We’ve all seen it happen: a print publication decides to go digital-only, or, as in the case with Seventeen, move to a “special issue” format. Undoubtedly they save money not publishing in print … but what are they losing in the process?
Matthew Kassel in Mediaite looks at research that aims to define exactly brands lose when they give up their print editions.
“In the past few years, a number of media outlets have given up their print publications in favor of going exclusively online, including ESPN The Magazine, The New York Observer, Glamour and Seventeen,” Kassel writes.
“Despite these changes, there has been scant meaningful research on what such publications are losing — aside from paper — when they go online-only,” Kassel continues. “But a new study may provide an answer. Published in Journalism Practice, the study suggests that publications that have ended their print editions could be sacrificing a valuable measure of engagement with their readers: time.”
The study used data from Comscore and the UK’s Publishers Audience Measurement Company to look at NME, a British music magazine that had a circulation of 300K when it shut down its print product last year. The results were eye-opening. The data showed the amount of time readers spent interacting with the NME brand dropped by a whopping 72%.
“That amounts to a loss of 307 million minutes of engagement compared with the last year that NME was in print, when readers spent 424 million minutes with the publication, according to the study,” Kassel notes.
At the same time, data shows NME’s weekly and monthly online readership grew … but those online readers spend only three minutes on average with the publication online, compared to the 30 minutes or more readers used to spend with the print version.
“While a post-print existence may be less costly, it is, at least initially, more constrained,” the researchers write, “with much of the attention that was formerly enjoyed simply stripped away.”
Another study found similar impacts, with readers spending substantially less time with British newspaper The Independent when they stopped printing, even though the content was available online.
What concerns study author Neil Thurman goes beyond simply the time factor.
“While a post-print existence may be less costly, it is, at least initially, more constrained,” Thurman wrote, “with much of the attention that was formerly enjoyed simply stripped away.”
“What such readership numbers don’t show,” he continues, “is how print engages readers, engendering regular and deep reading. The danger is that, when publications quit print we’ll see large reductions in the time spent consuming quality news, which could have profound consequences for society.”
Quality attention, the data shows, is the one thing social metrics can’t get you. Creating content for the “like” or the “share” could be backfiring. Consumers are getting really good at ignoring, blocking, even reporting digital content. And even when they are engaged, it’s not the kind of deep, focused attention that brands need to grow, and consumers need to gain a deeper understanding of the issues.