Fears rise that tablets won't save magazines as digital sales fall


Hopes that the tablet was the saviour of magazines have been undermined by official figures showing a fall-off in sales of digital editions of iconic publications including the fashion titles Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Vogue.

Media industry analysts suggested the disappointing digital sales were partly due to young people preferring smart phones to larger mobile devices currently better-suited to reading magazine apps.

Six-monthly figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed digital sales of many well-known titles had stalled after hopes that digital apps would offset the long-term decline in print circulations. Digital sales of Harper’s fell by 19.4 per cent, Elle was down 10 per cent and Vogue by 4.4 per cent.

The society bible Tatler was down 8.3 per cent in its digital edition and the men’s magazine GQ, which has been a digital front-runner in the industry, saw a dip from 12,173 sales to 11,361 (down 6.7 per cent) in the half-year to June 2014. Even the tech-savvy Wired (which like Vogue, Tatler and GQ) is produced by luxury publisher Conde Nast, lost digital sales (down one per cent).

Jamie Oliver’s magazine Jamie saw a 10.4 per cent fall in its digital edition, despite the celebrity chef’s enthusiasm for YouTube and other new media platforms. Cosmopolitan (which like Harper’s and Elle is published by Hearst), slipped by 5.3 per cent in digital sales.

Zoe Bale, head of press at media agency Carat, said magazine buyers preferred the flexibility of selecting a printed copy from the racks rather than committing to a long-term app subscription. “People like to flick through a magazine before they purchase and the news-stand offers that,” she said. “The younger audience like smart phone content and you’re not going to read a magazine on a smart phone.”

Despite the problems of some iconic titles, overall digital magazine circulation is still increasing and totalled 369,000 in the six months to June 2014. Among the magazine brands most successfully transitioning to a digital format are the news-based titles The Week (26,283 sales) and The Economist (21,780 sales in the UK, up 72.3 per cent on the previous period). Other digital best-sellers include Total Film (14,091, up 16.1 per cent) and Slimming World (11,621, up 50.2 per cent).