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Summary:

Now that e-book content sales are taking off, what’s the holdup for digital magazines? Part of the problem is varied pricing and subscription models, which can put consumers off. But the vivid experience of a color display on a connected device is bringing them back.

nookcolor

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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  1. I got a Nook Color for Christmas and have tried the digital magazine format. It is taking some getting used to. The digital format is not really the same as picking up a dead tree and flipping through the pages. The biggest revelation came when I figured out that there is an article view which makes reading easier, but the article view wasn’t intuitive (at least at first). All that being said, I generally like the format and am going to continue to try to “train” myself to use it.

  2. What about Zinio magazines? I have used them for 3 -4 years and they are a great way to read magazines, are on nearly all devices and are cheap to subscribe.

  3. Beats me why publishers are still lamenting the decline of paper sales. Why are they so slow to react? Is it because they’re all old geezers who still listen to music by placing records on gramophones? I’m a relatively “old geezer” who just turned 61, and I love the technology that allows me to read what I like when I like without having to set aside a room in my house for storage of paper, not to mention the notion that whole forests won’t be razed so that I can get my print fix.

  4. As E-book Sales Explode, Consumption Patterns Change: Tech News and Analysis « Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    [...] The challenge now for book sellers is to merge the dot-com website, mobile devices, and brick-and-mortar stores (subscription required) for a seamless experience. E-books are at a turn in the road; but with analytics at hand, they can capture the customers’ imagination. [...]

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