How wired are you?
That’s what we asked 25 Sarasotans this month in our "Survey." Although our poll is totally unscientific, it does suggest what we already suspected: Contrary to the notion that we’re a town full of geezers whose only high-tech gizmos are their hearing aids, we’re pretty darn wired indeed.
The people we polled ranged in age from the early 20s to an 80-year-old; all but two had a cell phone (half have given up their land line), and 18 out of 25 owned a smart phone. They’re using a long list of mobile apps, from Pandora and NOAA weather to the Tampa Bay Rays. Eighty percent are on Facebook, and quite a few use other social media, including Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter and Linked In. And although only seven owned iPads and other tablets, 16 say they now get most of their news from digital sources, and five would rather read magazines in digital than print format.
I first heard about those digital magazines back in 2010, after Sports Illustrated produced an ultra-cool prototype for the new tablet computers. You could click on a blurb on the table of contents and go straight to the story, enlarge or minimize type and photos, watch a video of those famous swimsuit models, get live updates of sports scores and even play an interactive tennis game with Serena Williams. I remember showing a video of the prototype during a panel on "The Future of Print," and everyone in the audience gasped.
Now, just two years later, many of those audience members are reading digital magazines—including our magazines—on their phones and iPads. In addition to e-newsletters about business, arts and parties, we publish a number of digital magazines, including Sarasota Magazine and Biz(941) and a new "Sneak Preview" of Sarasota Magazine aimed at potential subscribers. You can’t play interactive tennis games or get sports scores on our digital publications—yet—but we have incorporated other bells and whistles, such as video from fashion shoots and links back to advertiser’s web sites. You can click on a Porsche ad in February’s Biz(941) and see a car roar to life (our ad reps are considering an even more iconic Sarasota embellishment—a link to before-and-after views of plastic surgeons’ patients), and soon Biz(941) will include a video chat from editor Susan Burns.
It’s been an exhilarating and often exasperating journey, with lots of false starts and blind alleys as we try to master technology that’s reinventing itself by the hour, while still attending to our print publications. And while digital publications are bringing us new readers, there’s still the question of how to "monetize" them, as publishers like to say. Many digital publications, like our Biz(941), which now reaches about 6,000 readers a month, are free. Some publishers do charge—Cosmopolitan now has 100,000 paid subscribers. We charge $12 a year for Sarasota’s digital edition, but our subscribers to that edition number in the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands.
Although 56 percent of the people we surveyed said that print is dying, our digital expansion has led us to conclude the opposite. Most digital readers are skimmers, spending minutes rather than the hour or more the average print reader devotes to an issue. The digital format offers speed and convenience, but so far, it hasn’t replaced the relaxed, sensual experience of poring over a full-size magazine. As it turns out, almost half our digital subscribers also get the print magazine. They want it all—a quick look on their phone or tablet, and a tangible product they can savor and display. Indeed, our circulation director thinks the next logical step may be to offer a free digital edition to every paid Sarasota subscriber.
We’re still figuring out the new technology, but one thing is clear: It isn’t killing off magazines. It’s expanding and enhancing them, allowing us to grow and innovate and you to connect with our content however and whenever you want.