It's a tough time for print publications. A seven-year decline in paid circ culminated in last year's 1.7 percent drop to $277 million in H107 from $282 million in the first half of 2006, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Another decline is expected for H108 as well. Meanwhile, despite growing traffic at magazine websites, the revenue figures for those digital efforts are still hard to glean collectively. But USA Today has some small hope for the industry: e-papers, electronic versions of the print property, will be big, netting mags $25 billion in revenue, according to David Renard, senior analyst at researcher MediaIdeas. However, that won't happen until about 2020, he says.
In the meantime, Zinio, the electronic/digital editions software firm, is trying to position itself as the industry's white knight. The company has given 750 magazines, such as BusinessWeek, Elle, Redbook, Playboy and Car and Driver, the e-paper treatment. In terms of pointing to particular successes, Playboy, which saw a 3 percent decline in online revenue in Q1, is mentioned as a prime example. Since publishing a e-paper edition three years ago with Zinio, Playboy has sold roughly 1.7 million digital issues (the charge to consumers: $19.97 for a dozen issues and $4.99 for a single issue.) So while Playboy claims to have saved about $1.2 million from related printing costs thanks to Zinio, it hasn't helped its internet revenues at this point. Still, the USAT piece makes at least one good argument in favor of switching to e-paper: the amount of magazines that go unsold every year is equivalent to the cutting down of 35 million trees. So, while we wait for 2020 to arrive, we can at least do something good for the spotted owl.
By David Kaplan