Barnes & Noble is making progress in the digital magazine and subscription market, announcing more than 650,000 subscriptions and single copy periodical sales on Monday. The company’s NOOKcolor may be the reason; the device has only been available for two months, but in that time, the bookseller has witnessed magazine and newspaper subscriptions sales jump 150 percent over the prior 12 months’ sales. Black-and-white may be ideal for reading e-books, but when it comes to magazines, color rules the roost.
Such subscription numbers should be encouraging to publishers looking for opportunity in a digital future filled with tablets and smartphones. While sales of e-book titles have grown quickly over the last four years, the same can’t be said for electronic magazines. Part of the issue stems from pricing, as some digital subscriptions are more expensive than their print counterparts. And there’s a bit of “chicken-and-egg” scenario going on: Few publishers are offering magazines in digital storefronts because sales have been lackluster, yet consumers are less likely to browse for magazines with so few choices available.
A quick look in the B&N store shows roughly 99 periodical titles available, while Amazon currently offers 78. Of course, Apple’s iPad with its 9.7-inch color screen is another contender in this space, but you won’t find magazines in the company’s iBooks digital storefront. Instead, magazines are separate applications filled with multimedia features and other extras that, according to some, create bloat and don’t do much to advance the print medium. And the pricing scheme has varied. Some titles are priced per issue; some offer a small bit of content for free; while others appear to be employing a true subscription model.
Regardless of distribution method and payment option, magazine content on color displays is sure to entice subscribers over those that use a grayscale device, such as Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s Reader. That doesn’t mean electronic ink devices like these will always use black-and-white displays though. Qualcomm’s Mirasol screen and Samsung’s Liquavista display — a technology Samsung purchased just last week — offer the low power benefits of e-ink, but add color to the screen. Between these new displays and the color units found on traditional tablets and handhelds, digital magazine sales might have just turned the page on subscriber growth.
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