Electronic Editions Could Save Plenty ... if Readers Switched

Rising costs of postage and paper give publishers a major incentive to convert circulation from print to electronic, but adoption remains in the early stages.

Newspaper and magazine publishers, besieged by rising costs, tumbling circulation and the frustration of giving their content away on Web sites, are gradually turning to downloadable electronic editions as an alternative to print.

Although the technology is in place and vendors are in the marketplace offering to convert print publications to digital facsimiles, experts agree that the evolution of electronic editions is in its early stages, and there are large obstacles to overcome.

As an alternative to printed periodicals, with their high costs for production and distribution, electronic editions offer many advantages. "They extend publishers reach in the sense that the market for hard copy is dropping," said Jean Bedord, senior analyst for Shore Communications, in Cupertino, Calif. "Its flat at best, and there are a lot of inefficiencies for periodicals. [A periodical] has to be printed in a central spot. A label has to be put on it. It has to be physically transported to my mailbox. So each step along the way adds a cost. Then look at the newsstand and see how many copies get thrown away.

"I think the economics behind it are going to drive publishers into e-books, and the same thing is going to happen in the periodical space because the supply chain economics are going to drive it," Bedord said.

Kyu Kim, manager of enterprise solutions for E-Book Systems Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., said publishers are slowly warming to the concept of electronic editions. "Its still in the early stage, but its coming along, compared to two years ago when people did not even have the concept. Back then, one of the most frequent responses we got [to sales calls] was, We already have a Web site. Today that barrier is gone."

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