Research Behind the Numbers: Media Consumption

Magazine Readers Don’t Pine for Online. People may be spending lots of time on the Internet, but they’re not interested in online’s attempts to compete with magazines. Almost three fourths of the respondents in a new survey released by online market researcher InsightExpress say they would not forgo their paper magazines for an online alternative — even for half the price. The personal usage patterns associated with traditional print magazines, including reading in the bedroom and the bathroom and during the commute, outweigh the benefits of free and fast online publications.

The consensus is overwhelming. Only 22% prefer online magazines to print, even among those who do peruse the occasional page of Salon or Slate, and less than a third of those surveyed read magazines online. Their objections include inconvenience (54%); problems with banner ads (47%); the price of online magazines, even though so few of them actually charge (43%); and eye strain (23%).

In fact, while 63% of respondents currently have at least one traditional magazine subscription, nearly 80% believe online magazines should be free. What they do like about online is its timely content, which struck a chord with 59%. But only 22% believe online content to be of higher quality.

So, is the news all good for magazines? Not according to Content Intelligence, which in a 2001 study found that 24% of Internet users in the U.S. have canceled subscriptions to general news magazines since they began using the Internet. Business and financial magazines lost 23% of their subscribers this way, as did 21% of recreation magazines and 19% of lifestyle magazines. And though some users do pay for online content, most do so for "adult" material or an industry-specific site. What can be gleaned from the somewhat divergent results? Perhaps that while people like online magazines specifically, they are no threat to traditional magazines. Says Lee Smith, COO of InsightExpress, in a release accompanying the firm’s study: "…any hopes of [publishers’] growing revenue with online magazines seem to be misguided as most readers expect online content to be free." And, he adds, "online is not the magic bullet publishers were hoping for to retain readership…they don’t stand a chance when competing for a reader’s undivided attention."

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