Regional Publishers and the Digital Dilemma
Assessing digital content's place in a still-print-centric space.
There has been lots of discussion in the regional magazine sector about digital editions and the lack of reader engagement. When tablet mania hit like the dawning of the "Age of Aquarius," publishers large and small could not wait to hand over checks to have the latest and greatest digital asset. Like lemmings headed for a cliff, we amassed on the digital frontier to show we were technically hip, as cool as the big national titles, and anticipated an unabated embrace from the readers of our magazines.
Now years later, many feel we are hosts of an all-you-can-eat barbeque that no one came to.
Scott Schumaker of PacificBasin Communications (Honolulu magazine, amongst other titles on the islands) put it best.
“Digital subscriptions have become the equivalent of a gym membership," Schumaker said. "Lots of people have them, but no one actually goes.”
Many regional publishers, like New Orleans Magazine and 417 in Springfield, Missouri, have wisely skirted the more costly delivery model and have open access to content. And yet, they still don’t generate any sort of traction or audience of significance, according to a recent exchange amongst City & Regional magazine publishers. The tablet centric readers of these titles can have their access but they are still few in number and less expensive to service.
Here at Rhode Island Monthly, we are at a crossroads of sorts. Do we continue with a paid digital subscription offering (bundled with paid print) or do we simplify and test open access? As the head bean counter, it appears we are spending an excessive amount of dough, effort, and promotion to spoon feed an audience that simply refuses—or rather, ignores—what is being served up.
Many technology companies are developing more robust, responsive, and rich(er) digital experiences, but we in the regional game need to figure out whether those readers that demonstrate so much loyalty to our titles, especially subscribers, actually want them.
Mark Twain once said, "'Classic': a book which people praise and don't read.”
Hopefully that’s not the case with the digital dynasty that has yet to become reality in the regional magazine world.