A recent Wall Street Journal article by Keach Hagey takes a look at trends in digital magazine pricing and finds a number of publishers charging more for tablet editions than print. As ad revenue declines, publishers are turning to digital magazines as a way to “become more leveraged toward consumer revenue and a little less dependent on advertising,” in the words of Hearst president David Carey. And here’s Condé Nast president Bob Sauerberg: “We’re using this new platform and the clear demand for all access to our content as a way to redefine our subscription offerings at a higher price. The industry is trying to take a step forward because we’re all trying to get more money from the consumer.”
But how long will these pricing strategies work? Digital still makes up only a tiny percentage of magazine publishers’ overall revenues: The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) reported in August that digital replica editions (which replicate most of a print magazine’s editorial and advertising content, and make up the vast majority of magazines’ digital versions) made up just 1.7 percent of overall circulation. The WSJ story says big magazine publishers think digital won’t hit 10 percent of circulation until 2015.
Pricing strategies that very early adopters appear to be accepting are not likely to work for a general population. Magazine publishers may need to adopt more nuanced digital pricing strategies as tablets take off. And they can look to book publishers — who are a lot further along in the digital revolution, with ebooks now making up over 20 percent of revenues at large publishing houses — for some help. Here are a few things they’ll have to think about: