Woeful Circulation for Just Retailed Digital Edition of Newspapers

The American Press Institute’s Cyberjournalist.net picked up our item last week about the woeful circulation of newspaper digital editions. Cyberjournalist’s lead sentence, although well-intentioned, made a conclusion that we didn’t: “In case there was any doubt that digital editions of newspapers were a horrible experience and destined to failure,….”

It’s not quite a simple as all that.

Retailed digital editions of newspapers (i.e., those sold directly by the publication to the consumer) do have dismal circulations. This is because the proper technologies (i.e., truly interactive files of less than 1MB per edition delivered routinely, wirelessly, automatically, and without proprietary applications into consumers’ handheld, portrait-screen, 4×6″ or larger-sized combination phone/music/video/reading devices or e-paper devices) are still three to five years away. Retailed digital editions of newspapers aren’t destined to failure, but will fail until those technologies are in the hands of consumers.

However, the Olive Software retailed digital editions that are hybrids of digital editions and Web sites (such as at the Arkanas Democrat Gazette but not at the Washington Post) have had a modicum of relative success for newspapers that insist upon charging for online content (itself is a questionable practice and not particularly successful).

The picture is different for digital editions of business-to-business magazines, scientific journals, or trade journals. They’ve generated healthy additional circulations from digital editions. For example, 65,000 of Ziff Davis’ eWeek magazine’s 400,000 circulation is now from digital editions.

Meanwhile, wholesaled digital editions of newspapers (sent by the publications via the Internet to distant locations, such as kiosks, hotels, resorts, corporations, cruise ships, etc., where the editions are printed out and distributed to consumers) are certainly successful for publishers. These generate ten to 20 times the additional circulations that retailed digital editions do and all major publishers should use these (vendors include NewspapersDirect, Satellite Newspapers, etc.)