Magazine Readers Prefer Paper

The glossy stock and the perfume samples aside, most Americans still would rather read a traditional magazine than one online, according to a survey from InsightExpress.

The study found that Americans would rather not substitute their traditional paper magazines for the online equivalent, even though many online publications offer free content. In part, that’s because scrolling and clicking is more difficult than turning pages — especially when relaxing with a magazine in the bathtub — and the portability and convenience of traditional paper magazines is more attractive to American readers.

The survey revealed that only 34 percent of the population reads any magazines online, citing reasons such as inconvenience (54 percent); online banner ads, pop-ups, and general distractions (47 percent); prices of online magazines (43 percent); and eye strain (23 percent) as the primary reasons for frequenting newsstands instead of Web sites.

“Given that resources remain scarce, publishers would be better served to cut their losses when it comes to online and focus on their readers’ overwhelming preference — high quality paper magazines,” said Lee Smith, chief operating officer at InsightExpress, a unit of ad agency giant Interpublic’s NFO WorldGroup division. “And any hopes of growing revenue with online magazines seem to be misguided as most readers expect online content to be free.”

Readers have such a strong preference for paper magazines that of those who regularly read Internet publications, only 22 percent actually prefer reading magazines online, and 73 percent expressed that they would not forgo their paper magazine for an online alternative — even for half the price. However, 59 percent believe that magazines on the Web provide more timely content, but only 22 percent perceive that online magazines provide higher quality content than their print versions.

“Though online magazines have an advantage in that they can deliver real-time news and information, they don’t stand a chance when competing for a reader’s undivided attention,” Smith added. “Online is not the magic bullet publishers were hoping for to retain readership.”

In spite of the preference for offline magazines, newspapers are reporting success with their efforts at launching Web subscriptions. International Demographics’ annual Media Audit took a look recently at online newspaper subscriptions, specifically for the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico and the Tulsa World in Oklahoma, and found surprising results.

In a 2000 survey that was conducted seven months prior to the initiation of the subscription fee, the Tulsa World site attracted 16.8 percent of adults to its site. Four months after the fee was imposed, The Media Audit surveyed the market again and found that 18.2 percent of adults in the Tulsa market had accessed the World site during the past 30 days. claims to now have more than 27,000 online members that include 24,500 print subscribers who registered for online access. The remaining 2,500 are Web-only subscribers. The World charges $5 a week and $45 per year for access to its site and archives.

The Albuquerque Journal site attracted 13.6 percent of the adults in its market “during the past 30 days” in 2000 and 15.0 percent during 2001. The Media Audit household survey was performed during October/November of 2001, four months after the initiation of the subscription fee. reported 728 online-only subscribers. Of those, 493 are yearly, while the others are month-by-month. In addition, 7,604 print subscribers have registered for site access. The Journal also reported to the Newspaper Association of America that 293 print subscribers came through the Web site between August and October of 2001.

“The research makes it pretty clear that the switch to paid access can be made — at least in some markets — without damaging the long term prospects of the site,” said Bob Jordan, co-chairman of 31-year-old International Demographics.

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