Print v. Web: Which comes first?

Today, I want to talk about what happens when you aggressively adopt an online strategy, but leave your print subscribers behind.

I subscribe to a great architecture and design magazine, whose name I will exclude from this discussion, with a fantastic and informative online presence. The archive and articles available to subscribers are a fantastic resource for people just beginning to explore this field.

In February, I noticed that they had updated their site with the most recent issue’s content and cover. I was somewhat miffed, as my print copy had not yet arrived in the mail. Immediate assumption: print copy lost; request re-transmission.

Today, I checked the site, and all of the content for the March 2007 issue is online. And I don’t have my copy of this issue yet.

Based on the response to the e-mail that I sent to the circulation and publishing team, I may be the first person to bring this to their attention.

When you are in the dead-tree print industry, the Web (1.0 and 2.0) are crucial extensions to your existing business model. But the aggressive use of the Web channel to deliver your content to the rest of the world before the print subscribers receive their copies is doing damage to your business.

Subscribers pay extra in order to gain access to your magazine before the rest of the world can get it. This must extend to the Web channel. As a subscriber, knowing that someone can read the contents of the magazine online before I get my chance to look at the print copy is unsatisfactory.

Subscription content infers a level of exclusivity to those who buy the gold ticket. If you give everyone the gold ticket at the same time, then a subscription loses it sense of exclusivity. Then the magazine loses guaranteed revenue. Then the magazine is gone.

Information should be free. I chafe against the subscription gateways as much as the next person. But if you base your entire business on a subscription model, you better not undermine your own subscription business by giving the subscription content away for free.

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