It seems like each digital platform has had its moment in the sun as the next new savior of print magazines—Web sites, PDFs, mobile, digital editions and e-readers. But based on a 2009 Forrester Research study released last week, called “Publishers Need Multichannel Subscription Models,” which surveyed 4,711 U.S. consumers during the third quarter (and is part of their “Media Meltdown” series), no one delivery method reigns supreme among consumers.

When asked, “If the publications you read were no longer available in print, how would you
prefer to access that content,” responses showed that no single channel dominates. Thirty-seven percent of consumers said they’d prefer to access content on a Web site, while smaller groups said they’d prefer content via mobile phones (14 percent), and laptops and netbooks (11 percent). And despite the e-reader hype, the skeptics may be right: only 3 percent of respondents said they’d read their print content on a device like the Amazon Kindle. Although considered a rudimentary method of delivery, 10 percent of those surveyed say they’d prefer the anachronistic solution of PDF by e-mail. A whopping 44 percent of respondents identified “None of these” as a replacement for print.

Who Will Pay?

The study also confirmed that while the industry may be on board, the majority of consumers (80 percent) won’t pay to access magazine content online. For those few that said they would
pay, they prefer subscriptions over single-article micropayments.

There was no clear trend between consumer demographics (like gender and marital status) as factors for who was more willing to pony up for Web content. However, the report found that those more likely to pay are slightly younger—43 years versus 47—and were 24 percent more likely to be technology optimists. Income didn’t play in to consumers’ willingness to pay for magazines online.

A majority of consumers—67 percent—feel that magazines and newspapers are “priced about right,” while a small contingent (one in five, or 19 percent) thinks they are getting more value than they’re paying for, especially when it comes to magazines.

I for one think it’s important for publishers to take baby steps when it comes to offering content behind a pay wall—particularly with four out of five consumers reporting a blatant refusal to buy into the model. Like the Economist’s “experiment” annouced earlier this month, publishers should expect that determining the amount of paid content be a true trial and error process. Move your content from free to everything-behind-a-wall the next day and you may be faced with a slew of angry, embittered readers. This aversion to paying for online content may also stem from the fact that for many consumers—as the report indicates—are still unsure as to what, exactly, is their next platform move beyond print.