The success of magazines on the web

Broadly speaking, magazine publishing divides into two camps: Those who struggle with and ultimately avoid the perceived “complexities” of delivering their print magazines in a world of mobile reading. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who embrace it whole-heartedly, embracing every new invention and piece of consumer technology, potentially investing in technology which is well beyond the need of the average consumers reading habits.

Of course, being a spectrum, it’s not a binary matter – Publishers are generally orientated more in one direction than the other, but rarely is it black and white. What’s important is reaching that oft-spoken of “happy medium”, what’s difficult is finding out where it lies, giving the shifting tides of consumer demand and technological growth.

‘Change is inevitable. Change is constant.’

Today’s millennials have different reading habits, and with that come new expectations of what reads well on particular devices. They also have newer devices, and these are likely to become larger, possibly bendier and, delving into the realm of more speculative technologies like holographic displays, possibly smaller again.

In other words, as long as the tech giants keep innovating and early adopters continue to explore new territories (and more importantly, drive down prices for the mass market), then what is seen as normal reading habits will evolve. The challenge for publishers is to identify the difference between temporary fads and steady trends, and to know which trends will last in the long-term – Remember MiniDiscs? For a good few years they were the next big thing in removable media and had the sales figures to prove it.

Over the past few years reading habits have already changed. As the rate of technological development speeds up they will develop further still.

Readers are now used to personalization and content curated specifically for their tastes. Think Flipboard, Zite and Stumbleupon. The success of these business models relies on the ability for the reader to make choices which these same aggregation platforms themselves learn from and feed back to the reader, in terms of what their choices say about their preferences.

Magazine content based on a user’s location has been an exciting development for advertisers and could also be beneficial for publishers, Google are making heavy use of it on their Android devices, specifically their flagship Nexus 5, while publishing departments of major tourist boards in Europe, Asia and America have known this for a while.

In the case of the “curated platform”, publishers aren’t generating a direct income from their readership. However, the platforms do effectively serve as lead generators. Publishers can get discovered quicker, and easier, by those with a genuine interest in the subject area.

Other changes we have witnessed, as a result of the increase in mobile usage is that of micro-content. Micro-content is small content, optimized for social media. It is a short clip of a video on Instagram or social posts on Facebook or Twitter.

Alongside all of this, there is also the interesting case of the huge surge in morning briefings.

The Economist is a great example of a publisher considering the impact of mobile devices on reading habits– the way that people want short snippets rather than long articles. This isn’t to suggest long form has no place on smaller devices, rather it is speculation that we’ll continue to see content adapted for new “digital demographics”, e.g. the 5-inch smart phone user on the morning commute.

The Expresso app (from the Economist) is a model example of this novel concept, delivering a daily update before breakfast.

The way all this content is monetized is being gradually refined too. Newspapers can offer rates for ‘week-end’ reading only. Sites such as The Debrief, which get a surge in traffic around 6pm, after work could offer premium content which can only be read at that time. Location and reading habits are now trackable, and business models could and should evolve as a result of these if magazines are to succeed in a web-based environment.

Online magazines will always have a place, but where that place is, what it looks like for readers and how it will turn a profit is posing interesting speculative questions not just for magazine publishers, but for app developers too.

Meet the YUDU team at Publishing and Media Expo in London on February 25th and 26th. Email to arrange a meeting.

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