‘PC Magazine’ says the time has come to go all digital

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Ziff Davis Media announced last Thursday that it would shutter the print version of PC Magazine. The January edition of the storied publication will be its last in print.

The PC Magazine brand, however, is far from dead. It’s been moving online for years. In recognition of this reality, Ziff Davis has renamed the PC Mag Network as the PC Mag Digital Network.

The question is whether the closing of the print publication is a defeat for Ziff Davis or simply a smart move whose time has come. Ziff Davis Media CEO Jason Young said the decision was a long time in the making.

"Moving our flagship property to an all-digital format is the final step in an evolutionary process that has been playing out over the last seven years," Young said. "Since 2000, online has been the focal point where technology buyers get their information and technology marketers are directing their dollars to drive demand and build their brands. We have been carefully preparing for this step and are fortunate to have a digital business that has the scale, profit and opportunity to carry the brand powerfully into the future."

Jeffrey Dearth, managing director of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips, said he didn’t expect such a move. ‘I was actually a little surprised,” he said. ‘It still had a circulation of 600,000, which is still a big circulation.” Dearth, however, acknowledged the migration of both audiences and advertisers online, especially in the tech sector, did offer plenty of rationale for the move.

Print advertising pages in the technology sector have been trending downward for a decade. PC Magazine was no exception. The publication had 2,054.45 ad pages in 2002, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures. Last year, it had 1,022.71. In the first six months of this year, its ad pages declined another 35.8%.

Meanwhile, the brand’s digital numbers have continually trended upward. Over the past seven years, PC Mag’s digital properties have experienced annual audience growth of 33% and annual revenue growth of 42%. PC Magazine’s various sites boast more than 7 million unique monthly visitors.

The online growth is all the more remarkable, because Ziff Davis Media essentially had to start over with its digital strategy when private equity firm Willis Stein & Partners bought the company in late 1999. By that time, Ziff Davis’ magazines had been split off from the company’s Web properties, with ZDNet, the pioneering online site, sold off separately to CNET. “ZDNet was a very early hot Internet company,” Dearth said.

Eventually, PC Magazine and other Ziff Davis properties started their own Web sites to complement the publications, but they started well behind their competitors.

For its part, PC World, PC Magazine’s long-time competitor, is running on its Web site an ad promising “2 Risk Free Issues” of its magazine and shows no sign of killing the print version. “The PC World brand continues to be represented by print and online products, because our advertisers and readers continue to support both,” Mike Kisseberth, president-CEO of PC World/Macworld, said in an e-mail.

For its readers who want the traditional look of a print magazine, PC Magazine said it will continue to offer a digital version of the publication.

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