With magazine publishers bracing for a likely downturn in single-copy sales as the COVID-19 pandemic forces the closures of newsstands and retail outlets across the country, providers of digital-replica editions are sensing an opportunity to onboard new clients.
“We’re actually seeing a huge spike in magazine and newspaper publishers checking in with us to move their whole operation online, given the challenges in printing,” emails Joe Hyrkin, CEO of digital publishing platform Issuu.
In a letter to clients in late March, Hyrkin wrote that Issuu is currently waiving its commissions on sales of digital single copies or subscriptions made on the platform, citing a recent trend in which “content creators who normally sell physical media are having to find new ways to sell their content digitally.”
Maria Hedengren, CEO of Readly—an Apple News-like offering, providing consumers access to more than 4,000 digital edition magazines in exchange for a monthly $10 subscription—tells Forbes that the app saw a 62% year-over-year increase in global downloads in March, with the comics, kids, home and renovation, and gardening categories seeing the largest consumption increases among U.S. users.
UK-based Exact Editions says it’s opened up free access to its “Reading Room” tool, which allows publishers to upload entire issues in PDF format and generate a link to a digital edition that automatically expires after 30 days, calling it “a free and emergency digital distribution solution to fill gaps in publishing schedules that may have been disrupted by the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, BlueToad, another digital edition platform, released the results of an online survey of more than 250 adults, which it says “illustrates consumers’ changing magazine habits due to concerns surrounding COVID-19,” including the startling data point that 70% of consumers say they’re concerned about the safety of handling print magazines or newspapers delivered through the mail.
Moreover, 54% of respondents indicated that they’re more likely to consume digital content as a result of the pandemic, and 37% said they’re more likely to cancel print subscriptions to magazines or newspapers.
“The results of this survey show that the spread of the coronavirus is making consumers nervous when handling mail and other items that are delivered to them,” said BlueToad CEO Paul DeHart in a statement. “While print remains very relevant both now and long term, publishers must acknowledge the fact that consumers are perhaps more than ever leaning on other perceived safer, digital ways to consume content and connect with brands.”
Perception may amount to reality when it comes to consumer preferences, but it’s worth noting that, as the USPS points out, citing the CDC and WHO, there is currently no evidence of COVID-19 being spread through the mail.
“Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures,” reads a passage on the FAQ section of the CDC’s website. “Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.”
The WHO concurs, advising the public that it is safe to receive packages from areas in which COVID-19 has been reported.
“The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” it says.