The answer is that, for all their digital experimentation, magazines are nowhere near ready to abandon print. Online ads still bring in a fraction of the revenue print ads do, apps are still in the early stages of monetization, and digital-download versions are still a relatively small proportion of revenue. Magazine readers aren’t yet ready to lose their print copies, either. A 2010 study by the CMO Council found that 87 percent of people interested in reading magazines on tablets or e-readers still wanted a printed copy to accompany it; another survey conducted by the Harrison Group on behalf of Zinio and MEMS Technology showed that 75 percent of readers felt that digital content complements print content, and only 25 percent felt that digital could replace print.

True, those attitudes will likely shift with time. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), which has allowed for digital editions in its audits since 2002, the number of magazines that request audits of their digital editions increased fourfold from 2007 to 2011, and about a third of the magazines the bureau audits now do so. But as of 2011, digital subscriptions still account for less than 1 percent of total circulation for all US magazines, according to the ABC.

In the absence of any clear short-term solutions, what’s a publisher to do? Stick with the USPS but move up the editorial schedule to accommodate slower service, making the content less current? Switch to an alternate delivery service, which would be more expensive? Or push readers to go digital even faster? No option is perfect, but they’re all on the table.

“The whole industry is talking about everything,” said William Falk of The Week. “There is a sea change going on, and none of us know quite how it’s going to shake out.” 


Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner