Cost of living crisis hits digital magazine subscriptions

Digital magazine platforms are seeing a slowdown in subscriptions as shoppers cut spending during the cost of living crisis.

The latest analysis from publishing consultancy Wessenden Briefing reported a decline in Readly subscriptions, despite growing 28% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020.

Although Q1 2022 performance was still up 17% year-over-year, the period-over-period figure was down 3%, marking the first time the subscription base has decreased since its launch in 2012.

The second quarter slowed again with a 4% decline period over period.

The platform offers a range of around 7,500 newspaper and magazine titles, which can be downloaded and viewed digitally at a cost. More than 800 third-party publishers contribute to the content available.

The company’s revenue is £46m a year, with 447,196 fully paid subscribers. Wessenden Briefing’s managing director, Jim Bilton, told BetterRetailing that the cost-of-living crisis was dissuading shoppers from committing to monthly fees, and instead buying single copies.

“The commitment to an initial subscription is increasingly becoming an issue in the current climate,” he said. “While subscription platforms have received a boost during the lockdown, the cost of living crisis is forcing consumers to rethink their subscription spending, from magazines to music and movie streaming.”

Late last year, Readly began raising the consumer prices of its unlimited reading subscription by 25%, from £7.99 per month to £9.99.

Although the company confirmed that this had no impact on subscriptions, the rising cost of printing and paper is making the service more attractive to publishers.

However, Bilton explained that independent retailers are in the best position to compete with digital platforms and that publishers are investing there only to spread risk, as the category is in decline.

“Each platform, print or digital, attracts a particular type of buyer,” he said. “So newspaper and magazine brands need to be everywhere. Also, publishers don’t want to depend on a single source of sales.

“For example, publishers are really concerned about the commitment of some of the largest distribution distributors to offer a wide range of magazines. All of this means increased competition, but it also provides an opportunity for freelancers to commit to range and customer service.

Learn more about the cost of living crisis and advice for retailers

Amanda P. Whitten