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Bundling Could Be Weakness in Digital Magazines

On Silicon Valley news and opinion site Pando Daily, Hamish McKenzie makes an interesting observation about magazines and their attempts to jump to electronic versions. McKenzie sees their problems as not so much difficulties moving to digital as it is a problem trying to push an obsolete bundled format in digital.

It’s a similar point to something I said toward the end of my post about the free first issue of Amazing Stories the other day, in which I suggested such an e-magazine might work better as individual stories rather than big bundles of them. In the old days of print, magazines were printed because that was the only economical way to get many different short articles and stories to readers: bundle them up together so they are economical to print.

But in this new tablet-enabled world, people don’t necessarily read magazines—they read individual stories, and they don’t care where they get them. They use aggregators like Flipboard, Zite, or RSS apps like Reeder to create their own personalized magazines out of a variety of sources, and read those instead. Forcing consumers to download a huge chunk of content that they might not even read most of makes less and less sense as time goes by.

McKenzie predicts:

In the future, magazine brands will be producers, endorsers, commissioners, curators, designers, and promoters – but they won’t primarily be bundlers. The bundle may still exist, but it will be a much smaller piece of the magazine business than it is today. The printed product, for instance, might ultimately be a prestige item distributed occasionally as a supplement to, or showcase of, the brand’s best work according to a particular theme or period of time. It’s difficult to envisage a printed product that in 10 years will be profitable when produced on a weekly or monthly basis.

And magazine publishers, as well as the journalists and editors who write them, will either adapt or go out of business.

It’s an interesting idea, and we’re seeing it start to happen today in some ways, with the emphasis on individual stories and sharing them through social media. I also see a lot of stories from co-owned e-news sites republished in each other’s feeds. Ars Technica carries Wired articles, and vice versa. But there are still plenty of e-magazines that publish entire monthly issues that download into your tablet in one big chunk.

I wonder how many of those there will be in five or ten years?

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Tony Hursh August 18, 2012 um 9:53 am

There might still be some bundling advantage at the bottom end. Amazon (e.g.) doesn’t let you price a Kindle book lower than $0.99. People might be more willing to pay that for a collection of short stories rather than an individual story.

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