Do Digital Books and Subscriptions Impact Print Sales? Should You Care?

Growing your digital media strategy to match the future needs of your customers

In the last year, the sales of eBooks have grown 169.4% to $164.1M, while the combined categories of print books fell 24.8% to $441.7M, according to The Association of American Publishers. Additionally, e-Reader ownership has doubled in the last six months, according to The Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project. In fact, they reported that 3% of adults own both an e-Reader and a tablet computer like an iPad or Samsung Galaxy.

So are you worried that digital editions of your book and subscriptions will impact print sales? Hopefully not, because digital editions are infinitely cheaper to produce in the long run and often times even in the short run. In fact, digital editions have proven to increase subscriptions. New data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ Fas-Fax show a 20% rise in circulation for the top 25 newspapers with digital editions.

How digital editions affect you right now:

  • Print + digital packages: Right now, in order to help customers make the print to digital transition, it’s smart to offer a print and digital package where a user can get both a print and digital copy of your book or magazine. The Wall Street Journal uses this model and has seen a rise in circulation of 1.2%. Subscriptions to its electronic editions have risen 21.9%.
  • Start-up staging: Not every publisher has a digital edition just yet and it’s not technically “expected” by the general consumer audience just yet in the same way users expect you to have a website and informative free blog. This gives you another year or so develop your digital product, but as we know, the early bird catches the worm.

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How digital editions will affect you later:

  • Broader adaptation of the technology: Mequoda’s Chris Sturk notes that “currently, eMarketer predicts that by the end of 2011, 8.7% of the US adult population, or 20.6 million people will be among the installed base of e-reader owners. By the end of 2012, this number is expected to grow to 12% of the adult population, with a total of 28.9 million people owning an e-reader.” [source]
  • Increased usage: He also found that “during 2010, it was predicted that consumer magazines in North America combined for about $4 million in digital circulation revenues. This number is expected to grow to $611 million by 2015. During this time, print circulation revenue for magazines is expected to slide by $445 million. This means there’s an expected net increase of $162 million in revenue.” [source]
  • Less production time: As you migrate your workflow into a process that creates a print and digital product at the same time, your efforts will be reduced and the divider between print and digital teams will become less clear and more productive. Your back archives will also already be digital, as will be the content you produce which can be repurposed later.

The take-away is that digital products increase subscription sales, not necessarily print sales. This is, however, a great thing that will reduce production costs and time down the road where your digital userbase exceeds your print readership.


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