Yesterday a publisher asked me why a user would prefer a digital edition to a comprehensive web site which reproduces all the magazine’s contents? It is a good question. There are at least three reasons why a publisher who cares about his subscribers and has a comprehensive web service will also want to offer access to a digital edition:

  1. A digital edition just is the magazine on the web. It has all the design qualities and stylistic strengths of the finished article. The magazine nearly always looks better than a web site and a digital magazine will have those same design values. A comprehensive but ‘repurposed’ website is really another thing. Another edition of the magazine with reduced style and impact.
  2. Comprehensive web sites are not (ever?) strictly comprehensive. They do not include the advertisements. There is a kind of ‘editorial’ bias that says that the ads do not really count as part of the magazine and that a web service will do well enough if it reproduces all the editorial in the magazine. But of course the ads do count (they really, really count for the advertisers) and funnily enough they also matter to the readers. That is why advertisements in magazines work. So a publisher needs to think about the digital edition as a way of adding value to and through the ads in their magazine.
  3. This is an ALSO question. The digital edition should not be seen as choice a which excludes the ‘comprehensive web version’. Some readers will prefer the HTML version of the magazine, especially if it has been running for a while. But some readers will certainly prefer the digital edition. The digital audience is likely to grow (see what has happened with Scientific Periodicals). It may be an interim measure, but cater for both parties.

One thing is certain: no publisher should think of the digital edition as replacing the magazine’s web site. There are plenty of services (blogs, podcasts, user forums to name but three) which need to happen on the web site and NOT in the digital edition. Putting out a digital edition is just a part of the comprehensive range of services which a magazine publisher will use in developing the magazine’s brand on the web.