What does “digital” mean for magazines?

There are a lot of print-only magazines still quite active and to varying degrees, profitable. Then there are those magazines who’ve managed the complex challenge to become more digital. And in our experience, a lot more magazines who live in the painful purgatory of being quasi-digital. There’s no single solution for truly becoming more digital or entirely digital.
While some publications, like Newsweek,  Information Week, Glamour and Self (although Self magazine is about to shutter.) Publisher Conde Naste is moving many of its titles to digital only formats. Many a publisher may be tempted to follow the same route. For some it may work, but for most, it won’t. The advantage Conde Naste has is size and number of titles. Lest we think Conde Naste has its game together and a defined digital strategy, well, sort of. Will their shift to purely digital pay off? Perhaps.
For publishers with less of an audience that decide to go purely digital, this is extremely risky and one we’ve often advised against. If circulation and audience isn’t into the millions and digital audience isn’t over at least 600,000 unique visitors a year, going purely digital is a quick way to shutting down. Meredith, Conde Naste, they already have the audience and they’ve invested in back end technology and been clever in their transitions.
Small to medium sized magazines benefit the best when going with an integrated strategy. Sure, paper costs are a constant weight, but trying to play digital with the big guns is a losing proposition. If your magazine has decades of history, you’ve actually got a lot of content value through evergreen content and an opportunity for new revenue streams.
Most small to mid-size publishers think digital means a revamped website and hiring a social media person to post content. That is not digital. That’s a haphazard model that will add costs with little return.
Going digital means developing a strategy that integrates digital channels, print and the back-end technologies to improve workflows. But more importantly, it means looking at and addressing the culture of the publication first. Holisitically, editorially, sales, audience development…everything.
Digital for magazines needs to be integrated, involve cultural change and have a definitive strategy of where you want to go, how you’re going to get there and milestones along the way to adjust. It doesn’t have to be expensive either.

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