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August 9, 2013

The Cultural Reasons Behind Digital Magazine Subscription Growth, Newsstand Decline

Reasons for Digital Magazine Subscription GrowthGiven our smartphone and tablet dependence, it’s no surprise digital magazine readership is growing. But the reasons for the nearly doubled number of digital subscriptions are as cultural as they are technological.

More smartphones, more tablets, more digital magazine subscriptions. That’s the very simplistic explanation behind the first half magazine circulation numbers released earlier this week by the Alliance of Audited Media.

Overall, paid and verified subscriptions held steady, slipping only 1 percent, while digital readership doubled, from 5.4 million last year to 10.2 million this year. By the numbers, it sounds impressive, though digital, at 3.3 percent, makes up a very modest percentage of circulation numbers.

Hardest hit were the single-copy magazine sales at the newsstand, which experienced a double-digit drop—10 percent overall—though some titles saw declines of nearly 30 percent.

Industry executives and publishers chalked up the numbers to the changing nature of magazines, readership and even their target audience. All true, and these are the fundamental factors at work.

We’re more mobile. Yes, we’re still tethered to our laptops, but more and more, you’ll see people clutching their tablets instead—especially if they’re traveling. Rather than lug the computer, the books and magazines on vacation or on business travel, tossing the tablet and the charger in the bag means there’s a lot less to pack and keep up with.

We’re more distracted by technology. This one is directly related to newsstand sales, and it’s not the first time the connection has been made. “Mobile blindness”—checking the old smartphone rather than make an impulse buy based on magazine headlines—is the side effect of our growing reliance on technology and the urge to scan Facebook or (gasp) play Candy Crush when we’ve got a free minute or two. Plus, a print or digital subscription will net you more issues than buying single copies at the newsstand price.

We’re ushering in a generation of digital-first readers. Many of us have experienced the days of the desktop computer and a landline (even before it was wireless!). We might feel pretty confident about our tech-savvy-ness, but you’ll find fewer holdouts clinging to print editions among, say, millennials and younger readers who are more likely to favor computers, smartphones and tablets for finding information.



About the Author

Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.