Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Are printed magazines on the way out?

When The Engineer announced it was to cease publication of its respected fortnightly magazine and go online only, was this the end of an era, or the dawn of a new age?

Editor John Excell explained the economics and dynamics of print v online that was behind publisher Centaur Media's decision to cease print and move the title to an online magazine only. Clearly the cost savings could be significant. In general we see less printed material in the b-2-b world anyway because most customers are satisfied with information on company web sites or willing to print off PDFs if they want a hard copy record. And of course an online magazine has the capability to do much more - links, video, interactive tools for example. But this is much more of a landmark decision than simply offering product information online rather than in print. The Engineer is a well established title that has been in print for nearly 150 years, it has valuable content of well written and researched articles at the cutting edge of engineering. It is not a publication full of manufacturers' press releases. It is a publication of note that engineers read. And this is really one of the key issues - what platform do the readers prefer to read content?

Other publishers must be watching with great interest to see what happens next. Other titles in the industrial, engineering, technology sectors have over the years, been slow to publish on the Internet at all, but most now have online versions using Yudu page turning versions of the printed magazine, email newsletters, news archives etc but still retain the printed version. Interestingly the first digital publication of The Engineer retains the magazine style but online, with tools to view full screen, print, share, download etc. It still looks as though it is designed for print rather than optimised for online viewing. I suspect few readers will print off 42 pages to read away from a computer or mobile device. Not surprisingly online comments divide into two camps - those who view the decision to cease print as the death of the title and those that herald a bold environmentally wise move. But being engineers someone soon got to calculating the energy used by the devices that carry the digital copy. Whether people prefer to read articles, stories and generally longer pieces in printed format or on say an iPad is a matter of wider debate and for now there seems to be a market for both.

The advertising manager of a technology publication that offers both print and online options of their magazine told me there was very little cross over between readers registered for the print and online versions and accordingly the advertising packages were sold separately. This is of course another important test - how will advertisers respond? On the face of it placing the advertisement online should enable the opportunity for tracking response that print advertising has not offered since the demise of response cards. The design and format of advertisements could use new techniques, although the first digital issue appears to use the advertising designed for print plus a link. In theory advertisers could have the advertising copy on their own server in future and offer far greater reader interactivity. But much depends on the readers transferring actual reading habits, not just skimming headlines, from the printed page to the online page and that is what advertisers and other publishers will be watching with interest.

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