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What is different about reading a magazine in print as opposed to in a digital format?

Ranj Begley's article in the Publishing Partners Guide 2019

By Ranj Begley

What is different about reading a magazine in print as opposed to in a digital format?

All the consumer research shows that most of the key drivers of print and digital reading are exactly the same. Both are founded on an intensely personal experience which is usually solitary, taking place largely in the home, often in the evening: an oasis of “me time” in an increasingly frenetic world. In addition, the range of mind states behind the reading occasion are also identical: relaxation, indulgence, discovery, inspiration, information gathering, filling in time, etc. They just take place in a more fluid way with digital magazines.

Our own research shows that a repeated reason given by consumers for why they like digital magazines is “doing what I can’t do with print magazines”. That includes:

  • Searching by topic to find articles that meet their specific requirements at any particular time.
  • Drilling down into the magazine brands they love: 18% of Readly issues read are back issues.
  • Sharing articles they like with friends.
  • Making instant hyperlinks from a digital advertisement to the advertiser’s website, often to make an actual product purchase.
  • In the Readly digital newsstand environment, tailored recommendations present them with new, but associated reading suggestions – so discovery and experimentation are important factors.

So, what about the “reading occasion” itself?

While these are still clearly anchored in the home (which accounts for around 45% of reading occasions within the Readly app), digital out-of-home reading is more important than with print, with commuting, on-the-move and holidays as major “locations” – the portability of a digital edition is a key factor.

While digital reading is still dominated by evening occasions (which accounts for over 40% of “Readly Moments”), reading is more spread out during the day than with print. The traditional, long read with a drink in hand is also mixed up with short, snacking moments in a more high-frequency usage pattern.

This impacts on the repertoire of magazines read. This generally still has a stable core of known and loved brands, but is more flexible and fluid than with traditional print-only readers.

Yet, one of the most important insights is that these digitally savvy, social networking, texting consumers are also prolific users of other subscription-based entertainment packages: 84% have streamed services such as Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime. As Netflix is fond of saying, “Our biggest enemy is sleep”.

It is here where the real competition for magazine reading is coming from. And where, as an industry, we can fight back with digital magazines, with an experience which is not better or worse than the print experience – just different.

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