Why Magazines Haven’t Made the Digital Cut

[responsive]imagineipad[/responsive]We talked about it last summer, that this revolution will not be tabletized. With tablet sales dropping it appears even less likely now that digital magazines will usurp traditional print.

What’s really behind consumer preference for print over digital magazines? D. Eadward Tree offers some keen insights in 8 Lessons From the Failure of Digital Magazines to Revolutionize Publishing.

Tree asserts that people don’t hate print and aren’t willing to give it up just because there is a new whiz-bang platform available.

“One line of thinking was that consumers, especially young ones, were rejecting print media, so the way to win them over was to present our publications in a digital format,” Tree writes.

“Consumers, however, weren’t rejecting the concept of ink on paper — they were choosing digital alternatives when those offered something better, such as timeliness or relevance,” he continues.

Digital magazines have so far been unable to deliver that “something better.” Clearly it’s not the platform that makes a great magazine, but the content, as Treed rightly points out.

“Great music recorded in the age of vinyl has survived the eras of cassettes, 8-tracks (God forbid), CDs, and MP3s. In the same way, we must first build passionate audiences that will crave our addictive content regardless of the medium and only then concern ourselves with fitting our content to the device du jour,” he notes.

At the same time, tablets are being overshadowed by smartphones (not ideal for reading magazines) while discoverability is a rough road for digital magazine publishers. EBook sellers and distributors have made it easy to find and buy new books, but this hasn’t translated into the magazine world. And there are tangible benefits to print that go far beyond the content itself.

“Why did people who are perfectly comfortable exploring articles on their laptop and watching videos on their phone never make the switch to perusing magazines on a tablet? The tablet edition of a magazine can be a beautiful collection of articles and images,” says Treed. “But the printed edition can also entertain visitors, decorate a coffee table, or display’s the owner’s taste or passion. It is an object that can be clipped, shared, or collected.”

The final lesson? “You’d better know what your customers want and how they use your products before creating a new, ‘improved’ version,” says Treed.

Wise words for any publishers; some digital magazines do work, and digital revenue can add to the bottom line. But let’s just put away the notion that magazines will continue to move en masse to digital. There are too many solid reasons why this just won’t be so.