February 5, 2015 Last Updated 10:47 am

Next batch of circulation statements may reveal much about digital editions

Is the growth of digital editions slowing, as some media observers contend, or are some titles just having difficulty maintaining their readership in digital newsstand apps that sometimes become buggy

The next batch of publisher’s statements from consumer magazines are due soon, and each day that goes by has me wondering what we will see.

Some media reporters have been making the same mistake each time a new batch of reports are released by the AAM: judging the whole industry by a subset of titles. A few have simply added up the publisher statement reports from some top titles and concluded that digital edition circulation growth has plateaued and that the end is nigh for digital magazines. (Then they move on and don’t write about digital magazines until the next batch of reports.)

I remain convinced that the AAM provides a vital service and that any consumer magazine serious about national advertising should be AAM audited. But one can not simply add up a few audits, make a chart, and then declare some sort of industry-wide trend. The data is vital, reliable, but it is not the whole picture.

But that also does not mean that the data doesn’t have something to say. A look at the last reports, dated June 2014, showed that several big name consumer magazines saw their digital circulations actually fall. Why? The answers are complex and vary from title to title. One major magazine had serious app problems last year. That title’s digital circulation fell from just over 7 percent of the total, to 4 percent – was it because of the app? Who knows, which is why I’m not naming the magazine, I simply don’t know.

TCMedia-covers

A handful of magazines have already reported their numbers, but it is a tiny fraction of the whole. The new reports from Transcontinental Media look good so far. Canadian Living, for instance, upped its digital circulation by a couple thousand, while also maintaining (actually growing) their print subscriptions.

I expect, though, that the picture that we will see in the new reports will be complicated by the fact that many publishers are moving away from their digital editions as a major sales point of emphasis. Instead, they are looking at their websites and other mediums to boost total brand audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, of course. But it means that we may not see much growth in those “Digital Replica” numbers.

So, does that mean those media reporters who take a cursory glance at the reports may be right, after all? Yes, in the same way a stopped clock is right twice a day. A few magazines reporting lower digital circulation is interesting, maybe telling. But it doesn’t give you a picture of the full market.

As we see each week, new digital magazines are launched into the Apple Newsstand and Google Play all the time which have no print component, and no plans to have their circulation audited. Then there are the increasing number of the digital magazines released that are developed as part of a brand’s overall marketing. Some of these new digital publications are very well designed and, in some cases, more adventurous in their digital publishing efforts than consumer titles.

The assumption, based on industry information being disseminated, is that the new statements will show tremendous growth, as one organization has promoting that the gross audience for magazine brands has been growing at a pace that dwarfs Apple, Facebook and all other tech brands on the planet. We’ll see soon enough what they new set of numbers have to say.

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