New Yorker Magazine Publishes First-Ever Digital Issue — Meaning It Validates Our Trend of Fewer Printed Issues


Media Analysis - old

In our predictions for 2022, we said that traditional print publications will be cutting back on the number of print issues due to the costs involved.

We pointed to  Forbes (used to publish 26 issues, now six), Fortune (24, now 14), Fast Company and Inc. (12, now six each) or Bloomberg Businessweek (50, now 45). 

Then we found out that Gannett is stopping Saturday print editions at 136 of its newspapers nationwide.

Then we found out that Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, EatingWell, Health, Parents and People en Espanol will stop publishing print publications in April.

Now we found out that the New Yorker is touting its first digital-only issue, saying:

This week, in our first-ever digital issue, we bring you a collection of fresh interviews with leading figures in politics, literature, and the arts, conducted by an array of staff writers and contributors. We’ll publish new pieces each day, so we hope you return to us throughout the week.

They sent this in an email to subscribers who signed up for the newsletter. But not everyone who subscribes to the magazine also signed for the newsletter, so there could be a significant portion who don’t know what happened to their print edition. 

One quick point about the number of issues the New Yorker is publishing this year, and that there’s some doubt to how many print editions there will be. The New Yorker used to be a weekly, meaning 52 issues per year. If you look online, an annual subscription covers 48 issues but elsewhere, we saw that the New Yorker says it is published “weekly except for four planned combined issues, as indicated on the issue’s cover, and other combined or extra issues.” But other places report that the New York actually publishes 47 print issues. So that’s a cutback, even if not to the degree of Forbes or Fast Company.

Since the average reader of the New Yorker is aging — its average age in 1980 was 43 and 46 in 1990 but is now 47 in 2009, it’s a safe assumption that its readers are aging and probably are not expecting to have to go online to read this week’s double issue. We think that some readers will be relived that there’s an issue they don’t have to put on a stack somewhere, unread. But others may not know that they must go online.

But the real significance of the shrinking number of print issues is that some readers — mostly the older readers — will be left behind without their print editions. I’m not talking about people in waiting rooms having nothing to read that week. We know that avid readers of any of the publications we’ve mentioned allocate time to read those magazines. They will now have to adjust how they interact with their publications. Some like to display issues on their coffee tables because having an issue of one or another of these publications may define you. (For example, although there’s a significant overlap in terms of celebrity coverage, displaying a copy of Vanity Fair says something different from a copy of People  or Us.). 

Our point is that this represents a change in the way subscribers interact with these publications, and readers now have to remember to go online to access content from them. Some of the younger subscribers no doubt may always be online-only subscribers, having ditched their print editions a while back. 

But print subscribers are going to increasingly find out that their print subscriptions do not provide them with all access to the publication — which used to be the case as of just a few years ago. Now, print and online access require an all-access subscription so some may feel they already subscribe, and not go online. Some may decide to ditch the printed issues and just go online.

But it does mean a change in habit. And it does mean that some readers may not jump to the online editions and may decide to dump the print version because clearly there’s no breaking news being reported in a print only six times a year. 

We’re not complaining about this, just observing this. And pointing out that this is a nation where, not too long ago that many of us could not adjust the blinking lights on our VCRs (ask your parents). We’re just saying the shrinking frequency of print magazines means that subscribers are going to have to learn new reading habits to access their favorite magazines. And that publishers are going to need to figure out how to provide some way to make their remaining print editions matter and to provide readers with a reason to search for content on the publications’ sites. 

We’re living in an attention economy, and readers may decide to focus their attention elsewhere. As we’ve said before, that’s why the New York Times purchased Wordle and why its Spelling Bee game is one of the top touted aspects of the app.

And since this blog is part of the attention economy, thank you for reading. 

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