Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dear PC Magazine

This Blog post appears to be about Computers and a Computer Magazine but it is about "Digital Magazines" which have been around for some time now. Please read it all and please forward your thoughts on this.

I recently picked up one of my four free copies of "PC Magazine" print edition that I get as subscriptions. I have been reading PC Magazine religiously for over Twenty-Five Years now. I subscribed many times off and on over the years but now get four free subscriptions and I pass them around to friends, doctors and co-workers.

This new edition came wrapped in plastic and had a card slash letter inside the plastic. Here is the card (Ok, not quite the card as I didn't want to type it all out but a similar letter taken from their site but it reads the same as the full page letter in the magazine):

An Open letter to PC Magazine (Print) Readers,

The January 2009 issue (Volume 28, Issue 1) of PC Magazine will mark a monumental transition for the publication. It is the last printed edition of this venerable publication. Of course, as with any technology-related enterprise, this is not the end, but the beginning of something exciting and new.

Starting in February 2009, PC Magazine will become a 100-percent digital publication. So, in addition to our popular network of Websites, which includes our centerpiece,, as well as ExtremeTech, blogs like Gearlog and AppScout, and audio and video content that includes PCMag Radio, Cranky Geeks and DL.TV, we'll offer PC Magazine Digital Edition to all of our print subscribers.

The PC Magazine Digital Edition has actually been available since 2002. So for thousands of you, the benefits of this unique medium are already clear. And those benefits will continue to multiply in the coming months, as we work hard to enhance your digital experience.

With PC Magazine Digital, you will continue to receive the same quality, unbiased, expert reviews of products, as well as tech advice, news, and opinions you have come to expect from us these past 27 years, all in a package that is completely portable. Our coverage will not change, only the format, which offers these benefits:

It arrives in your e-mail automatically. Just click the link to either download the latest edition, or to view it entirely online.

It is portable. Once you've downloaded the issue (which takes a matter of seconds), just power up your PC and view it anywhere, on an airplane, in your hotel room, wherever.

It looks like the PC Magazine you're familiar and comfortable with. I know why you've stuck with us all these years. You like the magazine and you enjoy the format. Our digital platform makes it possible to deliver that same magazine experience on your PC. So you can "turn" the pages and view our features and departments as you do now.

It's lively and interactive. Our digital edition will eventually offer rich media options within a magazine format. So, for example, next to the product review you're reading in First Looks, you can easily view a slideshow of that product. Or while you're reading a Solutions article on Microsoft Outlook tips, our PC Labs experts can walk you through the steps of some of those tips in a video.

Yes, you can print it. You can print as many pages of the magazine as you want.
It's searchable. Here's something PC Magazine print cannot do. Enter a search term and PC Magazine Digital will fill all the related pages.

A live TOC: The table of contents is not only a place to find out what's in this month's issue. You can use it to navigate directly to the stories you want to read.

It's Green: You can actually feel good about the amount of paper, ink, and gas we'll all be saving by not producing and consuming a physical magazine.

For our current subscribers, if we already have your e-mail address, you don't have to do a thing. The digital edition will begin arriving in your e-mail inbox. If we don't have your e-mail address, please visit our customer service Web site ( and follow the instructions on it. If you're not yet a subscriber, you can find a free trial edition of PC Magazine Digital Edition at this link:
While we are energized by the endless possibilities of the digital format, I assure you that the decision to stop producing a hard-bound copy was not an easy one.

But the reality is that the ever-growing expense of print and delivery was turning the creation of a physical product into an untenable business proposition.

I want to personally thank you for more than 27 years of devotion to PC Magazine in its print form, and now I invite you to, if you haven't already, join us in the digital age. There are many technology innovations on the horizon. It promises to be a wild ride, one for which you'll find no better guide than the PCMag Digital Network.

—Lance Ulanoff Editor-in-Chief PCMag Digital Network

Wow, shock at first and then horror. First you must understand that this is my favorite Computer Magazine and I do read it religiously and look forward to every new edition that comes out. This magazine "IS" the industry standard that most people in the industry read and follow.

I assume that as leaders they have taken this bold step in an attempt to be at the forefront of a relatively new technology and they probably feel that since they have such a large religious following that they can simply make it work.

I for one do not think they will be successful. Yes they can make the transition, and yes it may work at first, but not for long. There are several problems with what they are trying to attempt, of which people not liking to read digital magazines is but only a small issue. Other problems like reduced sales to ardent and casual retail buyers, decreased advertising sales because or decreased circulation all will add to their demise. Yes this is my prediction for the year. I may end up being wrong and may end up looking foolish, but here is my rational for my prediction.

My "Digital Magazine" failure prediction is not aimed at PC Magazine specifically, but rather at 'any' successful print magazine that tries to switch from print (or print and digital) to a full digital only publication. Several companies have tried to create digital magazine formats and many have failed. In more recent years a new digital reader called Zinio has emerged as a winner (so far) in the digital publication wars. They have been the most successful and have been endorsed by most publishers which has helped with their success.

Zinio Reader is a free download and there are even free digital magazines one can subscribe to. I have been reading digital magazines because of free subscriptions I received since 2003. You can purchase subscriptions on-line at the Zinio site and now through other retailers. Their service works well as does their product. Reading a magazine using Zinio works well. You can read most pages easily if you have a fairly large monitor but need to zoom in to partial pages on most 17 inch monitors which is rather annoying. Try reading a magazine of a small 14 or 15 inch laptop monitor. Like the letter states above, it is easy to read and a simple click at the top corners of the pages turns them and it gives you that "reading a magazine" kind of feel.

Other features like live links to sites and e-mail addresses are nice as is the searchable text. Yes it does arrive in your e-mail box and yes it is most definitely "green", but I do not think Lance Ulanoff tells you everything you need to know.

His statement, "It is portable. Once you've downloaded the issue (which takes a matter of seconds), just power up your PC and view it anywhere, on an airplane, in your hotel room, wherever." is not very accurate. First off you have the problem of the computer, not everyone has a laptop and last time I checked, desktop computers were not very portable. Also, how often do you as a reader pickup a magazine to quickly fill in a few spare five minutes? Now you would need to get to the computer, power it on, wait for your system to boot up, launch Zinio Reader and load the magazine (it will automatically start up with the magazine you were reading at the last page you were reading unless you closed the publication"). Five minutes are up.

The last part of the statement "wherever" is also not quite right. I regularly throw magazines in the car to read later in a cafe while I wait for a colleague or to read at a doctor’s office where I may not want to bring a laptop. What about reading on the "throne" or better yet, do you really want to read with your laptop while taking a long hot bath on a cold winter night? I think not.

Another important aspect that is not mentioned is that Zinio Publications are not portable. Yes they will travel with you in your laptop but they can not be shared with others. Zinio has several Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies licensed from both Adobe and some other company that requires you to re-download your magazine onto another computer if you have more than one. It cannot be copied and backups will only work if restored onto the same computer. Zinio does keep backups for you but as for me I would need to re-download over 100 issues right now.

Zinio does have a "Share With A Friend" option that lets you e-mail a copy to a friend. They will need to have a Zinio Account and will need to install a copy of Zinio. Note also that not all publications can be shared and even some that are limited in how many you can share with. I had once tried to pass along every monthly copy to one friend that I always gave my print copy to but I could only share that magazine title once with him.

Another drawback is that it is difficult to use as reference material. Try an instructional step by step article on how to do something on your computer. You constantly need to switch back and forth between two programs. Niceties like being able to copy text, say to post a quote in a blog, is nonexistent as is printing a whole article without printing every page the article is on and without all the ads.

All in all Zinio is lacking in many ways and just not that convenient. Give me a standard PDF version any day or better yet, a good old fashion "print" copy. Yes, I could print out a whole Zinio magazine but that would be costly to print in color and not very green.

Pricing is another matter. Although some digital publications are cheaper as they should be, others are the same price or in some cases even more expensive than some of the great print subscription deals you can get. Why would I want to pay "more" for a magazine??

The downfall of a print only PC Magazine and others to come is not limited to the facts stated above. Sales of PC Magazine will drop. First, many computer people I know buy the magazines off the shelf at retailers. They like it that way. I do not know why, it is somewhat dumb as subscriptions are cheaper but many have done it that way for decades. When these people get to a news stand, they will buy the other computer magazines they usually purchase and they will perhaps never get back to buying PC Magazine.

Then there are all the current subscribers to PC Magazine, I know for a fact that many will NOT renew their subscriptions. More lost readers.

Many of these same computer industry people hate Digital Magazines as much as I do and many will NOT go Digital. More lost readers. These are the "ardent' readers. The casual readers are those that buy the occasional copy of PC Magazine. If they are not on the shelves, these readers will purchase other publications. I have even been known to buy duplicate copies when I have found myself at airports before boarding long flights so that I have something to read when I have forgotten to bring my copy along. Again, these are all lost sales.

All these lost sales will turn into lost readership. Further lost readership will happen because the magazines cannot be passed around to friends and co-workers and in they will eventually not end up in doctors’ offices where they are read by many others. This "readership” is a very important aspect of the magazine industry.

Studies are done in general and in many cases with specific publications to see exactly how many people read each copy of each printed publication. Many households will have several readers and often they are passed on and in many cases one print magazine will on average be read by three or four people. This will not be the case with Digital versions. All in all the printed circulation of the magazine will be down but more importantly the total "readership" will be down.

Why is this so important? Magazines live by their advertising sales, not by their subscription sales. Advertising is priced based on the demographics of the readers and by the total circulation and readership. Advertisers know that the circulation is only a portion of the total readership and in turn a portion of advertising exposure. With reduced ad exposure, reduced advertising sales will follow. Thus starts the slippery slope.

What I do not understand however is the logic used here. Many print publications give away many free subscriptions in order to keep total circulation numbers up so that they can keep advertising rates high. Many publications lose money or barely break even when they sell a subscription based on the price of the printed material plus the cost of delivery. They usually more than make up for it with the ad revenues.

So, if publications are willing to break even with the cost of the subscription or even lose money why would they not distribute a "FREE" digital version to anyone that wants it? They could double or triple their exposure at no cost. All the articles that appear in PC Magazine are created and published first on their web site. They are then hand selected to make up the print version. Actual sales have dropped because of this in recent years because readers have gone to their site to read all the same articles and other articles before the print version is out and because it is free. So why should readers buy? PC Magazine have in some way killed their own publication because of the free web site.

Creating one or one billion digital copies costs almost the same. Advertising revenues from one digital copy versus a billion digital copies is enormous! PC Magazine now makes most of their revenues and profits from advertising on their web site, yet, over 600,000 copies of the print edition are sold every month to readers that prefer print or do not want to chase around for articles in a web site environment, why not create more advertising revenues by giving out free subscriptions!

Dear PC Magazine,

I will not be renewing my subscription to PC Magazine. If you decide to send out free copies of your digital edition (you currently send me four free print copies every month), please include me in your list.


Francois Cleroux

As for readers to this blog post that are mostly “Photographers”, I sincerely hope that this trend does not follow suit in the photography world!

© 2008 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 - January 2009)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux