July 11, 2013 Last Updated 2:14 pm

Shuttering one’s print edition is only part of a digital-only strategy

IDG announces that it will shutter the print edition of PCWorld

The news from IDG that the publisher would be shuttering the print edition of PC World to go for a digital-only strategy came as a surprise to few media observers. PC World was one of the grand daddies of the computer magazine industry, its first issue appear March of 1983 (right around the same time I bought my own first PC). But PCWorld was also one of the few books still in print today – IDG took care of that with their announcement that the August issue would be the title’s last to be seen in print.

PCWorld-app-icon-sm“Both technology users and marketers have led the way in the shift from print to online and our decision to end 30 years of PCWorld print publications reflects their preferences,” Bob Carrigan, CEO of IDG Communications said in the announcement. “PCWorld colleagues in the U.S. will now focus on innovative digital-first editions featuring interactive multimedia presented in high resolution.”

Because the move was probably long in the works, the move should be easier to make. IDG launched new tablet editions for both PCWorld and Macworld last year, and in May announced that both tablet editions would finally be free for print subscribers. That move had to be made if they were going to retain their readers in this transition.

Both tablet editions are also a cut above the replica edition of Mac|Life that Future continues to offer its readers. But the PCWorld reader reviews lately have complained of buggy app performance, so would have expected that these issues would have been resolved before today’s announcement.

The issue of shuttering print for a digital-only strategy remains something many publishers must deal with. Too often an announcement that the print publication will be shuttered infers the death of the brand. But by having a solid digital strategy in place months before the eventual announcement, a publisher can appear far more confident in their decision. (Compare this announcement to Advance’s statements concerning their newspapers. “Digital first” sounds pretty hollow when the newspaper websites and their mobile and tablet editions lag far behind other publications.)

The lesson to be learned is certainly that the question to be asked is “are we ready to go digital-only?” I assume IDG has already asked that and that both they, and the staff, are ready to meet the challenge.

Time’s Harry McCracken has a nice post on the end of PCWorld’s print edition, including a pretty cool photo of a very young Bill Gates meeting with the PCWorld staff near the beginning of the magazine’s existence.

It is important to understand that the computer companies have always felt that the magazines were there to help sell hardware and software. Apple’s exit from Macworld was seen as a bit of a betrayal by many, but it really was a sign that no one was buying a Mac anymore based on some writer’s story on the latest model.

While many saw the computer books as consumer magazines, the reality has been that they are very much B2B in model. The chief sales point of the books to advertisers is similar to B2B: this is where the buyers are, a tight-knit group of readers that you need to succeed. When it was a time when only a few homes owned a PC that held true, an ad in Macworld for a new piece of hardware or software was required marketing for any computer-related company. But what happens when Apple opens up its own retail stores, has a thriving online store, and then launches its own Mac App Store? Apple becomes its own B2B media vehicle and, well, there is not as much room for the traditional magazine players.

The same thing, to a lesser degree, has occurred in other areas of B2B. Does Caterpillar really need to advertise in next month’s issue of Construction Equipment? Probably not. And if Caterpillar really wanted a magazine environment they could create it themselves and let that app join the other Cat app already in the App Store. Atlas Copco and other manufacturers have already launched tablet editions for their brands, and its a native tablet edition, unlike the small number of B2B construction titles that have bothered to launch a digital product.

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