The Future of Magazines is Digital Magazine

By Summer Zhang

At the D11 “All Things Digital” Conference held in 2013, Mary Meeker discussed in her presentation on internet trends how there are now 2.4 billion internet users around the world, with the total number continuing to grow at an 8% yearly rate. According to the latest “The survey of the American Consumer” from Gfk Group’s Mediamark Research & Intelligence, up to 80% of American consumers today are able to access the internet to read digital magazines with digital devices. Therefore, digital magazines are set to grow fast over the next several years in the magazine industry as publishers begin to enter the digital field.

Print still dominates the publishing industry, but digital is catching up, and fast. Compared to conventionally printed magazines, digital magazines provide more opportunities for publishers to innovate their product. The digital reading experience can include sound and video in addition to text, which better fits contemporary readers’ way of engaging with media. Consumers can easily gain access to digital magazines through a variety of digital platforms. So magazine publishers can take advantage of digital technologies to make their products more informative and aesthetically pleasing to attract more consumers.

Printed magazines still maintain a large audience, but according to a survey in “Publishing Futures 2013: At a glance” undertaken by the Professional Publishers Association, digital magazines now make up roughly 32% of the market share. Sales of digital magazines have been increasing each year, and this trend appears set to continue well into the future. According to a survey by Inmobi, 72% of tablet owners make purchases from their devices on a weekly basis. Thus, publishers today simply have to include digital media as part of their marketing strategy. Print magazines, however, while continuing to dominate sales at the present time, are under pressure due to falling advertising revenue. According to a study by the Association of Magazine Media and Kantar Media, the number of ads purchased in 2013 for iPad editions of magazines rose 16%, and according to the Pew Research Center, digital ads now make up roughly 6.6% of overall magazine revenue. According to figures from Adobe, whose digital publishing suite powers around 80% of all digital magazine editions currently in circulation, the total number of digital magazines downloaded every week increased from 300,000 per week in 2011 to a staggering 2 million per week by the end of 2013.

Many publishers have recognized this digital transformation and are adjusting their production processes to capitalize on the benefits of digital editions: digital magazines open up new advertising models with the potential for greater impact on consumers, marketing departments are able to share their magazines with a wider audience through social media channels, and readers can have access to videos, which adds a new dynamic to the consumer reading experience.


Named the best tablet magazine in 2013 by the National Magazine Awards, the digital edition of National Geographic is one example of great success in the digital magazine field. The magazine offers in-depth reporting, world-class photography, a beautiful design, smooth navigation, immersive interactivity, social media integration, and engaging motion graphics. National Geographic successfully attracts a large number of consumers by providing them with opportunities to read, play, and share content through online networks. According to National Geographic CEO John Fahey, the magazine had 181,000 subscribers in 2012, a number which has continued to grow over the past two years.

A survey in “Online Publishers Association Study Reveals Attitudes of Today’s Tablet User” found that 61% of tablet users purchase some form of digital content, and that tablet users pay for magazines more often than any other content.


Compared to print magazines, digital magazines offer the same layouts, content, and advertisements. ComScore Inc., a leader in measuring the digital publishing world’s performance, found that two in five US tablet owners read magazines on their device, and that 40% of tablet owners regularly read magazines on their devices. According to GFK MRI, digital audiences grew from 9.2 million in 2012 to 16.9 million in 2013, representing an 83% increase within a year’s duration. (The new Mediamark Research & Intelligence report is the first of its kind to compare digital readership, including tablet and replica editions [though not magazine websites], over a year-long period). In addition, according to The Alliance for Audited Media’s report on US digital magazine subscriptions, digital magazine circulation doubled from 2012 to 2013.

With unlimited pages and more room for extras, the tablet is every publisher’s dream. Tablets save a large amount of time for both publishers and consumers. Instead of waiting out a long delivery process, readers can gain access to issues as soon as they pay for their subscription. Also gone are the obstacles involved in obtaining old editions of magazines, and consumers can enjoy magazines at anytime, anywhere if they have a digital device, without the hassle of carrying multiple print versions around. In our era of social media, digital magazines also allow readers to share content immediately at the click of a button, which is a convenient way to enhance communication between readers, and consumers can access advertisers’ sites by simply clicking a link, which benefits both publishers and advertisers. Readers can perform keyword searches on digital magazines to find a topic they are interested in within seconds. Lastly, as they are paperless, digital magazines reduce costs for publishers and save environmental resources.

I believe there to be three reasons why digital magazines will thrive in the near future. First, we now live in a digital world in which internet usage is growing rapidly on a daily basis. According to Mary Meeker, mobile usage is also growing rapidly. More and more people are choosing to read on their tablet or mobile rather than purchase a traditional print magazine. Many individuals today have grown up with the internet and are thus more used to interacting via social networks and engaging media through technology. Second, more and more technology and online tools are making it possible to publish multi-platform magazines in an easy and relatively cheaper way. There are no printing costs for digital magazines. According to Lormer’s research on the magazine industry in British Colombia, digital magazines will save the industry 43% of its average expenditures in total. Third, data online can be accessed anywhere.

Therefore, in order for magazines to survive and grow, they must become a part of the digital sphere, where today’s consumer spends a large amount of time. People today commonly expect digital editions of print magazines to be offered. Successful magazines must return to their roots of offering more to enhance their readers’ lives. In the future, as magazines continue to steadily transition into digital formats, digital magazines will no doubt take precedence over print magazines in the magazine industry.

1. Mary, M and Liang W, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers Internet Trends Report, 2013

2. GfK MRI(Gfk Group’s Mediamark Research & Intelligence)’s Survey of the American Consumer® is the industry standard for magazine audience ratings in the U.S. and is used in the majority of media and marketing plans in the country.

3. Publishing Futures 2013: At a glance, Professional Publishers Association Publishing Futures

4. Global mobile media consumption reaching millennials, Inmobi

5. Tablet Magazine Advertising Insights, Association of Magazine Media and Kantar Media

6. Publishing Futures 2013: At a glance

7. Online Publishers Association Study Reveals Attitudes of Today’s Tablet User

8. 2013 National Magazine Awards

9. Online Publishers Association Study Reveals Attitudes of Today’s Tablet User

10. The Impact of Connected Devices on Consumer Behavior, ComScore Inc

11. Interview from National Geographic CEO John Fahey

12.  Lormer’s research on the magazine industry in British Colombia

One Reply to “The Future of Magazines is Digital Magazine”

  1. Hey there Summer,
    Good essay! You had me at “the total number continues to grow at an 8% yearly rate.” That’s a lot! So yes, I agree that there is a future for digital magazines. How could I not? Many digital magazines are so beautiful, I feel rich just holding one. Your description of National Geographic was great too. What a good idea to have a cheetah running across the cover. All of those extra features that digital magazines have are great! And I love receiving my digital magazine from overseas in seconds.

    I do think that it is premature to say that just because there are billions of internet users means that over the next five years digital magazines will dominate. I’m not sure that one necessarily follows from the other. Especially because those internet users could get similar information for free on websites, rather than in a paid-for digital magazine. And in the infographic you provided, it states that only 50% of tablet owners prefer to read magazines on them. That is a relatively small number compared to the 2.4 billion internet users.

    And while that 2.4 billion internet user number is putting the emphasis on dominating digital markets, digital magazines are not one of them. And why is that? I think one big reason is something you didn’t mention: you can find anything on the web. There is so much information in magazine article formats. Blogs are killing magazines. If I go online to find out something on chickpeas, for example, there are so many more articles from bloggers on chickpeas, than from magazines. And it’s free! Whereas a digital magazine is not. Why pay for consolidated digital magazine information when you can get exactly what you want just by googling it? Another reason I think the print magazine will take a long time to die is because a magazine is a scrapbook of sorts. It is a place to find information, recipes, workouts, etc all with a similar theme. You can cut these out and post them anywhere: in the kitchen, beside the treadmill, in the knitting basket, in a diary. When I am reading a digital magazine, it is nearly impossible to copy and paste the text, and is a headache to find again if you want to use the recipe.

    You mention that “digital magazines appear to dominate the magazine market due to the development of internet and digital industries”. That’s not the case yet. As Russell Clark said in a guest presentation, the “holy grail” has not yet been found in terms of being successful with digital magazines. Right now they don’t have sufficient added value over their print equivalents. The features are fun but don’t offer much more than that.

    Tools like Padify are taking us the right direction, though. And Next Issue is great for bringing many digital magazines to the readers easier! So yes, I think that at some point in the future, digital magazines will be utilized more. As of right now though, I don’t think they’re even close to dominating the market. They need to become so much more than just a digital facelift (to quote Shirky) before they can be successful.

Comments are closed.