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Back in a flash: the new magazine is digital Part I

The New Magazine is Digital

The New Magazine is Digital

The media world is abuzz with anticipation for the April 3 debut of the iPad, which industry experts are heralding as the forthcoming savior of magazines. The device’s potential to boost subscriptions during a flailing economy relies on the popularity of digital magazines, a publishing trend that has been steadily growing long before the iPad’s release.

In 2008 the industry saw the launch of Issuu, a popular flipbook platform that has been watching its users increase exponentially. Users can upload their magazines as PDF files to the site, which in turn converts them into page-turning Flash files for a maximum of $19 a month. The platform now hosts 600,000 users, a leap from the 200,000 they hosted a year ago.

“We are growing about 20 percent a month and we haven’t seen any sign of slowing,” said Astrid Sandoval, Issuu’s chief commercial officer in Europe. The company is currently developing an application for the iPad, which currently does not support Flash content.

According to Sandoval, Issuu’s initial subscribers were mostly magazines that placed an emphasis on design, such as artistic, indie and local publications. The social media element of Issuu’s Web site also appealed to these smaller publications, who found it easier to connect with their core readers. Slowly, larger companies and brand names started to come aboard, including The New York Times’ T and Red Bull’s Red Bulletin.

“It’s just the natural evolution,” said Jeff Lemberg, a University of Maryland journalism professor specializing in magazines. “In the past, people shied away from [the digital magazine] because they didn’t know how to use it. It’s becoming easier and easier, and companies are hiring younger people with skills who understand it.”

Publishers agree that digital is the way to go for magazines, and apps are in the works across the board. Phone applications allow publishers to directly reach their readers, giving them faster loading times, instant notifications of new content, and access even without an Internet connection. This leads to a closer publisher/reader relationship, something Sandoval likens to a “digital handshake.” Lemberg even foresees publishers like Hearst developing their own flipbooks independently, cutting platforms like Issuu out of the equation.

While the advantages of digital publishing are seemingly endless, it may still be years before tablets become household items. “Something publishing companies are learning is you can’t just take print and slap it online,” Lemberg said. Online content differs from print in its readers’ experience. Statistically, readers will revisit a print magazine once or twice, while they typically view digital magazines just once. This means digital versions need to take advantage of their unique functions: interactivity, searchability and multimedia.

“I think it’s probably a good ten years away before all these reading devices, whether it’s the Kindle or the iPad, are ubiquitous enough that people are carrying them around,” Lemberg added. Regardless, it gives publishers in a transitional industry something to look forward to.

— Janelle Zara

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