Digital Magazines UX: to switch or not to?

With spiraling print costs it seems a logical move to offer print readers with an alternative medium. Naturally, nothing quite replaces the real thing (the print copy) so it’s important to connect and empathise with these readers. Conversations while asking questions like: why we doing it, when and how we plan to do it and what you can expect from it are important to the readers. If, however, they are really precious about the printed magazine (the physical tactile, olfactory experience) then it’ll be hard to win them over.

Deciding to switch

When deciding to switch mediums careful planning and considerations must carried out. Communicating the change is important too. Considering how best to communicate the switch to our readers raises a few questions:

  1. How have the print subscribers been notified of the ‘change’ in medium?
  2. Is the switch in medium a cost saving measure for us, or a cost saving measure for us plus a bonus for the subscribers?
  3. What reactions have the print advertisers had towards the change in medium and how have been dealt with?
  4. What advantages (for the print subscriber) has/have been identified by the switch in medium and how have they been communicated to the readers? In other words, why would a subscriber want a copy of the digital edition over an existing online product?

One way to help your readers from resisting the change is to offer them a friendly how-to guide demonstrating how easy it is to use eliminating anxieties and barriers to use. The Boston Globe managed to create a short video to help its users: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/reader/demo/

Research and feedback

Interested by this topic I conducted research of my own from a users perspective – how do they find the experience? Also, I asked a professional user experience body whether any specific research had been conducted and soon discovered anecdotally that suggested no real positive experiences can be found – nothing noticeable anyway.

“interest in digital editions was limited at best proven by webstats”

“Ironically, the digital additions probably do better for those papers whose web additions have UI (user interface) problems or limit their online content: users may bypass the web to go to something more familiar and scannable.”

“there’s no evidence to suggest that anything beyond an article rendered in HTML provides any positive experience to the reader.”

Examples of digital/electronic editions

The best-of-class in online news these days are, New York Times, Financial Times, and the Guardian in my view. They use the web in ways to enhance the delivery of news, not detract from it.

What are the advantages?

What benefits do digital editions offer over print?

  • ability to view your ad (if you’ve placed one) in the print edition and all its stats
  • search – finding content: articles, photos, etc (using search)
  • being able to quickly navigate to pages or sections readers become familiar with
  • cheaper production costs
  • personalisation
  • chronology – timeliness and updates, the “real time web”
  • richer experiences – potentially more visual information including extra pictures and video
  • a more familiar feel (e.g., bloggers you can identify and ‘get to know’) aligning to existing online products
  • hyper-linking for related content (on and off site)
  • environmentally friendly.

Any alternatives?

With any business decision it’s important to consider the alternatives. What options do we have.

  • improved website – ensure that your current model is working optimally. Back this up by stats, user testimonials, usability tests etc
  • mobile offering – if you want to offer your users alternative ways at accessing content have you considered what your site looks like on a handheld device?
  • video/audio podcasts – if it’s content you want to allow your users to take away why not offer them alternative formats?
  • e-newsletters – how well does your newsletter serve your readers? Is your newsletter a must-see content piece or is simply ok?
  • better quality content – bump up the quality, frequency and quantity of the current content you produce. Perhaps providing just another medium to deliver your exisiting content does not solve a content quality issue?
  • Social Media – have you covered all the corners of the web? Are there potential communities waiting to consume your content on other more social ways?

Finally, when switching over to an electronic version seems like the only option, be wary of visitor dilution (or visitor distraction) that might effect your current online offerings and ensure you plan and facilitate seamless transition.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with electronic versions, I think it’s good for business, but be sure all the options have been explored beforehand.

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