Credit: Image by Mark Hakansson

Short, regular editions published to mobile devices are both more engaging and more profitable than longer, monthly magaines, according to research.

Stonewash, which creates magazines for digital platforms on behalf of publishers, has carried out what it calls 'project alpha', a research programme looking at how magazines are consumed on tablets and mobile.

In a presentation at the SIIA Digital Content and Media Summit, Rob Grainger, co-founder of Stonewash, told delegates that research had shown readers are more willing to pay for weekly versions.

"You create the same number of pages over a year and have a higher level of engagement when you shift it weekly, but propensity to purchase is much higher and loyalty is much higher," he said.

Part of the research project, launched in February, compared data for a monthly title with 200 pages priced at £5.99 and a weekly title with 50 pages priced at £1.49.

Despite the total potential revenue and number of pages being the same, the results proved to be very different.

Stonewash SIIA pagination engagement
Image provided by Robert Grainger

When studying the buying habits and readership of 5,000 active users over a year, the research found that those who paid were likely to read 50 per cent of the weekly title compared to 25 per cent of the monthly.

"To produce something that's thinner goes against every publishers business instinct," Grainger told Journalism.co.uk.

"What we found was that magazines with fewer pages are more engaging because people have different attention spans reading on paper than they do on screen. It may be exactly the same content but you behave differently."

"People think in weeks, not months," Grainger told Journalism.co.uk. "So with a monthly they might buy a magazine at the supermarket on their weekly shop. But people do it differently on digital.

"They think 'I'm going to get up on Saturday, have a fry-up and read a magazine'. They don't think 'on the third Saturday of every month I'm going to buy Canoe and Kayak UK'."

When it came to cover prices, the research also found the readers were more willing to buy the cheaper, weekly title than they were the dearer, monthly title.

Stonewash SIIA price and frequency
Image provided by Robert Grainger

The effect of this on annual revenue was that the monthly title priced at £5.99 would bring in around £82,000 over the year, whereas annual revenue for the weekly title would be nearer £120,000.

"We weren't trying to prove or disprove anything," Grainger said, "but see whether the idea from Esquire to go from monthly to weekly [with digital editions] was a good idea or not.

"It's a very shrewd move because they've understood what people want from a digital edition."

The project alpha research is collated from the digital downloads of apps produced by Stonewash Ltd.

Each app is assigned a licence number and the software then collects reader habits: swipes, gestures, the angle the device is held at, geolocation, time and frequency of reading and more.

This approach has been producing more than 1 billion lines of data each month. The results will be published in a white paper at the end of October.

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