Newsweek have announced that they are to stop a printed edition of their current affairs and news magazine. The news is very significant for publishing and it might well be the first really well known title to look to embrace a purely electronic format.
With Tablet PCs, eReaders and smartphones becoming more and more prevalent in Western society many papers and magazines are seeing sales of printed versions dropping alarmingly. It must be very persuasive for a paper’s owner to consider dropping printed versions and in one move cut out a whole load of cost from printing, distribution, pulping, rent on printers premises, employing a whole team to carry out the printing.
It could also make sense for a consumer. The new iPad mini is rumoured to launch soon and prices begin at £200. To buy a broadsheet paper for a year is in the region of £500 so consumers might be happy to save £300 by reading an electronic version of their favourite paper. Of course that depends on the cost of an on-line subscription.
By coincidence the Daily Telegraph is reporting today that the Guardian is on the verge of dropping the printed edition of its paper, something the Guardian denies. Both the Guardian and the Telegraph are available for free on-line, but there’s a crucial difference – The Daily Telegraph makes a profit and the Guardian doesn’t. It would be interesting to see if this were to remain the case over the coming 12 months. If the Guardian were to go for a purely electronic format presumably they would begin to charge for this service.
However, the difficulty facing publishers is that consumers seem to be very reluctant to pay for content on-line. Many seem to simply go elsewhere for their news. This was certainly the case when The Times on-line decided to put up a firewall and asked people to pay for content, albeit a modest amount. Consumers have gone elsewhere for free services.
News International, the owners of the The Times and numerous other titles around the world, have long made the point that the hugely successful BBC on-line site is a significant distortion in the marketplace, offering users a place to obtain free news when other organisations have to begin to charge.
The good news for the makers of tablet computers is that it would appear that this switch to electronic versions of papers and magazines will fuel demand for more gadgets.