I recently emailed a number of publishers asking for information on open rates for their digital versions. Typically this information is kept pretty quiet, with the notable exception of TechInsights, who publish their data monthly – well done guys! With open rates much more accurately measurable than for print titles, I’m guessing some publishers are worried that the number of unopened copies will be viewed as “bad”.

So I asked several publishers about unique open rates, and got responses from ED Europe, EPN, EPN France, and all of TechInsight’s European publications. I didn’t get a response from some titles, with ICC Media and Reed UK (Electronics Weekly) the two big publishers that offered no stats. To be fair I only sent one email, so don’t read too much into their lack of response.

The results were very interesting:

  • four titles had open rates of 11-12%
  • one title had an open rate of 16%
  • one title had an open rate of 19%

I tried to find some cause of the difference in open rate, but there was no link between circulation, publication frequency or publisher and the open rate.

So what does this mean? Certainly it suggests that digital magazines are less likely to be opened than their paper sisters (if you believe the readership surveys). I’m not surprised that today print is still the favoured medium. But with the huge cost advantage of digital, I think the figures are pretty respectable. They’ll also be slighly under-reported as pass-on readership will not register as another unique reader.

There are other more important questions: what is the quality of the reader (who is opening them), how is the circulation managed (requested or unrequested circulation) and would these readers read print magazines or is digital the only way to reach them? Frankly there is a big question over whether publishers should be doing more to promote readership of each copy than just sending a single email. In fact digital titles have many uses – Marcus Grimm of NXTBook sent me a great link to a story about how the BBC used digital to drive an increase in print readers.

Digital magazines will also change the behaviour of readers, forcing a more linear approach than print (do you remember the Adams survey some years ago that said the cheap back third of a magazine was almost as well read as the expensive front third?). How many pages do readers view of the digital editions? Is this different from print titles?

Personally I believe that digital magazines are going to be really important in the future. Opening and browsing a digital magazine is a much bigger commitment on the part of the reader than visiting a web page. Digital magazines also deliver news in a push format, highlighting new products and technologies to readers who would be unlikely to learn about them through search engines.

What does the emergence of digital titles mean? Please feel free to post comments and let me know your opinions.

Footnote: please do not imagine this was – in any way – a scientific study. Typically I got just one issue’s stats and I had to completely trust the publishers’ figures.

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