Digital is Not Print

Many newspapers and magazines over the past year have switched to digital-only editions. In some schools of thought, the only difference between a print edition and a digital edition of a magazine or newspaper is the delivery mechanism.

But they are very different in many ways, and the same business model that is applied to print cannot simply be moved over to digital and expected to function the same way. The understanding of these differences should be at the core of every decision made when creating a digital version of a publication.

When I get a magazine in the mail, I have to do something with it. That physical object I hold in my hands has to go somewhere. Admittedly, there are a few newspapers and free local magazines that get delivered to my home that go directly into the recycling bin. But I have to look at it to decide whether it has any value to me before I do so. I can’t just ignore it.

Digital magazines are easy to ignore. It’s completely passive. You can ignore a digital magazine simply by forgetting or omitting to go to the website.

When I keep a magazine and start to read it, my purpose is to read the magazine. I don’t necessarily read every word of every article, but I do go through the entire publication from front to back and read most of what interests me. Readers at a magazine’s online site are rarely there because they want to read the whole magazine. Rather, they are there for a specific piece of content.

For example, I subscribe to a craft magazine. Each month I read through the magazine pretty much from cover to cover. That magazine also has a fairly large and useful digital edition with extra content, and I find myself there quite often. But when I’m there it is never because I directly typed in the URL to see what the new content was. I either found content there via a search for something specific, like “Easter paper crafts,” or I saw a link in a blog post or Twitter feed, or some other direct link to a specific piece of content.

Print copies magazines can be taken anywhere, don’t require batteries or a plug, and aren’t going to disappear if the company publishing them goes out of business.

Digital copies of magazines are searchable, can be interactive, can be linked to from blogs and social media, and can include audio, video, animations and other things print will never be able to do.

I’m not saying that one format is superior than the other. I am saying that they are different, and if your idea to digitize your magazine is to put a replica of your print issue into some flip-book software, you are probably missing out on most of the advantages of digital media.

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