I receive a hard copy version of Inc. magazine each month, delivered to by my friendly mailman. He's been delivering our mail to us for years. The magazine is arriving for free, though I cannot recall how or why this arrangement occurred, perhaps it was from remnant sky miles on airline programs which remained unused, or for which I'll never accrue sufficient miles for anything. I like Inc. magazine and think many of the articles are interesting and thought provoking, once you can find them. In the March 2010 issue, for example, the reader first finds content on page six with a short profile accompanied by a large photograph, on page 14 there is a letter from the editor and on page 17 there is reader mail (hopefully email).
If we want to be generous and don't refer to the inside cover as an actual page, the reader is provided with three pages of content in the first 17 pages of the magazine, or a ratio of 82% advertisements to 18% content. Continuing on to page 41, there is approximately 14 pages of content out of 24 pages, which is a happier ratio of 42% advertisements to 52% content. Overall, in the first 41 pages I found 17 pages of content which translates to roughly 40% reader content and 60% advertisement. Of course, if I had the patience, I would have analyzed all of the pages of the magazine. But a quick Google search led me to a web site called Magazine.org, which states that the average (traditional) magazine is about a 50/50 ratio between ads and content. Overall, I guarantee my down and dirty research to be somewhere between relatively accurate to completely anecdotal and spurious. Feel free to contact me as you browse your own magazine pages counting ads versus content should your due diligence and subsequent findings prove otherwise!
Let's compare my Inc. Magazine findings with an online magazine. I would estimate that the online magazine I review daily has a ratio of 60% content to 40% advertisements, which is much better than the paper based version of Inc., or the Magazine.org estimate. However, and this is an important caveat, whenever the reader selects an online article to read, content always appears. In a traditional magazine, it's somewhat more challenging, and certainly more time consuming to find the table of contents and then leaf through the publication to arrive at page 41 to read your article. We all have a propensity to browse paper based magazines page by page until an article catches our eye.
It's rare that a paper based magazine shows up at our house. From time to time we might receive a promotional copy, but our online propensity continues to grow. We receive the New York Times on Sundays though we have questioned how long we will continue to subscribe to the paper based version. Our Boston Globe and Boston magazine delivery days have long since passed. We continue to embrace a virtual and online centric manner of content consumption, which is easier, faster and more environmentally friendly. We seem to quote Yahoo, blogs, and online resources far more than we now say, "I read an interesting article in the paper."
Consequently, I think there is no doubt that online magazines are on the right track from a content and delivery standpoint. That said, there are several things they could do to enhance the reader experience. For example they could place all ads to the right of the content instead of the top and right. They could make the font bolder and more readily viewable for the average reader. They could add a more graphical reader interface, and perhaps even offer writers the ability to post photos. Nonetheless, they provide an invaluable service to writer and reader alike, offering searchable and extensive content, without charge, an opportunity for new writers to publish and an eco-friendly, non paper based delivery system that is sure to render traditional paper based magazines obsolete in the coming decade. In my opinion, though it is early in the game, the score looks like online magazines 1, paper based magazines 0, in what is almost certain to be a long term rout.
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