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Publisher makes tons of cash from digital magazines – shock!

| 08 Feb 2012

I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be a year of landmark moments in the digital publishing revolution.

First, straight into the New Year, we got the news that tablet and e-reader ownership had virtually doubled over Christmas in America, such that around three in 10 US adults now has access to a digital reading device. So that’s taken care of the “this might just be a passing fad” argument; digital reading is here to stay.

Second, Future plc has just issued an interim statement for its last quarter that reveals that its digital magazine revenues in the UK grew by 51% during the quarter, and… this is the really good bit… completely offset downturns in its print magazine revenues. Those surging digital revenues came from a mixture of magazine sales and advertising carried in the digital editions. If this hasn’t killed the “digital can’t possibly match the kind of revenues we get from print” argument, it’s certainly put a very big hole in its side, just below the waterline.

The news also shows the value of embracing the digital opportunity whole-heartedly, instead of sidling towards it warily as so many publishers are doing. Future took the bold decision to move 65 of its magazines onto Apple’s Newsstand when it launched in September, and according to the company it is this platform that has stuck a rocket under its digital revenues. Nor are we talking a high-cost operation which required huge investment; all but three of these titles are cheap ‘n’ cheerful turning-page replicas of the print version.

The detail in Future’s announcement is also significant. In total, Future sold 430,000 digital magazines during the quarter, which works out at around 6,600 sales per title. Of these sales, more than 40% were for subscriptions, so much more valuable for the long term than single-issue sales. Even more encouraging is the fact that 80% of those who downloaded one of Future’s new magazine apps were based outside the UK – a market that is expensive to reach with printed product. And one final cheering fact; more than 90% of the downloads were carried out by customers new to Future.

In my opinion, this is just the news that publishers need to hear. It doesn’t mean that digital is the answer to every publisher’s prayers; as ever, a dull magazine will not sell on the iPad any more than it would sell in print. What it does mean is that if you put the right product with the right content in front of the right target readership, they will buy it in digital format as well as in print. I think that’s news worth celebrating.

Mark Rosselli is chairman of CPL

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