Digital magazines: How popular are they?

The latest magazine circulation figures show promising digital results for the industry – but is it enough to offset the fall in print?

Despite some big rises in circulation, digital editions still make up only a small part of a magazine's overall circulation. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Despite some big rises in circulation, digital editions still make up only a small part of a magazine’s overall circulation. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Magazine circulation figures based on ABC-audited data published last week may show a surge towards digital editions of popular titles such as GQ and Esquire, but how large a chunk of a magazine’s circulation is down to the copy you download?

At first glance some of the figures in the combined circulation chart by the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) look very promising. Monthly title, BBC History, has recorded an astonishing 693% rise in digital circulation on the year and fashion bible, Vogue, has seen theirs jump up by just over 463%. But as John Reynolds explains, comparing digital only figures with overall circulation totals, paints a very different picture:

The top magazine brand across print and digital is IPC’s What’s on TV, with a combined circulation of 1,084,302, though the proportion of digital circulation is miniscule, at 1,104 e-editions. Behind What’s on TV are the monthly titles Glamour and Good Housekeeping.

So although Vogue, for example, has recorded a boost of more than 400% on its average monthly digital circulation, these figures for January-June 2013, only constitute 3.8% of their total combined circulation. In fact Vogue’s circulation combining both print and digital is down by 2.8% on the year.

Despite the giant leaps in digital circulation for some publications, the results still fall far short of the gap created by the heavy decline in print circulation. In other words, the apparently huge rises in circulation of digital editions is not enough to offset the even bigger decreases of the print edition. Reporting on the profits of Condé Nast, Josh Halliday writes today:

Copies sold on Apple iPads and other tablets are, of course, where the growth is – but those editions still account for a fraction of overall sales and still fail to offset the decline in print. Digital sales of Vogue, for example, have grown by 3,898 copies since the second half of 2012 (3.78% of its total circulation) against a fall of 10,349 print copies at £3.99 apiece.

How much of a magazine’s circulation is made up by digital editions?

The PPA circulation figures drawing on ABC-audited circulation data for the six-month period from January to June 2013




But there are some success stories too.Total Film and GQ have been praised with leading the way with a successful combined print and digital circulation. With a monthly average digital circulation of 12,280, Total Film receives 16.4% of their overall circulation from e-editions. Men’s lifestyle magazine GQ also does well, having sold a monthly average of 12,231 copies digitally, although this only contributes to 9.4% of the monthly combined circulation.

If we’re to look at the proportion of digital distribution out of total circulation, (and disregard New Scientist as the PPA chart only provides US & Canadian sales) then monthly science and technology magazine, How It Works, is top (21.8%) followed by Total Film, Health and Fitness (14.8%) and Wired (14.1%). It would appear that magazines predominantly read by men have bigger digital oomph.

However, it’s a different story if you look at women’s fashion and lifestyle magazines – with the exception of Vanity Fair – as many of them only bring in a miniscule proportion of their circulation through digital editions.