Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The fallacy of digital publications

Like most print publications, we have a digital component that is simply a duplication of our printed version that we’ve made available online. Our printed publications are time sensitive and many of our subscribers end up getting their publication late. (My thoughts on how the USPS is killing our business is for another day).

We have always sold our digital versions on a separate platform and have had some success finding new readers.  Since so many of our subscribers were getting their publication late, we started offering our digital version free to anyone who purchased a regular subscription. So when anyone called to complain about delivery, we immediately gave them access to the digital version. In addition, we promoted it to non-renewals and in our publications.

After one year of giving away the digital subscriptions, we pulled all the readership data – who reads each publication, for how long, what was most read, etc.… What we found is that less than 5% of our subscribers accessed the digital version. That number was surprising to us since most of our subscribers had access and chose not to look at the digital even when they did not have their printed publication.

Then I was reminded how at my house our local newspaper offered a free digital version that I never used (even when I didn’t receive the paper). I also found this 5% number to be pretty accurate when speaking to other publishers.

Does this mean that creating digital versions is a waste of time, money and resources? Not really.

Why continue to create digital?

1)  To sell on digital newsstands like, where your publication is exposed to thousands of potential new customers.

2)  Subscribers do see a perceived value in offering a digital version.

3)  If you have the resources to ad video, web links, slide shows, audio and social media links, you may have more people looking at digital.

4)  You may be able to find sponsors that can offset any costs.

The $100,000 question is figuring out how to get your subscribers interested in reading digital and when will it start paying off. We will keep plugging away and hope conversion rates keep growing as we improve our digital editions so subscribers want to read it.


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