The digital magazine future
It seems pretty clear that more and more content will be delivered digitally in the future. It only makes sense. Why cut down trees and truck paper and printed magazines all over the country and the world when you can beam the content to someone electronically?
The portable readers in circulation today aren't designed for reading magazines. The Kindle and the Sony reader are both designed for reading primarily books, and they are pretty good for that, but not for reading magazines. But these devices are going to get better and better over the next few years, with better screens, color reproduction quality (color e-ink), features and portability.
I'm not sure what the digital magazines of the future will look like, but they may look something like the digital flip-book magazines of today. A really good digital magazine reader could provide a very enjoyable experience, with all the qualities of a conventional printed magazine, plus searchability, links to additional content and advertiser's Web sites and embedded video clips. It could be like a magazine on steroids, and you won't be chained to a computer to read it.
Once the readers get good enough, things will start to move fast in the direction of magazine content delivered digitally. I think the same will be true of newspaper content.
In this new world of digitally delivered magazines, I think the lines between subscriptions and newsstand sales will start to blur as well. I imagine there will be Web sites, like Amazon or iTunes, that will sell single copies, subscriptions and back issues. Those, in effect, will become the digital newsstands.
Imagine waiting at an airport for your flight. You have your digital reader in your bag. You want to read a magazine, but, instead of going over to the magazine stand in the airport, you take out your digital reader, log into the digital newsstand, and start perusing the latest covers. You find something you like, press a button, and there it is. If the digital newsstand were like iTunes, you would have an account with them with your credit card information already stored, and the whole transaction would take about 10 seconds.
Magazines might still want to promote at the airports with cover displays and posters for their new issues, but instead of buying the print magazine at the newsstand, it would direct you to the site to order.
This is a very difficult time for many magazine publishers but it is also an exciting and even revolutionary time to be involved with the magazine business, especially on the circulation side. I don't think print magazines are going away entirely anytime soon, but I do think there will be a shift to large portions of a publisher's circulation being delivered digitally within the next 10 years.
Greg Wolfe is president of Circulation Specialists, Inc, an outsource provider of circulation management services. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.