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Thinking of Converting to a Digital-only Magazine? Read This First

Is it an option for you?

October 2009 By Matt Steinmetz
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While most publishing veterans shudder at the thought of print publications being shuttered, the frequency of magazine closures surely seems to be increasing.

But while closing down a print edition and keeping the title "alive" in digital form used to be viewed as a last-ditch effort to preserve some form—any form—of a magazine's existence, some publishers actually are thriving with digital-only publications.

Before taking a closer look at some of those success stories, it's worth noting that shuttering a print edition in favor of a digital-only publication is no cure-all that can be applied by any publisher in any market. And depending on your cost structure, readership and advertisers, it may not be an option at all.

"If you're fat and sassy with a lot of print advertising, you're not going to want to do it. So call a spade a spade," says Norm Kamikow, president and editor-in-chief of MediaTec Publishing Inc., a Chicago-based publisher of workforce development and talent management magazines and events.

Kamikow's team shuttered Certification magazine's print edition 18 months ago after a 10-year run. "We did it because we were really at a marginal point with the [print] magazine," he says. "… Profitability is way up now. Going purely digital changes your cost structure so dramatically—once you take the printer and the post office out of it—that your profits should be there.

"We never would have done it if there weren't examples of other IT publishers like IDG and Ziff Davis that had done it before," Kamikow continues.

Putting aside the print-versus-digital debate, it's clear that both mediums have their own strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these, and how they are likely to affect your readership, advertisers and bottom line, is central to any decision to go all-digital.

Effects on Readership
Kamikow estimates that, at the time of his decision to pull the plug on the print edition of Certification, 33 percent of the publication's subscribers were digital-only, while another 33 percent received both the digital edition and a print copy. So two-thirds of the audience was already familiar with the digital edition, and the readership—made up of information technologists—is what Kamikow calls "online savvy."

Despite the successful switch to the digital-only publication of Certification, Kamikow says he "wouldn't do it for our other magazines. … The driver has to be the readership. Because if the readership will respond well, the advertisers will respond well."

 
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