Print magazines may be struggling, but producing second-rate digital offerings is not the answer. Here, we make the case for hurrying the demise of the replica edition.
Articles seem to be appearing at an alarming rate trumpeting the reasons why PDF replica editions are a good choice for publishers. Without pointing fingers, the most recent have forecast a long and happy life for replicas. Some of the most common reasons cited are easy conversion, lower costs and time effectiveness, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security about the future of digital offerings.
It’s like looking at a road full of pot holes. The cheap, quick solution is to fill them all in with a cheap filler material. This solution will last the winter (if the council is lucky), but in the long run, those holes will only be made worse by the patched solution and will eventually need completely re-laying.
The digital publishing industry is in a similar state. It is understandable why so many publishers are seeking the quick ‘hole-filler’ solution by pushing out a replica edition. The sad reality is that long-term, this will cripple the potential of the digital content to be profitable. Advertisers will be more reluctant to invest, readers will get frustrated with having to zoom in and out around the text and the people in charge of the budgets will point to it all as a reason for refusing further investment.
A recent study asked digital magazine subscribers about their consumption habits. 51% said that scrollable (responsive) text was extremely important; unsurprising given the rise in mobile readership. Anyone regularly commuting on a train or a bus will tell you that the majority of people are scrolling through their smartphones, using their journey to catch up on social media, the news and their favourite publications. Just as target markets are carefully considered by publishing teams, so digital audiences need to be considered with the same depth. We have the statistics to show how important mobile is, particularly for organisations wishing to increase their international reach cheaply and effectively.
The waiting game
With many trends, it is advisable to play the waiting game and see how effective the concept is before diving in and investing. The problem with the digital world is that it moves at a phenomenal speed, and this means that your digital strategy cannot afford to be shelved.
The longer publishers wait to invest in a mobile-responsive HTML digital edition, the higher the likelihood of them losing their audience to rivals who already have mobile versions. Even if some publishers aren’t overly concerned with catering for younger, tech-savvy readers at this stage, careful attention still needs to be paid to making the content as accessible as possible. This is the time to be building those relationships and developing trust in the magazine and brand offerings, and replica editions are simply not good enough.
Try this way of looking at it. Would a publisher send a magazine off to press without hiring a designer? Would they put it together without investing in a proof-reader or an editor? These are processes that are essential to putting a magazine together, and a serious publisher would be more than happy to spend money in these areas.
So why is digital the exception? Why is it seen as acceptable to push out tacky replica editions to subscribers? And why is this still being justified by the publishing industry?
Prophets and profits
Revenue (or a lack of it) is a key reason cited by publishers for choosing to provide a replica edition. This is understandable, but short-sighted.
PWC have forecasted that the magazine industry decline will actually reverse this year, as digital gains outweigh falling print revenue. They also estimate that digital revenue for magazine editions will rise from 4% to over 14% by 2018. Read more about their insights into consumer magazine publishing here.
It is certainly a challenge converting free-of-charge websites into paid-for digital editions, but consumer behaviour is visibly changing as tablet and mobile owners realise that high-quality content is worth paying for. It will be interesting to see how publications like the Financial Times continue adapting their models, and how successful these prove to be.
Replication or reinvention?
It is also worth noting that making content available in HTML (responsive and resizable content that reflows to fit the device) is no longer as expensive as people might believe. Most organisations have content in an RSS feed or in some other digital format, and it is now easy to package that up into a magazine issue and make it available to readers. It is also quick (with the right skills) to style up the content to reflect the print design; it may not reach the dizzy heights of complex magazine layouts, but by ‘reinventing’ rather than ‘replicating’ publications, a balance can be achieved that meets everyone’s requirements.
Replica editions, like pot holes, are here for the foreseeable future. However, like road resurfacing, carefully thought-through investment is a no-brainer for futureproofing publications. Responsive digital editions will be an expense which may not pay back for another few years yet. What is almost certain is that those who push out cheap replica editions, or worse nothing at all, will suffer financially in the future as the demands of the tech generation are met by savvier publications.
Do you agree or disagree that we should be killing off the replica edition? Tweet us @pagelizard!