How to Stop the iPad Magazine Download Slide

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Yesterday, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) reported that according to recent numbers, interest in iPad magazines is quickly dwindling, as noted by Om in his recent post about year-end predictions. Wired‘s iPad edition was widely praised, and sold 100,000 in its first month. By November, that number had dropped to only 23,000.

Wired is an extreme example, but other magazines showed similar drops in sales, as reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Vanity Fair sold only 8,700 digital issues of the November issue, which was down from around 10,000 in October. Glamour‘s sales dropped 20 percent between October and November. So how can magazine publishers and Apple work together to stop the downward trend?

1. Work Out a Subscription Model

Paying per issue is no doubt one of the major disappointments for iPad magazine buyers. Apple and publishers need to agree on, and deploy, a workable subscription model that appeals to consumers, and they need to do it fast, before users decide that RSS and Instapaper more than meet their magazine-reading needs.

2. Treat Apps as Apps, Not Magazines

I realize that magazines want to stay true to their roots, but competing in an app economy means offering something more than just a digital version of a printed page, and that doesn’t just mean sticking some audio/video and share links on top of a scanned page.

Magazines aren’t approaching the iPad as the transformative device that it is, despite making claims in press releases that that’s exactly what they’re doing. Despite all the hype, I’ve yet to see an iPad magazine app that truly feels like it takes advantage of the platform. Even ones like Project, which is designed specifically for the iPad, don’t do this.

It may require additional investment, but magazines have to approach the iPad with a fresh approach. Start from scratch, study successful apps not in the digital magazine space, and think about what iPad users want from their devices. They sure didn’t spend $500+ just to be able to read scanned documents.

3. Reevaluate the Revenue Model

Magazines charge readers and feature frequent advertisements. For an app user, this is something of a contradiction. The way the app economy has evolved, iPhone and iPad users often expect free apps to be ad-supported, and paid apps to be ad-free. The traditional magazine model, then, seems a contradiction that carries the downsides of both free and paid app revenue models.

Making changes in the way magazines earn revenue won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary part of joining the world of digital publishing. To think you can just import what worked for print into an existing App Store economy for which users have their own expectations is incredibly short-sighted.

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