Sunday, April 01, 2007

Internet takes bite out of Canadian magazine readership

Internet takes bite out of Canadian magazine readership
Media landscape increasingly fractured as rivals fight to maintain audiences


Readership of several Canadian magazines is falling amid competition from the Internet, while some titles are cutting back circulation to focus on more lucrative subscribers.

Reader's Digest, the country's largest magazine with a circulation of 986,000 copies an issue, maintained the highest readership in the country with 7.08 million readers over age 12, according to data released yesterday by the PMB Print Measurement Bureau.

However, those numbers were down 1.7 per cent from last year's report. The PMB studies readership of magazines and newspapers over two-year periods. The latest numbers span the period from Oct. 1, 2004, to Sept. 30, 2006, and are compared with the same period spanning 2003-2005.

Canadian Geographic, which moved into the second spot in readership rankings, was a rarity in the industry as it boosted readership by 7.3 per cent, to 4.4 million.

Magazines are battling a migration of their readers to the Internet and are competing in an increasingly fractured media landscape where television, radio and newspapers are each vying to maintain their audiences in the face of competition from the Web.

And like the newspaper industry, which has seen some publications reducing the number of discounted copies they print to focus on paying subscribers who are more valuable to advertisers, some magazines are cutting back circulation.

That has also contributed to a drop in readers at some titles, said Bill Shields, editor of Masthead magazine, which tracks the industry.

Maclean's, which saw its overall readership rise 5.2 per cent in the last PMB numbers, fell 5.4 per cent this time around, to slightly more than 2.75 million readers. However, the magazine has been one of the more aggressive titles in cutting back its circulation since it relaunched.

Some magazines have sought to cull so-called junk subscribers, which generally cost more to pursue, in favour of their core market, Mr. Shields said.

"A junk subscriber is someone who has to be pestered eight or nine times before they renew and the cost of sending eight or nine renewal notices through first-class mail to someone often exceeds the money you get from the subscription."

The PMB tabulates readership by multiplying the number of readers per copy, determined in its surveys, by circulation. However, the magazine industry saw a broader decline in the number of readers per copy.

The industry trend shows readers per copy dropped from 5.5 in last year's report to 5.0 this year, which reflected the drop in readership numbers at dozens of titles.

In the business category, Report on Business Magazine had the highest readership with 1.37 million readers, down 5.3 per cent, while Financial Post Business dropped 6.3 per cent to 1.22 million readers. Canadian Business had 984,000 readers, down 9.2 per cent, according to PMB.

Several newspapers were tracked in the study. The Globe and Mail had more than 1.32 million readers on weekdays, which was up 0.2 per cent, and more than 1.24 million readers on Saturdays, down 1.9 per cent. The National Post had 813,000 readers on weekdays, down 3.2 per cent, and 659,000 readers on Saturdays, down 6.9 per cent.

Web news readers have greater attention span: U.S. study

Web news readers have greater attention span: U.S. study

By Belinda Goldsmith

WASHINGTON, March 29 (Reuters) - People who use the Internet to read the news have a greater attention span than print readers, according to a U.S. study that refutes the idea that Web surfers jump around and don't read much.

The EyeTrack07 survey by the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, found online readers read 77 percent of what they chose to read while broadsheet newspaper readers read an average of 62 percent, and tabloid readers about 57 percent.

Sara Quinn, director of the Poynter EyeTrack07 project, said this was the first large public study internationally to compare the differences between how people read the news online and in newspapers.

She said they were surprised to find that such a large percentage of story text was read online as this exploded the myth that Web readers had a shorter attention span.

"Nearly two-thirds of online readers, once they chose a particular item to read, read all of text," Quinn told Reuters on Thursday at the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual conference where the study was released.

"That speaks to the power of long-form journalism."

The study also found that people paid more attention to items written in a question and answer format or as lists, and preferred documentary news photographs to staged or studio pictures.

The study involved testing nearly 600 readers in four U.S. markets -- readers of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, The St. Petersburg Times in Florida, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and the Philadelphia Daily News.

The test subjects, who were 49 percent women and 51 percent men aged between 18 and 60, were asked to read that day's edition in either print or online over 30 publication days.

Two small cameras were mounted above the subject's right eye to monitor what they were reading. They were allowed to read whatever they liked.

The study found about 75 percent of print readers were methodical compared to half of online readers.

Methodical readers tend to read from top to bottom without much scanning around the page, read in a two-page view when reading in print, and re-read some material.

But whether online readers were methodical or scanners, they read about the same volume of story text.

Quinn said a prototype test also found that people answered more questions about a news item correctly if the information had been presented in an alternative manner rather than traditional narrative.

This could have been a question and answer format, a timeline, short sidebar or a list.

"Subjects paid an average of 15 percent more attention to alternative story forms than to regular story text in print. In broadsheet, this figure rose to 30 percent," the study said.

Large headlines and photos in print were looked a first but online readers went for navigation bars and teasers.

Quinn said more findings from the study would be released at the Poynter conference in April.

Superstar Smackdown: BoSacks vs. Mr. Magazine

Superstar Smackdown: BoSacks vs. Mr. Magazine
Posted by Patrick Henry on March 11th, 2007

It may sound a bit like a matchup from the card of a WWE event, but it actually was the title of more elevated clash between two print media experts at the Publishing Executive/Book Business conference and expo in New York City last week.

BoSacks is Bob Sacks (, the iconoclastic publishing consultant and commentator. Mr. Magazine is Dr. Samir Husni (, chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi and chronicler of the magazine industry for the last 21 years. They went to the mat over their views of the future of magazines, with Dr. Husni asserting their vitality and Sacks warning of negative trends undercutting them.

Dr. Husni, whose specialty is tracking the launches of new titles, insisted that the best hope for magazine publishing lies in ink on paper and not in digital alternatives. Magazines, he said, continue to exert a visual and physical appeal that consumers find irresistible. How else, he asked, are we to explain the enduring popularity of People, which hasn’t seen fit to change its format or editorial despite all of the competitive pressure that the Internet has brought to bear?

He said the launch of 926 new titles last year demonstrates that entrepreneurs are still willing to bet the farm on periodicals despite “horrifying stories of magazines that failed”—60 percent of them within their first year of publication. Magazines are so attractive to readers, Dr. Husni added, that newspapers are “committing suicide” by failing to be more like them in tone, style, and content.

Sacks acknowledged that magazines still have an edge over digital media when it comes to things like portability and ease of use. But he said their user-friendliness can’t hide the fact that overall magazine circulation growth “stopped dead” years ago or that a legendarily dysfunctional single-copy distribution system routinely discards up to 70 percent of some titles as unsold returns.

According to Sacks, postal rate increases and rising manufacturing costs threaten to price magazines and other printed matter out of the reach of most readers. Like the horse—once the universal service animal but now a plaything exclusively for the wealthy—the printed periodical faces the prospect that “20 years from now, only the rich are going to be able to afford a magazine or a book.” Sacks also talked about steady progress in e-paper, a digital alternative that may well give conventionally printed products a run for their money in the user-friendliness department.

The friendly smackdown between BoSacks and Mr. Magazine was a reminder that facts alone can’t explain why print survives or predict how it will be impacted by alternative media.

If magazines can’t increase circulation and decrease waste, it’s hard to think of them as anything but withering relics of a medium with a great future behind it. On the other hand, no matter how horrendous some of its inefficiencies may appear, the magazine industry still manages to put hundreds millions of copies into the hands of loyal readers who don’t know and probably wouldn’t care that seven of every 10 copies may be headed for the landfill. And while technologies like e-paper sooner or later will claim their share of the periodical market, no one has yet managed to sell a right-hand page to an advertiser in the e-paper equivalent of a conventional magazine.

Of course, perspicacious magazine publishers are covering both bets by shifting some of their activity away from print and into digital properties. During the Q&A, an executive of a well known b-to-b magazine publishing house mentioned that his company now derives $30 million of its $250 million in annual revenues from online sources. The company would have been in trouble had it not jumped on the digital bandwagon when it did, the executive said.

It's All in the Delivery

It's All in the Delivery

In 25,000 years, nothing has really changed except the method of sharing content.

No matter how far back in history you go, humans have captured the moment and written it down, somewhere. Whether you look at the 25,000-year-old Ishango baton from the Congo that recorded a six-month lunar calendar, which was the first known non-cerebral memory device, now called a book … or the cave paintings of France … or the scrolls of the Library of Alexandria … or the retooled olive press of Mr. Gutenberg, you couldn’t find a more interesting and complex period of our industry, of information distribution, than now. OK, maybe Mr. Gutenberg’s era was pretty exciting too.

From the moment movable type was invented till just a few years ago our path was crystal clear and unavoidable. Gutenberg created movable type from soft metal, and an industry was born from the rapid distribution of information.

Did you know he swore his printing partners to secrecy? And upon their deaths, the contract read that the “idea and process” of movable type defaulted back to Gutenberg and his heirs. Nice try, Johannes. Too bad that he died in poverty. Imagine that—the man who invented the world’s first real mass-information distribution system dies in poverty.

An Irresistible Force
The growth of the printing press and the distribution of information was an irresistible force, whose only combatant at the time was ignorance and what seems to us now extremely limited technology.

Of course that limitation is only apparent to us as we look back with tremendous hindsight. The technology of that day was nothing less than amazing, as is our reaching out to the stars. It took a single scribe over a year to copy a single book. Did you know that it took 200 to 300 sheepskins to make a bible? And there was no “preflighting” and “spell checking” to make sure that the scribe got it right.

But Gutenberg could turn out hundreds of books in a week, each one identical to the next. So it is not hard to envision the exponential growth of … well, everything. You no longer needed old wise men to learn from. You didn’t need to be an apprentice. You could learn anything and everything from a book.

Well, we all know the story of how the first book was a bible. But do you know what the very next books were? The topics were exactly the same things that are popular today. Craft books, then scientific books, then the explosion of thought and free thinking.

The printing press reduced the cost of books, increased their availability and encouraged the spread of literacy. It helped alter the economic, scientific and ideological outlooks for the next five centuries. It must have spread something like a virus, and the net result was that it democratized knowledge. And that is no small thing. Yes, that is the business Gutenberg was in, and so are you.

From Storytellers to E-tellers
We have gone from the storytellers of the oral tradition and cave paintings to memory devices like batons and parchment scribed by hand. We have gone from the printing press to new forms of electronic communication. Each new development in the history of communication has always further democratized the delivery of information. Nothing has really changed, except the method of delivery.

So if you think about it, printing on dead trees is no longer the only way of reproducing books and magazines. The process of reading, however, has not changed an iota; it is the same as it has always been.

We are still reading exactly the same way we did 25,000 years ago—we are still mentally interpreting written symbols. We are exploring new ways to do the same things the Ishango shaman did. Capturing ideas, storing it outside of the brain, and passing it on to other humans. Nothing has changed in 25,000 years except the method of delivery. PE

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor.