Digital Only Magazines That Flopped and Why Tablets Couldn’t Save Them

These digital only magazines have disappeared from existence, but we’ll take this opportunity to learn from their mistakes

There’s a basketball game between print and digital, and we’re rooting for digital. I recently wrote about print mags that went digital and some of the reasons for the transition came down to the fact that advertisers want metrics. If you’re a magazine that’s ad-based, you go where the digital dollars go.

And while it’s easy to say that print magazines have seen a decline in subscriptions, some digital-only magazines have flopped, too. These publications face unique challenges, such as keeping up with the ever-changing technology. Digital only magazines also face the same hardships as print (i.e. gaining attention and maintaining subscribers).

This is one of the many reasons why we tout multi-platform publishing: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Create products with multiple revenue streams, so that a dip in ad revenue isn’t your demise!

The tales of a few discontinued digital only magazines

The Magazine

At first, it started out as a digital only magazine that published content about technology. But then it wasn’t, and the shift in topics from niche to broad wasn’t the best move for Glen Fleishman (who had taken ownership of The Magazine after Marco Arment). But this wasn’t the only adjustment that had contributed to the decline in this magazine’s interest.

In addition to the poor choice of trying to broaden the target audience, there was an update made in the iOS technology that worsened the situation. According to Fleishman, Apple was “disinterested” in Newsstand. The app wouldn’t send enough reminders to subscribers to renew their subscriptions. Furthermore, the notification emails that people did receive unconsciously brought them to discontinuing their subscription because people had forgotten they were subscribers and didn’t want to spend any more money.

Other conundrums The Magazine faced was gathering enough original design and content for the readers to enjoy. The design is a cosmetic concern but still vital to grabbing the eye of a customer. As for the original content that went on the website, there was simply not enough time or staff editors to split up the task of content writing. Fleishman agrees that it would’ve been wiser to generate content from other sources, instead of The Magazine writing original articles.

Reality Weekly

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Originally published by American Media, Inc. (AMI), the concept of Reality Weekly was to give readers and subscribers an extra inside look into their favorite reality stars. It started off as a print magazine placed on the shelves of big corporate retailers like Walmart, Kmart, and Rite-Aid.

The print magazine debuted in 2012 and didn’t even last an entire year. AMI attempted to make Reality Weekly one of the many digital only magazines in the industry and create an app around the concept. As it turns out, the magazine failed. While the app was free, it was unsuccessful at grabbing attention from an audience.

The real reason for its discontinuation hasn’t exactly been made clear. The most educated guess possible is its lack of subscribers (even though it was a free app). If people weren’t interested in the print, they likely weren’t interested in the edition that’s digital only. They tried to save money by going digital but failed with a back up plan. Reality Weekly didn’t connect with its target audience, leading to its ultimate discontinuation.

Teen People

Back in 2006, the print version of Teen People stopped circulating. And like other magazines that were unsuccessful in print, the publishers decided to share it as digital only. Magazines like Teen People that completed this transformation rarely see the light of day afterward, although some rise from the ashes and go back to print.

In 2005, the print edition of Teen People was reaching 1.5 million subscribers. Objectively speaking, it’s not a bad number; however, a magazine of that magnitude needed a larger pool of subscribers to get advertisers. That’s when it decided to focus on the digital product and stop manufacturing in print.

The lack of circulation and low number of ad pages is why a publication like Teen People became one of the many digital only magazines that failed. Even with a big-name publication like People to sustain its relevance in the industry, the magazine was unable to capture an audience’s attention or bring in advertisers as expected in a timely manner.


Similar to Teen People’s story, Gourmet is another one of the digital only magazines that began in print. In fact it was the first magazine in the U.S. to cover food and wine (even before Food & Wine.) The magazine began in 1941, and had a long history until 2009 when it stopped circulating in print. The number of ad pages had dropped significantly, and it wasn’t circulating like other publications in the food niche. As a result, Gourmet went digital.

The magazine became an iPad app called Gourmet Live, and it turned out to be a complete flop. Although the app is still available, there is no new content being generated for the publication specifically.

Why do you think these magazines flopped? How would you make them successful? Tell us you ideas in the comments!


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