Should digital editions really have a print business model?

It’s amazing how much energy is left in the idea of digital editions of print publications. I’m not talking about shovelware Web sites, but about digital replicas of the print product, distributed electronically and read on the subscriber’s computer. The basic formula for these products is PDF+DRM.

This idea has been around forever. Longer, I think, than the consumer Web. It gets a lot of its energy from the perception among publishers that because it duplicates their print product with some digital advantages (e.g. searching) that it can be sold. Yet, aside from licensing fees, the incremental cost is about the same as a Web site — zero. Of course, there are real disadvantages as well. Magazines and, especially, newspapers are not formatted for reading on a computer.

The latest avatars of digital editions, Zinio and Newsstand, are generating a lot of interest.

PBS’s Newshour ran a story on digital editions of newspapers [Real Audio], with some remarkable statistics: about 160 US newspapers, and 225 newspapers worldwide are now offered in electronic editions, and the Washington Post’s digital edition has 800 subscribers. However, the number of actual editions being delivered today may be an order of magnitude smaller than this.

The Newshour described the audience as expatriates and others who couldn’t get home delivery. In other words: the Web audience.

But if it’s true, as Zinio claims, that 83 percent of digital magazine readers click on links in editorial content and 60 percent on links in ads — why not just give away the magazine and make money on the ads, just like you’re doing on the Web?

This maybe already happening. I know of at least one person who is getting a Zinio edition of a normally paid computer magazine for free.

2 thoughts on “Should digital editions really have a print business model?

  1. I’ve become a recent fan of Zinio though I’ve found myself only reading the free copies and samples I’ve been able to get my hands on. The strangest carry over I’ve seen is the inclusion of the bind in BRC. You actually have to turn the page past the card… I am not sure why it is there as you can certainly not tear it out and mail it back!

  2. I agree with you Bruce. I don’t get these electronic replicas. I’m an avid magazine reader and an avid internet media consumer. I do not want my biz week delivered as a PDF. Rafat Ali made a good point in a recent presentation that the industry could really learn a few things from a few social anthropologists studying actual consumer behavior in digital media. Maybe then they would realize the folly of these efforts.
    I feel sorry for the people who are financing these electronic edition companies. But, maybe they’ll get lucky and get bought out. Of course, then I’ll feel sorry for their acquirors. Not.

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