For good or for ill, digital is here to stay. I have no doubt it is good for many readers, I am not sure how good it is for publishers because there are still too many variables concerning digital circulation. These variables are being worked out, slowly in some cases, but as an industry we have to make sure we understand the results and interpret them correctly, and not as we would like them to be.
Just because the recently released version of the iPad sold in the millions does not mean digital circulation is going to increase as a direct result of the release. Most people I know who purchased the latest iPad did so to replace the iPad they already had. Over the next weeks people will receive some sort of reader for the holidays, but the total in sales will not see a similar increase in digital circulation.
It is important to recognize why digital circulation increases. Many controlled publishers are shifting their three-year old-circulation over from print to digital, not because the reader desires this, but because the publisher does. We have found that re-qualification response rates of digital subscriptions are lower than those on the print file. I believe this is because digital magazines are not as readily accessible as their print cousins. Therefore, you will probably have to send digital subscriptions more efforts to get the same net response as print. There is nothing wrong in this, just remember that you will have to send more efforts and this may affect your promotion budget. What you are saving in printing and mailing costs can be used to send additional efforts, although in reality these savings are almost never passed on.
Do not get hooked on the general belief that digital subscriptions will respond better to electronic methods than more traditional methods; there is no rationale to support this thinking, and until you have tested all formats and gained meaningful results—results supported by facts, not opinions—tread carefully.
The digital world is upon us, and as promoters, marketers and indeed users, we should embrace the new technology and make it work for us. Digital circulation is a small part of total circulation. It will grow over the next few years, although the growth will slow down, but for all that it would be dangerous to make assumptions based on opinion rather than test results.
Yesterday, on one of the networks, an expert said, “People feel more confident in the market than they did a few years ago.” On the same show, another expert said, “People are not confident concerning their financial futures.” Facts based on opinions have no value, but opinions based on facts are worth their weight in a ton of iPads!