Thursday, July 11, 2013

PCWorld to Become Digital Only

PCWorld just announced that it is going to cease print publishing and go all digital.

Harry McCracken commenting on this for Time magazine writes:
In the age before the web, if you were serious about this stuff, you didn’t just read one computer magazine. You read several, and you probably couldn’t wait to get your hands on them.
[emphasis added]
The web with its access to thousands of good news and review sources has changed what people are willing to pay for. 

The recent Oregonian slide to four day print publishing is another indicator of the impact of the massive expansion of free, easily accessible online news sources.

The problem is generational as well as practical.  When a few minutes of easy entertainment was needed, the older generation would pick up a newspaper or magazine to browse.  The younger generation, now plays a tablet or phone game.  They aren't going to turn to digital reading for quick, fill-in entertainment.  But neither is the older generation going to be happy with firing up a tablet or phone for quick digital reading.

Print media like PCWorld is caught between two stools.  The public that finds their brand of entertainment appealing does not reach for digital first.  The public that naturally turns to digital prefers games to informational entertainment.

So, as a print subscriber am I going to sit back in my easy chair or lay back in bed and enjoy the digital magazine (or newspaper) as I did the print edition?  Not really.  The extra effort makes it less likely that I will read the magazine for fun.   Digital does allow for exact navigating to particular articles (a bane in many print magazines) and seamlessly provides text for "large print" reading years.  But, those are the major digital pluses I can think of for the average reader wanting just a bit of easy fill-in or before bed entertainment.

And then there are the technical glitches.  (Read some of the 1 star reviews here.)  It's not just crabby people or technical bozos commenting.  I ran into one issue myself.  I have an older 9" tablet that I bought a mere two years ago.  The magazine app doesn't work with it.  Two year old hardware is already a dinosaur for digital subscriptions.  So, to view my magazine subscription I have to get new spendy computer hardware.  Granted I got my 7" tablet for about $100 for the fun of fooling around with a newer android version.  But, a $100 hardware purchase every few years to read a $20 yearly digital subscription?  Not so great.

Except for books (which are a lot lighter and easier to handle on my Kindle, Nook, tablet or even android phone than a print version), digital print media is not easier or more fun than print media.  Since most print reading subscriptions are based on entertainment, that's a big hurdle digital has yet to overcome.

I wish PCWorld luck in their venture.  I don't think I will stop my subscription for the year and a half left--or ask for a refund for the lesser service.  But, since some of the fun will be gone, I probably will spend a lot less time reading/browsing the digital version than I did with the print edition.  That doesn't bode well for subscription renewal in 2015.



OregonGuy said...

My trade journals can be found in the Reading Room until read.

(Reading Room is an euphemism for the bathroom.)

They are portable, and don't require a power source.

T. D. said...

Yep. Judging from comments on the change to digital, a number of people do the same thing. It goes along with the 2 or 3 minutes of "leisure reading" hypothesis. Even those who do not keep magazines in the bathroom have surely taken reading material in with them at some point. It seems to serve the double purpose of passing time and relaxing the elimination piping.

MAX Redline said...

Pretty much spot on. I used to write for Computer Monthly some years ago; today, nobody knows that the mag ever existed.

Of course, part of it isn't what people are willing to pay for - more like how much are they willing to pay? Print costs have gone way up, while digital access prices have gone way down. Remember when you had to pay around $15 a month for access to CompuServe and GEnie?

Well...most folks did, anyway. I got free access and SYSOP privileges at both because I found back-doors into their networks while tweaking ATT codes on smartmodems in an effort to speed up the "handshaking" time before connection was established. After establishing that my tweaks always dropped me past the User Interface Gateway and straight into their networks (where I could do pretty much anything I wanted, as a "superuser"), I contacted them and arranged to send them my code in exchange for a small amount of cash and free access to their networks. But most people paid monthly fees - around $180 per year, per service.

Those days are gone; broadband/wifi took over, and there are more sources of content than anyone might have imagined. Computer magazines, like many other print venues, have so many costs associated with them that they've become impossible to run profitably.

Advance Communications is one of the few companies that's done well with magazines, but mainly supermarket checkout venues for "Cosmo" and "Vogue" and stuff. They're having a much more difficult time since moving into newspapers, as recent events at The Oregonian and elsewhere demonstrate.

Whether they'll be able to remain viable in that market seems questionable; certainly, their uniform web designs are a mess.

T. D. said...

Interesting, as you point out Max, that Advance has done well with print magazines. There still is a market for print magazines and newspapers, but how to find it effectively is the problem.

I have to admit that my magazine subscriptions have fallen significantly. I used to get 5 or 6 magazines a month and enjoyed browsing through them. But my non-book reading now includes so much that is online I just don't have the time for magazines that I used to. There are some magazines that are still as good as they used to be, but I didn't resubscribe because I found that they were just piling up. I don't have as much just sit down and page through interesting short stuff time as I used to. I guess I do that online now.

I think the Oregonian would be doing fine if it hadn't wounded its market by hiring reporters with the modern ethos of influencing events rather than doing basic investigative or in depth reporting. As I've said before, I get more insightful coverage on many important Metro area issues from your blog than I do from the Oregonian. They hand out fluff not only on people and projects they support, but on lots of other issues as well. Even were they to flip to a conservative editorial view, their reporting content is mostly not worth reading because they don't take the effort to explain key issues in what they report on. There is rarely an "aha" discovery moment when reading their reporting. You, by contrast, include a lot of "aha" material in what you post.

MAX Redline said...

Just the facts, TD - plus the background. Thanks. You're correct that the Zero crippled itself by bringing in too many with the modern ethos of influencing events rather than doing basic investigative or in depth reporting. Or, to clarify, we share that view.

T. D. said...

Max, do you think the good content now on the web makes us less likely to be satisfied with fluff pieces?

I think of my own reading, and I turn to certain sites or commentators/reporters when I'm looking for down time reading. In the past I might have picked up a magazine instead.

MAX Redline said...

I tend to believe the opposite, TD - I think that the pervasiveness of fluff and political correctness in the media is what drives people to the Web. Look at the AP: in a recent article, they started off with "17 year-old black Trayvon Martin" and ended the sentence with "George Zimmerman, who identifies as Hispanic."

Really? I mean, Really?

One might think that Martin's first name was "17 year-old black".

Did he "identify" as black, or is that or is "identifying" something that only white Hispanics do?

And since much of the content in newspapers today is reprinted almost verbatim from AP....

I find that I generally get better reporting by going online and visiting U.K. newspaper sites.

We see much the same in broadcast media, wherein they feed a soundbite and tell you to check their website for further details. And that very mindset, transferred to many print magazines, has featured prominently in their demise (along with increasing prices at the newsstand).

T. D. said...

Good point, Max. The sentence would be idiotic in any age, and now it's accepted journalism from a major U.S. news agency. Thanks!