Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Killed by the Internet?

My first reaction to the news yesterday that the next issue of Birding World would be the last was to feel slightly guilty that I stopped subscribing to it years ago. But since that was because I could no longer financially justify subscribing to any bird magazines, that didn’t last long. It was mainly a twitchers’ magazine, after all, and I’m not a twitcher, so there’s no real reason why I should buy it. If I could afford to, I would no doubt still subscribe – the rarity finders’ accounts were always interesting (although I’ve never found anything rare enough to write one, sadly!), as were the identification articles.

The announcement seemed to take everyone by surprise, but when you think about it, it’s perhaps not that surprising really. We’re constantly being told that the days of print media are numbered, and more and more publications are bringing out digital editions alongside their print versions. The obvious conclusion is that the availability of instant news and photos of rarities on the Internet, coupled with the recent long recession, has meant that not enough people are willing to pay for it, which in turn leads to a drop in advertising revenue. The costs involved in printing and distributing a monthly magazine must be huge, and presumably it’s just not viable any more.

In which case, why not switch to a digital version? That would do away with all the costs of printing and distribution, and most current subscribers would probably be prepared to pay almost as much for a digital edition. Surely they must have considered this though, so there might be other factors involved which we don’t know about. Someone suggested that perhaps they’d made enough money over the years from the various activities of the Bird Information Service to retire, but somehow I doubt it! However, they can’t really complain – they had a pretty good run, and with no real competition (as providers of bird news) for several years at the start.

Were there just too many bird magazines in the marketplace? Maybe. I’ve always thought that the ‘bird news’ element of the monthly bird magazines is greatly overplayed. With the exception of British Birds, who stopped trying to compete a long time ago, they all do it, it’s all the same, and these days most people have seen most of it already on the Internet anyway! The reason they do it is because it fills a few pages without too much effort, which is fair enough, but when you have several magazines doing exactly the same thing every month, eventually something has to give. And it has to be said that sometimes there didn’t seem to be much to some issues of Birding World apart from news and photos.

One final thought, which particularly saddens me – Birding World was the last UK bird magazine to feature the work of bird artists on its covers. Right from the start when it was called Twitching, it was art all the way. Yes, I’m totally biased, but I never understood why BB and the RSPB’s Birds magazine stopped using artwork on their covers – bird photos are everywhere, and more so than ever these days when every Tom, Dick and Harry has a digital camera. It would be great if one of the remaining bird magazines could give us a break from the constant diet of photos and use artwork on the cover instead. Please?


The Urban Birder said...

I think that they just got tired of producing a magazine every month. That's probably why they didn't bother to take it online.

It a drain and is time consuming and having worked in publishing myself, it is not as glamorous and financially rewarding as people may think.

The Leicester Llama said...

Yes, you may well be right, David. I wrote that post before I'd seen the editorial, and although it didn't really say much, it doesn't sound as if they're stopping because it's not financially viable any more.

If that is the case though, you'd think they would just sell the title to someone else. I suspect there may be more to come on this story in one way or another.