willing to pay money for print, online news magazines are finding it harder to create revenue. For publications adopting the subscription model, it is proving very hard to get sufficient subscribers for the low cost general news magazines. The Times, for example, is promoting its online version as 25% off the cover price, charging £6 per week. That may be good value if that is your only source of news, but seems expensive when you know that you can just as easily find most of the same news online for free. Subscription services probably need to become highly specialised with unique content to be viable in future. One such service which we have been working with is GRC Viewpoint which provides a highly specialised weekly newsletter on financial services and government compliance.
The other main business model is advertising-funded publications and again the publishers struggle. Almost every website of any size thinks it should be able to make a respectable income from advertising and don't realise just how many clicks they need on adverts to get any measurable revenue. Even Facebook with all its millions of members is struggling to make enough money from on-site advertising. News publishers are now competing with countless websites which are set up purely as advertising billboards with minimal journalistic overheads, where content is obtained from public news feeds or scraped from Wikipedia. In this world, the future for ad-funded magazines may be to focus on specialised subjects and niche audiences, and to deliver adverts which are highly specific to that audience. We have recently been working with Tilezine which is a specialist ad-supported magazine for the tiling industry.
We are seeing more magazines such as these published by small enterprises where the low overheads of online production make them viable. On the other hand, along with the demise of print we are also seeing a demise in the value people place on traditional journalism which will ultimately affect its quality. In years to come we may have to rely on state-funded institutions like the BBC to provide quality journalism in mainstream news.
28th May 2010
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.