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Digital Editions are (likely) costing you more than you think

In its 2022 year-end client survey, AAM, the Alliance for Audited Media, pointed to the fact that 63% of publishers reported an increase in digital subscriptions as one of the few positives in a “challenging” year (which also saw the announcement of BPA and AAM’s merger and VAC’s immediate closure due to a shrinking client base).

For the 80% of respondents who reported increased production costs and the 67% hoping to decrease those costs in 2023, an uptick in digital subscriptions seems like a step in the right direction.

I’d argue it’s not.

Digital editions have never been the panacea the industry hoped they would be. Audiences didn’t warm to the early, clunky, hard to read, hard to navigate digital magazines. New revenue streams failed to offset the added expense the early providers were charging. Soon, many trade publishers opted for cheaper, do-it-yourself, replicas of print (with a flipbook sound effect for good measure).

Technologies have improved. The introduction of tablets in the early 2000’s revived hope, but again the digital edition failed to take hold as smartphone technology exploded and more and more people had access to instant information at their fingertips.

As the new century turned ten, digital editions came back into favor for publishers, if not readers, as a way to cut costs and for some, survive. For publishers still producing print magazines, offering digital editions became a way to dress up slashed print runs as a customer benefit rather than a survival measure.

It worked for a while. But, as with any crutch, over-reliance on it weakened our audience base rather than strengthening it.

Dig into your digital edition stats and you’ll likely find that only a small percentage of your digital only audience opens your new issue email notifications, and fewer still access the digital edition regularly (if ever).

To add insult to injury, serving digital only to requesters can lead to an erosion in the quality of the print file if the print file is padded with aging non-responders or purchased lists to maintain guaranteed rate bases.

My suggestion? Serve your most qualified audiences - one year requests in your primary geographic and demographic niches - both print and digital. Push aging and non-requested circulation to digital only distribution. Then find ways to re-engage and re-qualify as many of those digital only folks as you can.


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