What’s Behind the Big Digital Decline?

surveyCompared to last year, we are seeing significantly fewer readers engaging with digital magazines. Why?

Early last year the future of digital magazines was being briskly debated in our industry. Advocates touted improvements in interaction thanks to enhanced technology, while detractors claimed the majority of titles just didn’t read well on a digital device, despite the popularity of tablet devices. So we ran our own informal study to try and get a feel for how we really consume magazines, and indeed we didn’t see a lot of love for digital titles.

We wondered, with all the work that publishers have done to monetize digital content and rework digital publishing models, have attitudes about digital changed?

To find out, we ran another study last month, getting results from 842 print and digital magazine readers who own at least one device (smartphone, tablet, or laptop/desktop) on which they could read digital magazines.

We were surprised at how much digital magazine interest has dropped in a year’s time. Our results show that consumers are quickly losing interest in digital magazines. For example:

  • A year ago, 35% of the respondents said they didn’t read any digital magazines. Today that number stands at a whopping 66.6%.
  • Far few people are reading digital editions on their smartphones, down from 37.2% last year to 19.5% now.
  • Readership on tablets, originally touted by Apple as the ultimate platform for the media, plunged by close to half, from 46.5% to 24.3%.

What’s Going On with the Digital Drop?

One thing we found fascinating is that the average number of digital subscriptions has risen (from .87/respondent last year to 1.2 now); clearly most of those are going unread. That’s easier to understand when we read some of the comments from respondents. One reader, when asked how many subscriptions they had, replied “Several, but they are free and I never find time to read them.” Another answered “Hundreds…all free.”

Price drops alone can’t be blamed for the decline in digital readership. (And print is not immune from this discussion either; we did see smaller drops in reading of print magazines, but nowhere near the scale of digital).

More consumers than ever are getting their news from social platforms and that trend it only going to escalate. Our 140-character attention span for news and growing reliance on mobile for content means publishers must work harder to make their long-form magazine content worth owning and reading.

It’s worth that effort, as study after study shows that print still matters.  As luxury retailers and lifestyle brands launch out in new print vehicles, many brands are finding that their print readers are their most important customers.

Because, as one survey respondent said:

“Nothing compares to a print magazine.”