Can inflight magazines survive a digital world?

Are inflight magazines headed for the scrap heap now that passengers can use their personal electronic devices (PEDs) gate-to-gate on many airlines?

We reached out to Southwest Airlines for an answer because, in addition to offering its popular printed magazine title, Spirit, to passengers via seat-back pockets, the carrier’s satellite-supported inflight connectivity service and streaming entertainment can be accessed during takeoff and landing.

“We do plan to continue our inflight magazine,” says a Southwest spokeswoman, though she admits the carrier might dip its baby toe into offering the product wirelessly as well. “We haven’t yet, but have explored the idea” of offering both a paper and wireless magazine, she says.

DTI Software, which provides cutting edge software for inflight entertainment systems, notes that digital versions of inflight magazines have started to be offered by some airlines. “They come as a standard on [our] eReader application, if an airline has a digital version of its inflight magazine available, as well as wireless versions of meal menus,” says Alexis Steinman, managing director at DTI, which is part of the larger company bringing inflight connectivity to Southwest aircraft, known as Global Eagle Entertainment.

Interestingly, Global Eagle today announced a new partnership with fast-growing cross platform digital newsstand, Magzter, to provide a catalogue of thousands of regional and international digital magazines for inflight entertainment. DTI will distribute the new content to airline customers worldwide via its eReader platform, which is compatible with seat-back and wireless inflight entertainment systems.

However, DTI’s Steinman notes that producing digital versions of inflight magazines, specifically, “can be a logistical challenge for airlines and there are important ancillary revenue opportunities derived from advertising in print versions of inflight magazines. By offering a wireless option, DTI is allowing airlines to explore multiple possibilities to provide visibility of an inflight magazine and its content to passengers.”

Printed inflight magazines offer airlines a slice of the revenues generated from advertisements in the magazines they publish on their behalf. The inflight magazine model has proven to be a win-win-win for airlines, advertisers and passengers, as it puts products and services in front of some of the most captive audiences in the world.

The inflight magazine has also long provided a welcome distraction to passengers, who previously had to wait until an aircraft reached 10,000ft before pulling out their PEDs. Now that gate-to-gate PED use is permitted, some industry observers believe airlines will ultimately embrace a completely digital environment for their inflight magazines.

Deloitte, in a new IFE market report, predicts that hard copies will ultimately go the way of the dodo bird, and instead be viewed by IFE. Reducing weight equates to a significant amount of fuel savings, it notes.