Publishers poised to adopt mobile, but readers still want print

Adoption of mobile editions of magazines is at a tipping point, finds a recent survey of 200 niche publishers commissioned by the Specialist Media Show.  The sample was biased towards smaller companies, but still 19% stated they already have mobile app versions of their publications, showing that they are approaching a tipping point.  Prof Barrie Gunter of the Dept of Media and Communications at University of Leicester weighs up the statistics and advises publishers to hedge their bets, combining print and digital editions.  Here are the main insights:

1. Magazine publishers are at the tipping point

In addition to the 19% already publishing on mobile, a further 15% plan a launch in the next year, and 11% in the next few years, putting adoption of mobile editions firmly in tipping point territory, where mass adoption is imminent.

2. New devices/platforms are being considered

While 81% have or are planning an app for the iPhone and the same number the iPad, 63% are also planning for Android phones and 49% Android tablets.  A substantial minority (42%) are planning an edition for tablet or e-reader.  So there is an expectation that the market will grow.

3.  Digital magazine readers still a minority

The latest Digital Entertainment Survey shows only 8% of the population mainly or only read magazines online.  This is higher for under 24s at around 14%, but still not a mainstream activity.

4. Few are prepared to pay much, although mags beat newspapers

When respondents were asked about willingness to pay for various forms of content, only a minority (15%) were willing to do so in the case of magazines that could be read on a mobile device, and that was when the cost of doing so was no more than 20p! However, mobile electronic magazines received slightly more widespread support than mobile electronic newspapers (13%).

5. Consumers want a combination of print and digital formats

Just over four in ten (43%) from the Digital Entertainment Survey said they only wanted to read paper magazines and a small minority (6%) wanted only digital magazines. The most popular option (for 46%) was to have paper magazines with the ability to access content online, including via a mobile device.

The best advice for the sector at present then is to hedge your bets and to embrace digital, but not totally at the expense of paper.  Many publishers are creating combined subscriptions, where subscribers can choose whether to read the print or the digital version of the publication.

This research among 200 publishers was commissioned for the Specialist Media Show, in partnership with PPA, InPublishing, Wessenden Marketing and the University of Leicester.  Prof Barrie Gunter and Jim Bilton will present the full results at the conference on 25 May 2011.  See full conference programme.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, providing practical advice to specialist publishers on their digital strategy.  She also runs the Specialist Media Show, an exhibition and conference for consumer and b2b niche publishers.