The death of the tablet magazine has been heralded for months, but here’s how publishers need to rethink their digital offerings for the tablet age.

Apple Newsstand

Last month I published a post on my company blog that caused some (shall we say) interesting feedback from both our publisher clients as well as the broader media community. While I was certainly not the first to proclaim the death of the tablet magazine, the now universally recognized and unequivocal data pointing to the steep decline of print-replica apps is becoming undeniable.

What’s even worse news for magazine publishers who have chosen either a PDF-based or Adobe InDesign-led “Plug-In” app solution in a race to cash in on Apple’s Newsstand is the damning evidence of Apple’s lack of support…and frankly, interest in the Newsstand app itself.

Once the “holy grail” for magazine publishers, promising front-and-center exposure for their periodicals, the Newsstand app in iOS 7 has become almost irrelevant.

As pointed out by Hamish Mckenzie from Pandodaily:

“…there is now no visual reminder within the Newsstand icon that there are publications inside, waiting to be read. On top of that, in iOS7 users can now hide the Newsstand icon inside a folder. The once-special treatment that Apple gave publishers in order to encourage the distribution of magazines to the iPhone and iPad has apparently vanished, at least in terms of visual prominence.”

As Mckenzie points out, even Glenn Fleishman’s The Magazine (once industry-darling for the ‘new paradigm of digital magazines’) is suffering from near anonymity given its presence in Newsstand. According to Fleishman, he receives “email regularly from readers who say that they forget that [new] issues even come out.”

So what’s happening here – is Apple actively abandoning the Newsstand concept or simply responding to user appetite and shifting demand in iOS 7?

The answer is probably a little of both.

Since its inception the Newsstand app has angered iOS users to no end in its inability to be “hidden” or tucked away into a folder. It’s also no secret that tablet magazines are simply not being read – the form factor and technology is basically making the standardized magazine page a near anachronism in a world of dynamic live canvases of the caliber of a Flipboard or Zite.

So it’s not a case of Apple killing Newsstand – but rather, Newsstand killing itself. What we are dealing with now is simply a folder – and worse than that – a folder that can be hidden within another folder.

Now that all iOS 7 apps can enjoy background refresh and download, and given the ability to hide the app and even “mute” Newsstand reminders – publishers are forced to compete on a completely level playing field with all other iOS apps.

And for magazine publishers – that’s frightening.

With a number of magazine publishers as current and former clients – we are acutely aware of the challenges they face. From dwindling print revenues to increasing internal costs managing simultaneous print and digital editions of their magazines – it’s absolutely understandable that choosing the apparent “quick win” of InDesign-generated apps (Adobe’s own DPS, Mag+, etc.), or even PDF-wrapper solutions provide a cheap and rapid route to the App store.

But it’s been a false economy, and there simply is no time to waste waiting for things to improve.

Publishers must break free of the Newsstand and InDesign/PDF trap and invest in their publications as stand-alone, real, honest-to-God apps – or find their titles even more neglected within a vestigial folder that will be inevitably reside inside yet another folder.

And that’s scary.

The Newsstand and tablet magazine honeymoon is over. Apple knows it. The industry knows it. And consumers have made it painfully clear for far too long.

It’s time for magazine publishers to abandon the easy options – and make the hard decisions that will save their digital titles.

Eddie Vassallo is the CEO of Entropy, an app development company.

  1. The article doesn’t match the title. The article is about the iOS 7 Newsstand app, not tablet magazines.

    1. You’re correct. that is a bit misleading.

    2. Cailean Babcock Sunday, December 15, 2013

      Not entirely. The iPad holds the lion’s share of the tablet market, and more importantly, has the users most likely to spend money on apps and digital periodicals for their device. The only comparable competition would be the Kindle Fire. While it has the more appropriate approach (preferring media to apps), it simply doesn’t have the market share to be relevant.

      1. Flipboard is a tablet magazine platform that has nothing to do with the iOS 7 Newsstand app, and is available on all mainstream tablets.

        1. Understood, regarding Flipboard market share.

          Moreover, given this overall assessment of the market, I’m puzzled why the author believes that stand-alone native apps would be a better strategy for publishers. I recall that, according to recent Folio market research, those native apps are typically under-performing.

          1. Well he runs an App Development company – there’s one reason!

    3. Quite misleading article

  2. Nicholas John Martin Sunday, December 15, 2013

    It’s hard not to agree with what is being written here. With iOS7 Apple has definitely made it clear that newsstand apps no linger have any benefit over regular apps. Yes you can change the app icon with new issues, but if it’s hidden away then that doesn’t give you much. And what’s up with the design of newsstand ugh.

    It would have been interesting to see some stats or comments about using push notifications to alert subscribers that new content is available. That should keep readers active, but again this is no real advantage for newsstand apps as all apps have this feature.

    I see one massive pro for newsstand magazines, and that’s the newsstand search only category in the app store. If readers are looking for a newsstand app only then there is still so few magazines that you are bound to be found.

  3. John S. Wilson Sunday, December 15, 2013

    Wait, no statistics whatsoever to support your assertion? This is an odd article to write without actually supporting with evidence outside of anecdotal chats with a couple of developers.

  4. A bigger problem for Newsstand might be services like Zinio or NextIssue. The fact that these are not even mentioned makes me agree with other commenters that this article may have a hidden agenda (=convincing publishers to turn their magazines into some interactive hybrid with the help of the author)

    1. Nailed it.

    2. 100% agree. This looks like a bought article. Or a help from friends at GigaOM.

      Funny enough I see a lot of articles by Hamish @ PandoDaily that look like they were “bought” into the publication..

  5. The reason I never buy the magazines is cost.
    I consider the prices outrageous.
    To get me they’re going to need to offer some deals.

  6. While I agree with the article as written, the headline is completely misleading. The article is about tablet magazines inside Newsstand and has nothing to do with the long-term viability of magazines in digital form.

  7. Ricardo Bilton Sunday, December 15, 2013

    “Publishers must break free of the Newsstand and InDesign/PDF trap and invest in their publications as stand-alone, real, honest-to-God apps,” says the CEO of an app development company.

    1. Ricardo Bilton Sunday, December 15, 2013

      Not that detracts from his point, though.

  8. Please provide some data to backup your claims, and change the title to something like “Publishers not happy with iOS7 Newsstand”, that would be more appropriate :)

    I use Flipboard almost daily, it is a nice up to the minute app that provide the same type of insights you get from magazines, and it is free. Publishers will have to relook their business model, maybe a freemium kind of model. Or change their product or something, the world has changed, they will have to change with it.

  9. I subscribed to several magazines and became totally frustrated by them never automatically updating themselves when a new edition came available. I had to manually download every edition which was painfully slow considering the generally small file size.
    And I had to keep the app open for the download to complete.
    Apples fault? Publishers fault?
    Either way it totally turned me off.

  10. Nicholas Paredes Sunday, December 15, 2013

    I helped design a CMS system for controlling iPhone apps in early 2009, and couldn’t agree more. Well, I couldn’t agree more in 2009.

    Now, I’m not so sure. We targeted music, and would I like to see music experiences as apps? Yes. Apple was very much not into that. But the media controls are the same. It becomes about a really great experience, which everybody including Medium is trying to achieve.

    Somebody has to test the waters. Marketing, or advertorials, aren’t going to change consumer behavior. Having really great experiences, and sharing them with others, will in fact change behavior. Publishers are rather risk averse. So grab some content, and show us some apps that we will pay for on a regular basis.


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