In order to see where U.S. adults fell in the conversion spectrum, the Economist Group partnered with the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism to conduct a digital behavioral survey in summer 2011.
Paul Rossi, managing director and EVP, Americas for the Economist Group, says, “The motivation for us to do the survey was that we believe digital is the single biggest thing to impact magazines since paper. We recognize that there’s a change happening in reading, and we wanted to understand what that meant in the marketplace; not just for The Economist, but to open up people’s thinking about what was happening with digital reading [overall].”
The Pew research shows that consuming news is one of the most popular activities among tablet users (53 percent of device owners do it daily). Sending and receiving email shares similar popularity, with 54 percent of tablet users engaging with email daily. Social networking (39 percent), gaming (30 percent), reading books (17 percent) and viewing movies/videos (13 percent) are other prominent tablet activities.
“The encouraging thing about the research is that these devices are perfectly optimized for reading. What you see is people reading more, reading long form, enjoying it, seeing value in the devices,” says Rossi. “1 in 10 Americans have a tablet computer, and this is before the Kindle Fire came out.”
He cites reports of three million Kindle Fires sold since its debut as evidence of the growing tablet revolution.
“Another interesting number is that readers are getting more value on digital. I saw a number from the MPA citing 60 percent of people reading magazines go to back issues of magazines on the tablet,” says Rossi. “There’s the idea of carrying a library of The Economist in your briefcase, as opposed to [storing] yellowing copies on the bookshelf.”
Turning Data Into Sales
About 100,000 digital-only Economist subscriptions were purchased this year. Out of this number, 75 percent were new subscribers to the brand. The Economist app offers five free articles a week, and Rossi says converting samplers into subscribers is one of The Economist’s strengths. So far, the app has been downloaded 3.5 million times.
When asked if any numbers from 2011 were unexpected, Rossi says, “I’m a little bit surprised by the relatively low of single copy sales. One of the things I presumed is that we would start to see people buying individual issues, and we haven’t seen the volume I would have necessarily thought. It might be because we’re not in the [Apple] Newsstand, and there have been functionality issues for us.”
In a separate piece of research conducted earlier this year, 90 to 95 percent of Economist readers said they are using the print product. 50 percent of these readers said they will be using the digital product in two years.
To that end, converting print readers to digital readers is another challenge The Economist Group faces in 2012, “We are getting to a point, not quite there yet for technological issues, where we will be offering readers a choice of digital alongside print,” says Rossi.
Around 40 percent of “affluent and early adopters” Economist readers own an iPad; more telling is the 60 percent that don’t.
For Economist staff and the magazine industry overall, Rossi asserts the importance of patience.
“[The tablet marketplace] is very confusing; each product is not necessarily available on each device,” says Rossi. “It’s important we understand the shift of behavior, but also recognize the vast majority of our reader don’t have those devices. The next line is yet.”
As for what’s next, “We will make some changes about how we go to the market and how we use digital channels to find customers. Advertising in mobile, advertising in app; that’s something we’ll start to develop over the next four months more aggressively,” says Rossi.