In Circulation: Are digital days ahead?

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Reports from both the BPA and MPA last week highlighted a trend that many in the industry have picked up on: the rise of the digital edition.

BPA member titles reporting digital copies rose by 4.5% in December 2007, compared to December 2006. Two hundred and twenty-four of the BPA's members now offer digital editions.

"From a publisher's perspective, [digital editions] offer potential for realizing significant distribution and circulation marketing cost efficiencies,” Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of BPA Worldwide, said in a statement. “On the international circulation front, they obviously make it possible to overcome the traditional delivery and challenges of timeliness, which makes them attractive to international business readers.”

He added, “On the domestic circulation front, some publishers are finding that digital versions attract targeted subscribers who may have been difficult to reach or to maintain via the traditional print version — and may also prove a value-added product to existing subscribers who prefer to receive both print and digital versions, or digital alone.”

The MPA last week offered a slightly broader view of magazines' approach to the digital world: it reported that 65 digital initiatives for magazines had kicked off in the first quarter of 2008. Per the MPA, “digital initiatives” can mean anything from online and mobile videos, to content-sharing partnerships, to podcasts. But whether offering digital editions or no, all these initiatives point to the importance of digital content in the fight for readers and ad dollars.

Resellers as well as publishers have noted the growing reach of digital, and responded by making digital editions easier for consumers to find and subscribe to. Earlier this month, Barnes and Noble teamed up with digital magazine service Zinio to offer subscriptions to more than 1,000 magazines online. Just last week, UK-based John Menzies plc launched magazinesondemand.co.uk, selling digital editions of consumer and trade titles in an effort that executives hope could become “the iTunes of the magazine industry.”

Judging from the growing popularity of digital editions — a recent Gilbane Group Inc. study showed that the number of b-to-b titles offering digital editions grew by more than 300% from 2005-2007, while consumer publications posted and increase of more than 200% — digital magazines do seem to have great potential. It will be up to circ marketers to continue to spread the word on the new medium and to leverage both print and digital in cross-promotional campaigns.

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