Continuously printed since 1843, the Economist is regarded as one of the world's most recognizable news magazines and an iconic brand in the publishing community. But although it has attained a certain reverential dedication from readers, the Economist is driven by managers who know the future of their business is no guarantee without innovation.
While the publication's initial foray into digital content development was originally met with some skepticism, mobile and web-based products are quickly becoming healthy contributors to company success.
Digital doubles, profits peak
While a number of print publications have had to fight for their very survival in recent years, the Economist has keenly harnessed the digital revolution in a way that actually accents its original line of business. According to its latest annual earnings review, both profits and circulation have hit record highs.
Between Q2 2011 and Q1 2012, the Economist Group posted record revenue of $568.1 million, representing a 4 percent increase over the previous year. The company's total operating profit also increased by 6 percent in that time.
To cap it all off, the Economist achieved record circulation in March 2012 as well. Digital revenue more than doubled during the year with electronic editions making up approximately 123,000 of all 1,624,000 units distributed.
"More and more people around the world want to be challenged by what they read. There is a huge opportunity for us and other media companies in smarting up, not dumbing down," Economist CEO Andrew Rashbass explained. "Tablets and smartphones provide a great platform for this."
Leaning back and pushing forward
Perhaps the most important by-product of widespread digitization has been the rise of what Rashbass calls "lean-back" reading. With content being pushed to smartphones and tablets, readers can peruse material easier than ever - and often in a way that coincides with existing personal and professional habits.
In a recent interview with FierceMobileContent, the Economist's digital content production head Nick Blunden shed additional light on this phenomenon. His team's application development strategy essentially focuses on curating the best parts of their print product and extending functionality in ways that are engaging for the most dedicated readers. As Blunden noted, he focuses on creating products geared toward the end user that typically spends a lot of time consuming each print issue, be it in a comfortable rocking chair or with a glass of wine in the bath.
"What our apps have enabled us to do is bring that to life in the digital world," Blunden elaborated. "That's very different - that lean back immersive experience that's in our tablets and on our iPhone apps is very different from what we consider to be the lean forward, much more social experience that is on [the web]."
The publication's uniquely refined digital content development strategy is about more than extended interviews and glossy multimedia, according to the Guardian. The success of digital editions has also allowed the Economist to turn record profits at a time when print advertising revenue declined by 17 percent in the U.K.