Digital Magazine Publishing: How to Get from Here to There

Q&A: Peter Meirs of Time predicts that digital publishing will gain acceptance once the technology is in place to deliver a better reading experience. (

The magazine publishing industry has been busy for years transforming itself to take full advantage of the Internet, but its a tricky transition. Readers have come to accept and expect news content on the Web, but no clear path has developed for transitioning magazine-style journalism to the digital medium.

Time Inc. has experimented with distribution of digital magazines, and Peter Meirs, director of alternative media technologies at the company, recently sat down with Andreas Pfeiffer to discuss the future of magazines, both print and digital.

Well, lets start with the tough question: Where do you view the future of publishing—in your case, magazine publishing?

If you look at the problems that were facing today, one would have to conclude that theres got to be some sort of alternative to print that will be available to a broad range of people—not just to those people who are interesting in digital publications—because they want to take advantage of things like faster cycle time, or because theyre traveling and they dont want to carry around lots of magazines. The cost of producing a print magazine is rising disproportionate to the consumer price index.

Were facing some serious pressures from our distribution channels; the U.S. Postal Service is presenting rate cases that are difficult for us and probably untenable for many, many publishers. Theyve announced a 5.4 percent rate increase and then next year its going to be perhaps more than that.

So, the cost of producing magazines with rising distribution, fairly unstable paper supply, paper market, competition with more than magazines—catalogues are our biggest competitor for that resource—so that the overall cost of producing magazines is becoming a serious issue.

The alternative is digital versions [of magazines]. Digital versions, two or three years ago, were considered very futuristic, uninteresting to most people, the quality of the reading experience wasnt good enough, people couldnt really differentiate between a digital magazine and a Web site, they didnt understand the value difference, and I think that thats going to change.

So, coincident with pressures on publishers to manage those costs, there will be technologies out there that will help provide a better reading experience digitally, and I think those two factors are going to drive adoption of digital publications faster in the next five years than the 10 years that preceded it.

Is there already traction in the market for digital magazines?

The figure that has been quoted to me by a couple of vendors is theres about 3 million digital publications downloaded a month, 3 million. And most of those are trade publications—controlled circulation, technical publications—and that makes a lot of sense. Those are the early adopters for digital.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about Peter Meirs presentation at the recent Circulation Management show.

But if you look at the audited figures, the circulation leader on the consumer title side, under ABC [Audit Bureau of Circulations] is PC Magazine with 195,000 claimed paid subscribers, which is really significant because their rate base is somewhere around 1.4 million. So, thats significant for it is a double-digit proportion of their total rate base. After that, the numbers are much lower.

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