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Summary:

A new survey from the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) finds that newspaper and magazine publishers’ digital businesses are gradually becoming profitable, and 63 percent say “tablets are the most important digital channel for their publication’s future.”

NYT iPad App
photo: NYT

A large annual survey of magazine and newspaper publishers finds that 90 percent have some sort of mobile presence — whether it’s on a tablet, smartphone or e-reader. And while less than a quarter (22 percent) say that their smartphone and tablet apps are profitable, more than half expect they will become profitable in the next two years. Sixty-three percent of publishers surveyed “agree that tablets are the most important digital channel for their publication’s future.”

The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations) surveyed its 210 North American magazine, newspaper and business publication members for its fourth annual survey on digital practices, this year entitled “How Media Companies are Innovating and Investing in Cross-Platform Opportunities.” Here are some of their findings. The full survey is here (PDF).

AAM 1 apps by platformiOS rules…but Nook and Kindle are catching up

The most popular distribution platform is the iPad, which overtook the iPhone this year as the platform for which publishers are developing the most content. 87 percent of publishers surveyed have iPad apps, 85 percent have iPhone apps and 75 percent have Android apps. But apps for Kindle and Nook are catching up: 67 percent of publishers have a Kindle app (up from 24 percent in 2011), and 57 percent have a Nook app (up from 14 percent in 2011). (It’s unclear whether this refers to Kindle and Nook tablets or to e-readers; the AAM asked about Nook and Kindle in general and didn’t specify device.)

AAM 2 native vs webNo clear win for web apps over native apps

Publishers are by no means abandoning native apps (developed for specific devices, like the iPhone) for web apps (which use HTML5 to deliver content through web browsers and can be read on any screen size). “We must do both now, although we still deliver a better experience with native,” one newspaper publisher said. “Apple’s charging for subscriptions are a drawback and Amazon does not have acceptable economics for publishers.” For now, magazine publishers are choosing to stick with native apps, while newspaper publishers are undecided:

Publishers are most likely to charge for iPad apps

Nearly 40 percent of publishers said they don’t charge for content on any platform.

Screen Shot 2012-12-17 at 9.05.52 AM

Paywalls are the future…but ads still matter

The survey found publishers increasingly adopting paywalls, and 44 percent of respondents who did not yet have one said they plan to implement one in the next two years. “We should have put that wall up years ago,” one respondent said. Another: “Locking down our websites has kept our total circulation fairly stable for the past four years. Free web content will not contribute to a successful business model in the future.”

AAM 4 paywalls

Metered paywalls (the New York Times model, where a visitor can read a certain number of articles before the paywall kicks in) were the most popular, used by 39 percent of respondents. Combination paywalls, which charge for premium content (the WSJ model) came in second, with 33 percent of respondents using them.

“The growth for digital editions is from our web users, not from converting print readers to digital users,” one respondent said. That means not just paywalls but also advertising: 77 percent of publishers believe mobile revenues should consist of both subscriptions and advertising, up from 52 percent in 2009.

Twenty percent of publishers surveyed estimate that their digital products (websites, mobile and social media) will account for at least 25 percent of advertising revenue in 2014, up from 4 percent now.

Readers want bundles

“Audiences are self-selecting. We are seeing combinations we would have never constructed for print,” one publisher said.

aam 5 bundles

Gradually, digital is becoming profitable

By the end of 2014, 41 percent of publishers expect mobile to represent at least 10 percent of their overall circulation revenue.

AAM 6 profitability

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  1. Sandpiper Charlie Monday, December 17, 2012

    …but the Governor of California (Jerry Brown) discourages their use. Earlier this year, he admonished several state departments for purchasing iPads for their staff. Quite unbelievable, considering the company that makes them (Apple) was born and reared in California.

  2. This phenomenon is known as the iPad app bandwagon.

    There have also been iPad only publications, like The Daily which was an abject failure — providing an instructive case study in the dangers of believing Apple hype.

  3. This is the most ridiculous stat I’ve ever read. 87 percent of newspaper and magazine publishers still don’t even have a decent web strategy, much less a native tablet app. Perhaps this *might* be the case with mainstream consumer magazines and large-market newspapers, but not a blanket statistic that applies to any publishing market. No way, no how.

  4. I would question the actual results here, they say 210 members were asked to take part in the survey, I image not many did, also there are very few native magazines apps on android and they claim 75% I doubt this very much unless just few responded.

  5. Bond Interactive Monday, December 17, 2012

    Good to see adoption to digital has taken off. The standard first step seem close to complete, the next step is for it to be profitable & sustainable.

  6. Really interesting data here… we’re seeing lots of publishers using our products and frameworks show a healthy interest in other platforms, especially Windows 8, which is great. http://www.stonewash.co.uk

  7. Isnt the real question “What do they do with an app?” over whether they have one? We have examples of app failures (The Daily), but who can point to some app successes??

  8. I’m sure that is you had “actual” numbers, you’d see more like 87% of ALL magazines and ALL newspapers headquartered in the U.S. DO NOT have a native iPad app

  9. Remember, it doesn’t say “native app”, it says App. The out-of-the box solutions, from replica providers, or wrappers around a mobile site, counts as an app if you have to download it from the I-tunes store, which isn’t really a strategic solution, more of a follow-the leader approach.

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