Survey finds majority still prefers print over online magazines

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Vladimir and Estrogen, the hapless hobos in Samuel Beckett’s classic play "Waiting for Godot," would appreciate it. A report released late last month indicates that publishers waiting for readers to convert to online from traditional print products may be wasting their time, placing their bets on a switch that’s unlikely to materialize anytime soon.

InsightExpress L.L.C, a Stamford, Conn., online market research firm, conducted the survey, which tallied the opinions of 500 online respondents. It found that among those people who regularly read online magazines, only 22% actually prefer reading publications on the Web, while 73% said they would not forgo their print product for an online alternative—even for half the price.

The survey also found that a majority of respondents (63%) currently pay for a traditional magazine subscription and that nearly 80% expect online magazines to be free.

Lee Smith, COO of InsightExpress, said both b-to-b and consumer publishers "face the same core issues in terms of where the content is read, how much content is served online and what the price is." He said that although the Web is not going away, it will primarily be used to complement print and maintain brand names.

Bill Walker, exec VP of B2BWorks Inc., a Chicago-based online marketing firm, said the print-versus-Web debate is not necessarily an either/or question. "From a b-to-b standpoint, print and Web are used differently," he said. "Print products are used for more in-depth information, and the Web can be used for archival materials and research needed to buy and sell, which you can’t get from a magazine."

Smith agreed that because there’s generally considered to be more loyalty among b-to-b audiences than consumer ones, "there’s a stronger chance for b-to-b publishers to leverage their relationships with readers and ask them to go online and eventually replace traditional communication with online because of that tight relationship."

However, the survey results do not bode well for publishers hoping to generate substantial revenue online. Only 32% of respondents read any magazines online. Those who don’t cite inconvenience (54%); dislike of online banner ads, pop-ups and general distractions (47%); prices of online subscriptions (43%); and eyestrain (23%) as the main reasons for shunning online publications.

Timeliness praised

There was one bright spot for online magazines. Readers do believe that such publications provide more timely content (59%). Yet, only 22% perceive that online magazines provide higher-quality content than print versions.

Smith stressed that mobility and comfort continue to play major roles when it comes to how people consume media. In other words, not too many people curl up on the couch with their laptop, as opposed to their favorite magazine, and that sentiment seems to transcend age.

"The generational question doesn’t seem to resolve itself," he said. "People are conditioned to read magazines where they want and when they want."

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