The scenario goes something like this: Faced with budgetary constraints, an organization stops printing their flagship piece and opts to post it online instead. Smart move or bad idea? Will a digital version be as effective in meeting the organization’s goals?
To answer that question, Dr. Robert Magee of Virginia Tech ran a study last year that examined reader response to the university’s alumni magazine. According to a summary by Print in the Mix, “alumni subscribers received either a print version of the magazine or an e-mail invitation that linked to the online version of the magazine at the VT website. Then, subscribers were contacted via a telephone survey” to ask about their engagement with the magazine.
The results may be a wake-up call for marketing managers facing this type of scenario:
- While 82% of the print subscribers recalled getting it in the mail, less than half of the digital subscribers remembered receiving the email to the online version.
- Of the respondents who recalled receiving the publication in print, 77% viewed the publication, while only 49% of those receiving the online version said they viewed the online publication.
- Respondents who viewed the print version recalled a significantly greater number of articles than did the respondents who viewed the online version.
Mr. Magazine puts it even more succinctly when he writes “Warning: Do No Kill Your Print Publication Before You Watch and Read This.”
Argue all you like about the financial reasons to cut a print magazine, but know going into the discussion that you risk a great deal in terms of recall and reader engagement. Our own informal study found that consumers read more, read longer and subscribe more often to print magazines than digital. Even the so-called digitally native generation prefers to read in print.
While many organizations see the move to digital as a cost-savings, a true analysis of the potential downside may reveal hidden costs that can derail your long-term goals for the magazine.