Thursday, March 18, 2010

Leaving the Mailstream - Consumer Periodicals

The iPad, and other devices coming to market in the next 12 months are about to revolutionize how consumer magazines are designed, printed, and sold.

The Associated Press has reported that "the Audit Bureau of Circulations said Tuesday that it has changed its definition of a digital magazine to accommodate the new class of tablet-style devices. The new rules allow publishers to count paid digital subscriptions as part of a magazine's overall circulation as long as all the same editorial and advertising material is included.  That means publishers can custom design their articles and photo spreads for Apple Inc.'s iPad, which goes on sale April 3. Without the rule change, they could only count digital editions that appear exactly the way they do in print."

Initially, publications sold to tech-savvy consumers like Conde Nast's Wired magazine will become available.  Conde Nast will follow the June launch of Wired with launches of its titles directed toward a more general set of readers including GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Glamour

The action of Conde Nast and other magazine publishers to fully develop tablet versions of their titles in the consumer market reflect an understanding that the new technology may attract both newsstand and subscription buyers at prices that generate real revenue and more importantly auditable circulation.

If Conde Nast is successful, it will be able to retain much of its business model.  This compares to business-to business or trade publications that are rapidly shifting to an all digital model as declining print advertising made publishing a mailed journal unprofitable.   Now trade publications look mostly like a collection of blogs posts with advertising. (Direct, dmNews, Trailer/Body Builders) The alternative is what Document has done and provides a glimpse of what consumers may see on digital versions of consumer publications.  (I hope the consumer magazines do not have the annoying page turning sound.)

 Now the question is when will the new technology have market impact?  It could not come too soon for publishers who are seeing print sales dropping at double digit rates.  For the Postal Service the new technology could increase the already rapid decline in Periodical mail so that it is possible that by 2020 Periodicals could be as common in the mail stream as parcels are today.

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