While the staffs of glossy magazines have deployed, for more than several months now, numerous resources toward not only pushing their printed pages into the digital landscape via the iPad, but also cajoling and convincing their advertisers (and, to some degree probably, themselves) that new media devices can augment, not threaten, a printed publication’s popularity and profitability, The New Yorker appears to have seized a small triumph, announcing it has roughly 100,000 iPad readers, 20,000 of which are paid subscribers at $59.99 per year. “Several thousand more people,” the article says, purchase single issues of The New Yorker for $4.99. What’s notable about these statistics is the fact that The New Yorker just released its iPad version this spring.
Granted, several elements of this particular print publication have perhaps influenced heavily The New Yorker‘s success in the digital realm. Readers of the magazine tend to be the affluent, over-$100,000 crowd, economically and by leisure equipped to not only spend money on an iPad and a subscription, but also make abundant use of the product so as to make the money spent on it and the subscription actually worthwhile. (Whereas, if I purchased an iPad and a New Yorker subscription, I’d be several months out on money for groceries.) New Yorker readers, furthermore, have been conditioned to do one thing: read columns of text. Unlike other glossies under the Conde Nast umbrella—Wired or GQ, for instance—people turn The New Yorker‘s pages pursuing the next word, not the next graphic, illustration, photograph, and the like.* This means converting the printed form over to a digital platform becomes relatively simple; the audience has already expressed its loyalty to a form, one with which—with 100,000 digital subscriptions—it’s satisfied. There’s no need for flashy infographics or interactive material because New Yorker readers want to do simply that: read.
Beyond that, however, The New Yorker itself appears to be doing everything correctly, insofar as there’s a “correct” way to approach journalistic innovation in the twenty-first century. It has hired a news editor to ensure that daily content on bigger breaking news stories (for instance, the death of Osama bin Laden) makes its way to the website; its content, for some time now, has been protected behind a paywall (which is another conditioning mechanism for its audience—readers have come to expect to pay for what The New Yorker sells); and it has done some interesting things with Facebook-only preview content, like making an essay by Jonathan Franzen available, in all of its 12,000 words, available for free days before the magazine itself was available for purchase—on the condition that you “Liked” The New Yorker on Facebook.
In some ways, The New Yorker has begun to prove what journalists ourselves are overly fond of thinking: that people will pay to read our work, in print or online. Of course, all things being considered, it’s not every writer—nor every publication—that claims New Yorker-caliber writing and reporting.
That, surely, will continue to remain to be seen, whether journalism survives another ten or ten-hundred years.
*I’m not insisting that you low-brow purchasers of Wired and GQ cannot, or refuse to, read. But, generally (those damn generalizations), a portion of the time spent with a magazine is focused solely on flipping through the pages, implicitly admiring the aesthetic quality of the package. The New Yorker, by contrast, forgoes aesthetic niceties; to put it the way an English professor of mine once did, its appeal is all above the neck.