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As Information Moves Online, Some Readers Are Left Behind

July 01, 2009 06:30 PM
by Liz Colville
$7.2 billion of stimulus funds have been allotted to improving U.S. broadband Internet access, which could see even more Americans opting for the information medium that many already prefer.

Magazines Move Online, But Are Readers Following?

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To combat falling ad revenues and reduced circulations faced by many magazines, some publishers are ramping up their Web efforts in hopes that readers will log on.

In an article for the Belleville News-Democrat, Diane Evans wrote that Reader’s Digest has begun “to transform itself by moving into multimedia formats, including digital offerings such as video series, mobile applications, newsletters and single topic editions.”

Reader’s Digest is an interesting example. Not only is it the top consumer magazine in the U.S., according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, but more of its 38 million readers have household incomes of at least $100,000 than readers of Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Inc. combined, Evans wrote, citing statistics from Mediamark Research.

The affluence of those readers may be telling. Evans goes on to say that for many Americans, there are still “formidable barriers” to Internet access and that “some areas of the country remain without broadband service.” In fact, “about a third of the homes remain without Internet service,” according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

For that survey, Pew gathered data from phone interviews with 2,253 Americans. It found that home broadband Internet use is growing among senior citizens and low-income Americans. Pew also observed that in the recession, Americans are more likely to cut back on their phone and television services rather than their Internet services—by a margin of more than double.

Another telling statistic is that “56 percent of adults would pick the Internet as their sole means of getting news, if they could pick just one,” Evans wrote, citing a poll conducted by Zogby International.

Zogby indicates that there is hope for news and magazine articles on the Web, Reuters reported. Although there is considerable hype over heavily trafficked social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, “just a small fraction of U.S. adults considered social websites such as Facebook and MySpace as a good source of news and even fewer would opt for Twitter,” according to Reuters.

But it’s clear that more people need to log on. The Internet “is increasingly important to maintaining a literate society,” Evans concluded. “That also means that for the sake of inclusion—and equal opportunity—the Internet is now an essential public utility, and public policy needs to catch up to that reality.”

Recent Developments: BTOP aims to improve US broadband access

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service have been given a combined $7.2 billion for what is being called the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

Consulting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), these groups aim to “expand broadband services to unserved and undeserved areas, improve broadband access for public safety agencies, stimulate the economy and create jobs,” according to a report on the Recovery.gov Web site.

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Related Topic: Are magazines doomed in the recession?

Data from the Audit Bureau of Circulation shows that newsweeklies including Reader’s Digest, U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek are struggling to keep their circulation numbers up. Although their Web sites may be popular, more fast-paced versions of their print offerings, many ad buyers are still wary of the Web.

Condé Nast, owner of popular titles like Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, only made 3 percent of its revenue online in 2008, according to a New York magazine article by Steve Fishman. Many ad buyers feel that “more needs to be known about the difference” between how digital and print readers engage with ads and take action on them, Mediaweek added.
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