Lee Publications, publisher of Hard Hat News, Waste Handling Equipment News, and North American Quarry News, recently transitioned these well-known construction magazines from print to a digital format and website under the new identity of Rock Road Recycle. It’s part of a much bigger trend in which digital is displacing print.
Is the construction industry prepared to bid farewell to print trade magazines? Are we entering a new world in which construction magazines will only be available in a digital format? If so, how will it impact the construction industry?
The Problem with Digital
As a former editor of two heavy construction magazines (Constructioneer and Highway Builder), and a frequent contributor to and consumer of many others to this day, this is a hot button issue for me. More importantly, it’s directly affecting the way you stay current on industry trends and advertise to reach your target market.
The work that our construction editors are doing is important. They’re not just writing stories about construction projects; they’re documenting the building of America. This history will continue to be preserved in digital form even if print disappears, but it feels like we could be losing something important.
By full disclosure, the Lee Publications announcement was bittersweet news for me. While I understand this is a business decision based on a strong trend, I prefer printed magazines and books. The functionality of most of these digital magazines (in my opinion) is clunky, for one. Secondly, I don’t need any additional screen time. Am I alone?
Amazon was getting similar pushback after rolling out the Kindle in 2007. It responded by conjuring up a glare-resistant screen with a book-like texture, but it still wasn’t a book.
Perhaps we’ll see the same with digital magazines. I have no doubt that the techies in Silicon Valley will eventually develop an e-reader that more closely simulates the traditional reading experience.
The decline of print publishing is a national trend. Print subscriptions and advertising are declining, which makes the cost of publishing cost-prohibitive. It’s about numbers. Period.
A Disconnect in the Construction Industry
There seems to be a disconnect in the construction industry. Publishers are reacting to changing market conditions with sound business decisions, but I’m not convinced that going strictly digital is what their subscribers want. Publishers are in quite a pickle.
Every study I’ve seen suggests that the amount of print the average American consumes is declining. But the construction industry is different. I have no data to support it, but my informal research indicates a preference for print over digital.
Informal Facebook Survey Shows Print Preference
I took to Facebook to see what I could dig up. The following is a sampling of the comments from the Facebook groups of the Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA) (6,000+ members) and Historical Highway Heavy Civil Construction Association (2,000+ members).
In fairness, we should qualify that historic construction equipment hobbyists may have more old school tendencies than others in the construction industry. With that said, my assertion is that a sizeable portion of the industry prefers print over digital.
The comments below are recorded verbatim, but identities have been removed to respect privacy. Remember that these are Facebook comments, so pardon the bumps and blemishes.
“If something comes in the snail, I read it and look at the ads. If I have to hunt on the internet, I don’t. So…. advertisers, if you want to reach me, continue to advertise in the print publications.”
“I still prefer print editions.”
“I bought a 42″ TV, had to buy a 1080p to 4K converter box, so I can read those (expletive) online magazines! Got tired of 10,000 mouse clicks to read one magazine! The online reader that they use sucks for small screens! I resisted as long as possible! Try and read those online magazines on your phone! Forget about it! Rant over!”
“Welcome to the 21st Century.”
“Have to carry a tablet to the shitter.”
“I’ll miss the Hard Hat News. Been reading it forever!”
“Internet ruins everything!”
As you can see, 100 percent of the comments in this unscientific study reflect a preference for print. This is obviously a micro sampling, but it’s an interesting exercise, nonetheless.
The Future of Print Construction Magazines
There is no question that the trend in today’s world is toward digital. We’re witnessing a so-called technology averse industry starting to warm up to project management software, BIM, telematics, and drones.
The million-dollar question is this: is the era of the print construction magazine drawing near, and if so, does the construction industry care?
If you’re part of the group that wants to preserve print construction magazines, read the books, contribute editorial, advertise, and share your thoughts with the staff. The problem is that it may already be too late to stop this machine that’s been set in motion.
How do you prefer to read your construction magazines? Print or digital? How would you feel if the time came when you could no longer get a print edition?