... As a fellow editor/publisher (although I am fortunate that Swiss Express magazine is a hobby not a full-time job), I thought I would throw my two-pennyworth into the discussion.
At the Swiss Railways Society we have also taken a look at the way we produce our magazine. Before we went from A5 to A4 five editions ago we seriously discussed whether we should make this long considered move or hang on to A5 and gradually move the content on-line. Our printer was still prepared to print at A5 but noted that it was now becoming a non-standard format and was, in truth, a pain. I had aimed to go to A4 from the time I took over the editor’s role in 2006, but ad-hoc surveys of members always showed that many preferred A5.There was also a small vocal core of ‘geek’ members (no more than 5% as far as we could tell) who wanted everything electronic and could not understand why we stuck with ‘medieval technology’.
We took the plunge and replaced a 56-page A5 magazine with a 40-page A4 magazine, and now have 40% more usable space at the same price. Our contractor, who prints and distributes large numbers of corporate journals, was able to offer us an automated packing and distribution service at a nominal cost - his machines could not handle A5 magazines. In five editions no-one has raised the ‘handy A5’ argument, and the ‘geek’ pressure also seems to have gone away as only some 1% of the membership now want us to go fully electronic.
A neighbour owned, published and edited a music title that I understand sold 5,000 a month by subscription. Concerned about rising postal charges he started to run an on-line edition and he soon had some 1,000 subscribers who were vocal that he should go wholly on-line. When he did, the on-line take-up only rose to about half the former subscriber base and he has subsequently had to sell the business to an investor who is going back to a paper magazine. My neighbour is still the editor, but he lost the business.
I am not against technology, but of the three people I know who bought Kindles (or equivalents) two have given up on them and one only uses it on flights to Australia. I travel frequently by train to London, and in the morning newspapers and books prevail, whilst free papers and books seem to dominate on the Tube. In the evening the split is between the evening freeby, real books and people working on laptops.
I suspect that parallel editions of publications will have to exist for a very long time. It is interesting to note that our printers have just invested in new higher-tech machines and that their long view is that good quality printed publications are here to stay. Apparently their corporate customers have no plans to move their in-house journals to an electronic format, some partly on the grounds that their employees lives are already dominated by electronic screens and once they leave the work environment they relax with printed copy. Who is right? Who knows, but I do not envy you your decision.
Malcolm Bulpitt, Maidstone, Kent ‘Swiss Express’ is more like ‘Miniature Railway’, but A to B has a very different experience, with 40% of subscribers now either buying a full digital or joint paper/digital subscription.We’ve experienced a long-term fall in paper subs and recent sharp rise in iPad app take-up. (Ed)
Going Digital: Unhappy, but Resigned... A digital A to B would be much better than no A to B at all, but I’m a little disappointed about your dismissal of Kindle. Why is its upload system ‘so excruciating’? Judging by Amazon’s website plenty of obscure magazines have managed it. It appears to handle a good range of file types - I’ve had no trouble with downloaded PDF files.
I’d have thought it would be a favourite platform for the same reason as paper - in your words, ‘a handy size to carry in a pocket or briefcase to read on the train’. On top of this it’s cheap(ish) to buy - unlike an iPad - and easy to use. Obviously the photographic quality leaves something to be desired, but those of us who remember The Folder wouldn’t mind that! Maybe you could include quality photographs on the website as a supplement.
I’m probably being a bit selfish here as I don’t want (and can’t afford) to buy an iPad, but I really don’t get on with reading digital magazines on a computer screen. I’ve given up www.atob.org.uk
A to B 89 Apr 12 on Peter Eland’s Electric Bike. I’m sure the content is interesting but navigating around the pages is just too much hassle as far as I’m concerned. Plus I’d like the option to read a magazine wherever I happen to be, rather than sitting at a computer. For portability, cost and simplicity, Kindle and similar eBook readers fit the bill, as far as I’m concerned.
Hugh Martin, via email ... Personally I prefer the A5 paper format as I can be put it in my pocket and read it on train journeys. However I do have an HTC smart phone and a netbook for my travels, so I could adapt to digital when the time comes. My wife has a Kindle, but this seems to be only black and white. The iPad looks good, but I do not need one until my netbook wears out.
I have just spent a few weeks working in Tel Aviv, Israel. This is a bike friendly city with green hire bikes and docking stations all over the place. Most people who own their own bikes favour fold-up models. Normal accommodation for most people is an apartment so they can fold their bikes up and carry them upstairs. There are a lot of electric bikes around, mostly Chinese models as are most of the folders. I have seen two Bromptons and a bike shop called ‘Made in Israel’, which sells Bromptons. One on display in the window was fitted with a smart wicker basket that fits on the luggage bracket. Tel Aviv is flat and cyclists generally ride on the pavements to avoid the aggressive motorists who are actually very courteous when cyclists want to cross on pedestrian crossings.
Phil Bull, Carnforth, Lancashire Jane is also a convert to the Kindle, and it’s a system that has some advantages (easier on the eye, cheaper to buy, and very long battery life), but for us, uploading the files means reformatting the entire magazine, and the photographs are dire.
Regarding Hugh’s ‘Electric Bike’ experience, A to B is a near perfect fit on iPads and other tablet screens, so this tedious requirement to shove the text around doesn’t arise. So, ironically, the advent of A5 digital devices may yet result in a return to A5 typesetting and printing... (Ed) ... As you are asking what the readership would think if A to B were to discontinue its print edition at some time in the future, I would like to say, for myself, I should be very sad to see the print edition go.
I like having a paper copy of the magazine around because although the internet edition can be useful, I find paper copies a lot easier to find things in. I can mark up the paper mags with a felt pen and get back to the articles or points I have marked up.
As it happens our company also produces an A5 size yearly brochure. In 2011 we decided to experiment with not printing it and going completely with the internet. This year we are printing again, although with a reduced print run due to the expense of postage. Postage is the real problem, as printing is not horrendously expensive. Second class postage has doubled in price in a few years.
Half joking, I would be inclined to suggest that the oldies amongst us who can travel on the buses free could be sent out to the hinterlands to deliver A to B by hand to make it economic to continue to print. Apparently it’s the old folk who like print media, so let us deliver them too. Screw the Post Office.
Jock Millenson, Paphos, Cyprus Printing and postage costs are not really the issue here, provided we can maintain a reasonable number of paper subscriptions.We have an excellent printing deal, and A to B handily squeezes into the cheapest postal price bracket.The problem is that on current trends, numbers may reduce to such an extent that printing will cease to be viable.When a big printing press is set up, several hundred copies are wasted as ink levels and other settings are adjusted. In the end, you reach a point where more magazines are being thrown away than dispatched. But despite the seemingly inexorable fall in paper subs, your many responses have persuaded us that the fall in paper subs may yet bottom out at a viable level! (Ed)
A to B 89 Apr 12