Print v. Digital Magazine Readership Trends

When I tell people I work in print publishing, I often get a response along the lines of, “Bet times are tough in the print world.” Well, I understand the perception that print media, and print magazines in particular, are in decline. But, to echo an author who did quite well with print publishing, reports of the print magazine’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. In reality, readership of print publications are still equal to or greater than digital readership. But don’t take my word for it. Before taking any action on your association’s print publication, it’s important to take a look at the numbers. 

Yes, People Still Read Print Magazines

Not only do people still read print magazines, but in certain age demographics, readership has barely dipped at all in recent years. In a 2017 survey, over half (56.1%) of adults said they’ve read an issue of a print magazine in the last week. Among adults 65 and over, 73% said they’ve read a magazine within the past week. This is double the rate of readership within the 18-24 age range, as only 36% of respondents in that range had read a magazine in the last week.

It seems crystal clear that there’s a distinct gap generational gap when it comes to consuming print magazines. So, as publishers and associations, it’s important to know the demographics of your membership and act accordingly to reach different age groups within your organization. It’s not hyperbolic to say a one-size-fits-all publishing model is likely missing entire segments of your membership. 

Digital Magazine Readership is Growing

In 2018 almost half of adults (42%) said they’ve read an online magazine in the last month. That study, the 2018 Mequoda Magazine Consumer Study, showed a 15% increase in readership of digital magazines between 2015 and 2018. Even with this dramatic increase in digital readership, print magazines still get more readership. On average, readers of digital magazines reported to read an average of 2.66 issues in the last 30 days. This number falls just short of print readership, which the average is 2.72 issues in the last 30 days. 

So, Print Magazine or Digital?

What I take away from this data is representative of the conversations we have with a lot of our association clients who have print publications and are weighing their options going forward. Sure, cutting a printed publication can reduce costs. But we really encourage our clients to consider the age of their membership; data clearly suggests that older people prefer print publications. The ideal scenario? Give your membership the option to receive a print publication, or if they prefer digital, have them let you know and you can save yourself a little bit on your print costs while still delivering your publication to members digitally. 

At the end of the day, we encourage associations to think about the membership experience first and foremost, before costs come into play. Meeting your members where it matters and letting them decide on how they want to receive the content and news your association produces as a benefit of membership is crucial to demonstrating your value to members. Tailoring your publishing model is a huge component of delivering the flexible, customized experience your members are clamoring for. 

If you’re interested in learning more about publishing, we have a great blog post on how to decide if you should distribute your publication for free that you should check out. If you’re more into reading about the World Wide Web, we have a synopsis of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report you can read up on. 

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