Yesterday, Women’s Wear Daily reported that according to recent numbers, interest in iPad magazines is quickly dwindling. Wired’s iPad edition sold 100,000 in its first month. By November, that number had dropped to only 23,000. Can publishers turn that trend around?


Yesterday, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) reported that according to recent numbers, interest in iPad magazines is quickly dwindling, as noted by Om in his recent post about year-end predictions. Wired‘s iPad edition was widely praised, and sold 100,000 in its first month. By November, that number had dropped to only 23,000.

Wired is an extreme example, but other magazines showed similar drops in sales, as reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Vanity Fair sold only 8,700 digital issues of the November issue, which was down from around 10,000 in October. Glamour‘s sales dropped 20 percent between October and November. So how can magazine publishers and Apple work together to stop the downward trend?

1. Work Out a Subscription Model

Paying per issue is no doubt one of the major disappointments for iPad magazine buyers. Apple and publishers need to agree on, and deploy, a workable subscription model that appeals to consumers, and they need to do it fast, before users decide that RSS and Instapaper more than meet their magazine-reading needs.

2. Treat Apps as Apps, Not Magazines

I realize that magazines want to stay true to their roots, but competing in an app economy means offering something more than just a digital version of a printed page, and that doesn’t just mean sticking some audio/video and share links on top of a scanned page.

Magazines aren’t approaching the iPad as the transformative device that it is, despite making claims in press releases that that’s exactly what they’re doing. Despite all the hype, I’ve yet to see an iPad magazine app that truly feels like it takes advantage of the platform. Even ones like Project, which is designed specifically for the iPad, don’t do this.

It may require additional investment, but magazines have to approach the iPad with a fresh approach. Start from scratch, study successful apps not in the digital magazine space, and think about what iPad users want from their devices. They sure didn’t spend $500+ just to be able to read scanned documents.

3. Reevaluate the Revenue Model

Magazines charge readers and feature frequent advertisements. For an app user, this is something of a contradiction. The way the app economy has evolved, iPhone and iPad users often expect free apps to be ad-supported, and paid apps to be ad-free. The traditional magazine model, then, seems a contradiction that carries the downsides of both free and paid app revenue models.

Making changes in the way magazines earn revenue won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary part of joining the world of digital publishing. To think you can just import what worked for print into an existing App Store economy for which users have their own expectations is incredibly short-sighted.

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  1. A subscription model is needed, but so are rational prices. When I can subscribe to a magazine for a year @ $10, but priced at the cover price (or more) for the ipad…. well, I’m gonna pass on the ipad version.

  2. Why would I want to download an application that opens only one document (a single magazine)?

    Seriously, has nobody realized this would be like downloading Adobe Reader every time you wanted a PDF?

    Magazines are NOT APPLICATIONS, and they never will be. That is why there is little opportunity here. It’s a fad and nothing more, and eventually this will all go away and we will be right where we left off – magazines struggling to adapt to the web, because that’s where people expect to get their information.

  3. I actually disagree with point #2 here, and I’m uncertain about point #3. #1 is the real key — I don’t understand why Apple hasn’t released a “magazine stand” portal like iBooks (but hopefully not as poorly done) so that people can subscribe to magazines in one place, using their iTunes account. I would actually be fine with reading “scanned pages” if I could get each issue automatically, with a single subscription payment up-front. And of course the pricing needs to be identical to that of the regular printed format. Wired’s attempt fails because of all of the above, not because of the implementation. It’s far too expensive, and I would need to buy each issue separately.

  4. Tablets and mobile in general will be the biggest disruption to more industries and verticals than the web ever was. Print publishing is no different and they are struggling, like they did with the web, to figure out a sustainable model that gives them the most control.

    Subscriptions are good but the real concern from publishers is the ability to maintain a direct relationship with their users/readers. Today they know who they are sending their magazines to and who is reading them off the newstand. That gives them pull with advertisers. With the platforms being the middle man on that information today, publishers don’t get that ability. 2011 will be all about this who-really-owns-the-customer problem.

    I don’t think going the route of an Apple newstand app will fly either. For the same reason that publishers have not flocked to Zinnio they would not flock to a newstand app. Again, they want control and a better understanding of who their readers and subscribers are.

  5. The content guys don’t get it. Even Branson’s digital magazine ‘Project’ doesn’t get it. In their first issue there was an article about some car or other (probably Tesla but not sure) that opens with a description of the sound of the engine. I looked in vain for the audio clip.

    Still looking.

  6. I have a print subscription to The New Yorker that includes access to an online edition before the magazine arrives in my mailbox.

    Now why would I pay more to read the magazine on my iPad???

  7. The simple explanation for this failure is that publishers are looking at this as a special destination that people will pay to enter. It’s not. They have to attract an essentially disinterested public.. It has to be free, or a least nearly free, to get people to show up.

  8. Two things stop me buying lots of iPad mags.
    Too expensive: I have to pay to buy the app, then pay to download a 300mb file, and pay to store it for every issue. And it had ads! I am not going to pay for ads.

    The websites off much of the really good content for free now with minimal ads and optimized for internet download in small chunks. As the content is free, I don’t mind paying for the data, and I don’t intend to keep the content caches forever. It’s free, I’ll get it again if I want it.

  9. I completely agree. Project was a least a good attempt at getting a magazine to move forward in terms of content and interactability. I also agree that it could be a lot more interactive. My mind goes back to the concept video that Sports Illustrated made about interactive magazines on future “tablet” devices. Why we don’t have something like that is a mystery. Could it be that the owners of publishing houses just don’t “get it” when it comes to these new fangled Pad devices?

  10. iPad Magazines are like the iPad- all hype, no substance, quickly gets boring

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