Nudging readers over the digital hump

On the heels of the Christian Science Monitor’s announcement that it will eliminate its daily print edition come interesting announcements from two magazine publishers.

U.S. News & World Report will make its second change of frequency in less than a year: having switched from weekly to biweekly just five months ago, it will now become a monthly early next year. For the “news” part, readers will have to visit their web site (organized around “five key vertical content channels“). This is seen, correctly, as a move of desperation on the part of a magazine that once ran a strong third in the newsweeklies field. If it works, its success will stem from having moved a lot of readers from print to online.

The New Yorker, meanwhile, has a loyal, secure, probably somewhat stodgy circulation base of about 1,000,000, and although advertising is down, it can probably hang on for a good long while in print. But, rather than waiting for dire straits, the New Yorker is quietly allowing print subscribers to sign up for access to a full-facsimile digital edition, including all the ads, at no extra cost. (So quietly, there’s no promotion, just a well-hidden FAQ, about this on their own site, along with a promo ad in the magazine.) And get this: this digital-edition privilege comes with unfettered access to the entire New Yorker archive going back to 1925, again in full facsimile view. I’m on board, no hesitation. This is a smart, pro-active, though no doubt experimental move in the right direction. Rather than waiting for readers to flip to the digital side, the New Yorker is giving them a nudge to see what will happen.

As Lauren Rich Fine writes this week:

If the goal is to preserve quality journalism, diversity of views, investigative reporting and the like, something radical has to happen. Eliminating distribution, production and paper costs virtually reduces the costs to what is essential, the voice. However, while traffic is up at most news sites and newspapers can claim their fair share, something is still getting lost in the translation. The amount of time spent on these sites is well below the time believed to have been spent in the print counterpart. If major brands push consumers online more heavily—i.e. it’s this or nothing—there might really be a business there. Increased time spent on a site should result in more ad impressions. If enough publications really push, maybe others will be brave enough to follow. Maybe more advertisers will take notice and join them. This could be good. It could add years to papers’ respective lives.

And, it could be that with a nudge here and a nudge there (“this or nothing” might be a tad strong for now), news organizations will find that readers are actually ready to make the move. Especially if the news organizations start thinking and acting like web-first publishers, as U.S. News and the Monitor are doing.