It took just six months, but Esquire magazine’s iPhone app has crossed a big threshold: it’s gotten 100,000 downloads of in Apple’s iTunes Store. But that’s only for the free “shell” that serves as a storefront to buy individual issues or subscriptions. While the Hearst mag says it’s sold about 1,000 subscriptions to the monthly digital version of the magazine, sales numbers and circulation figures are not the big focus right now; Esquire just wants to get the marketing right.
Since magazine apps began appearing in the App Store last year, most have appeared as individual paid-download items in the iTunes Store. With some exceptions, most users have balked at paying for the news apps on recurring basis, so titles like Time magazine and WSJ have turned to the free “shells” to serve as an enticement.
Initially, Esquire’s monthly iPhone editions were sold individually through March. Then Esquire hit on the idea of offering each issue for $2.99 within the free shell, says the mag’s editor David Granger. “It’s so easy to get lost in the App Store unless you market it well,” Granger said. “You’re basically selling a whole new product to a whole new audience every time. The idea was to give away the app for free, which included some representative stories and a live feed. That way, we could gather enough people interested in Esquire so we could then market digital issues to sell to them.”
Over the last three weeks, Granger claims, Esquire went from 20,000 downloads to hitting the 100,000. But he won’t talk about individual sales. The app offers tiered subscriptions, where users who paid $2.99 for one month’s digital replica can get 11 more issues for $9.99; five additional iPhone issues cost $6.99 and two more are $4.99. Esquire won’t say how many of the 1,000 iPhone subs have paid to get the rest of the year’s editions.
For the most part, Granger argues that these are early days and that it’s all still experimental, so unlike Hearst rival Conde Nast, which has sold 72,000 individual issues of GQ since its first iPhone/ iPad edition last November, the mag isn’t rushing to have digital sales count by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Granger also isn’t interested in putting out a similar version of Esquire on iPad either. “We should be ready by the fall, but we’re more interested in learning what we can — we think readers want something different from the iPad than on the iPhone — and would rather get it right than just get it out fast.”