Thursday, January 14, 2010

Digital Mags: are "issues" becoming an outdated concept?

TechWeb, a division of United Business Media, announced this morning that Information Week would increase the number of digital-only issues it produces from four to 12.

According to its web site, the move is part of a "green" initiative:

InformationWeek is leading the technology media market with a 10-year plan to offset its carbon footprint and jump started in 2009 with the addition of digital-only InformationWeek Magazine issues. Direct environmental benefits of InformationWeek's green initiative are the elimination of the recycling and printing process, which create carbon, chemical and water reductions. In tandem with the digital issues, InformationWeek made a commitment to invest with nonprofit organizations that focus on the protection and restoring of damaged forests globally. InformationWeek donated nearly 20,000 trees to American Forests in 2009.
OK, whatever.  I like trees, too. But are you telling me this has nothing to do with cutting production and distribution costs?

But let's get to the point of this post: when will the concept of "issues" begin to disappear?

After all, if you have a web site your content is available 24/7, 365 days a year. When thinking digitally, is it really necessary to have "issues"? Why not one product that is constantly updated, constantly streamed?

I can certainly see that the idea of "issues" can have certain advantages, especially when you are able to sell individual editions profitably (digital versions of single copy sales).  But cable TV provides a different model, it sells itself via a monthly fee, yet there are not a set number of shows broadcast each day or each month.  They sell their packages by channel.

To a certain degree, major newspapers no longer think of their online offerings using the word "issues" -- their sites are updating constantly, and only a time stamp found on stories gives any idea to the reader of the age of the news. A subscription to the digital edition of the WSJ, for instance, does not limit the number of times you can view the site or the amount of updates available. Imagine if, as a digital subscriber you received a flip book version of the newspaper and were locked out of any breaking stories.

You might argue "that is what the web site is for". I would respond "let me get this straight, I pay for an issue, then have to go to the web site regularly to see if I've missed something?"

Of course, when we talk about digital magazines, and digital issues, we are really talking about good old fashioned flip book editions. We are also speaking of iPhone downloads through Zinio, or Kindle versions of magazines. These products are just as set in stone (or paper) as the print editions. They are deadlined, designed and produced, never to change, never to be updated.

To me this seems like an outdated concept -- the static news product. Younger readers may well reject these for many of the same reasons they are rejecting print: by the time they get to reading them they seem old. Yes, they are transportable and on devices they feel more comfortable with -- and this might be enough -- but I imagine that some entrepreneurial publishers out there might just decide that they have no use for "issues" any longer.

If you have some examples of the issue-less magazine, please let me know by posting a comment.

Addendum: there are, of course, many examples of magazines that have gone web only, but these are really no longer magazines, are they? What I would be interested in finding would be a publisher that produces electronic magazines that do not have "January" on them, that are essentially streamed publications, forever new, forever up-to-date. I believe we will see some of these arrive if tablet/reader publishing takes off. A user would "open" their digital edition and ask if you want to update the edition, archive it, or download a whole new version.  As they say, we'll see.