We all know how much the digital change has impacted books, newspapers, and periodicals, but the latest canary in the printing press is a bit of a surprise. Newsweek, yes, the magazine you find in your doctor’s office waiting room, or grab on your way to boarding a plane, is going all digital. This is going to be a huge problem…for doctor’s offices everywhere. Seriously, though, this is big. Newsweek is a major print magazine, so for them to make the jump to a purely digital format that says a lot about the risk in remaining a traditional print publication.
The positives for Newsweek in this are pretty obvious. They’re cutting their costs immensely, and becoming more nimble in how they can report on the news. Magazines are a tough, tight business. Print too few and you leave money on the table, print too many and you’re burning money. Unlike books, you can’t print extra and gamble on selling any unsold copies as remainders. Overprinted magazines make bad-smelling kindling, and that’s about it. More importantly, they’re no longer bound to a printing deadline. In an age when the news moves as fast as your smartphone can receive it, Newsweek can have an updated article or news analysis pushed to your device immediately, as opposed to waiting a week for the next magazine edition.
Now, in the official letter announcing this change, Newsweek mentioned that their digital distribution has been strong, and that base is what’s encouraged them to make this change. I don’t doubt that they’ve seen a great deal of demand for digital magazines, but the real question is whether the readers who haven’t yet gone digital are going to follow. Hopefully they will, but it will be a tough transition for many people. I know my own parents have been receiving Newsweek since I was a kid, and while they have iPads and iPhones, I don’t know that their dedication to Newsweek is so great that it will get them reading digital magazines. It’s just as likely that they’ll cancel their subscription and only read TIME magazine. It will be interesting to see if the brand power of Newsweek is strong enough to bring over previously paper-focused readers.
The biggest benefit and potential upside for Newsweek is the timing. The Kindle Fire HD is out, the NOOK HD is out, and the iPad Mini is (possibly) coming this week. So throughout the holiday season, there will be plenty of opportunity for future buyers of digital magazines to end up with the perfect device to read Newsweek in January 2013. Hopefully the right mix of new content and new hardware will provide the tipping point Newsweek will need! And if Newsweek succeeds in this venture…who will be next?