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The tablet magazine ship is sinking. Fast.

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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.

57 Responses to “The tablet magazine ship is sinking. Fast.”

  1. Apple is not killing the tablet magazine. It is Adobe that is killing it. Adobe’s DPS is overpriced and over complicated. Bells and whistles that contribute little. The confusing navigation doesn’t help either.

    Tablet magazines are doing fine. I have free subscriptions to a dozen magazines (Nat Geo, Inc, Smithsonian, Businessweek, etc) via Zinio through my local library. These digital replicas are enjoyable to read with good writing, great photography, and excellent page layouts. They look a heck of a lot better than magazine websites.

    Note that the author is promoting apps because he works for an app developer. Of course!

  2. Anyone who has tried “next issue” on iPad would say the complete opposite… Awesome format, extra features, automatic downloads! And no, I’m not affiliated, just a happy user. E-magazine is def the future. Apple’s newsstand and individual magazine’s apps are dead products though.

  3. I have both Time Magazine & Fortune Magazine as individual apps on my iPad and separately Zinio subscriptions to numerous other magazines. I can tell you with my personal experience that neither are perfect and I don’t think the digital magazine solution has arrived. There are far too many imperfections for me to go into on both areas, but the bottom line is this: they are frustrating to use, determine whether I have anything new, and don’t always play well within the app itself. I can see my Zinio magazines on my Mac and Macbook Pro through use of their software, but cannot with Time or Fortune. I don’t think the PDF version found on Newstand is the answer either. For magazines with extensive layout and imbedded sub-features and video, such as National Geographic on the Zinio software – it constantly freezes and causes a need to do a force quit on the software – unusable magazine for me in digital format. Again, I could go on…but regardless, they’re not there yet.

  4. Amanda MacArthur

    Not sure I agree on this. The mag industry has already done the independent app thing and it didn’t work. Most of the publishers I work with are now bringing in 30%+ of their digital edition revenue through the newsstand. The lack of some kind of push notification is a let down though.

  5. Total Hogwash. No metrics cited. The author has obvious gains by scaring the readers. The article discusses the uselessness of Newsstand as a marketing and awareness piece. Good. communicate with your readership directly. Is the PDF page-flip flow dead? It was never alive. It has always sucked. But publishers can get good results with DPS or other CMS systems. The threat to hire an agency is ludicrous. Mr. Vassallo should cite some research–or better yet, provide value rather than fear.

  6. Michael Strawn

    Hmmm….not surprising an App developer would recommend the major media companies invest in expensive, custom Apps to solve their digital woes.

    I don’t see it happening. Like many industries, publishers simply aren’t seeing the revenues on the digital side to make the investment worthwhile. Developing and maintaining high-value, custome Apps is an expensive business. Apple, Droid, Amazon. Four inch screens, 5-inch screen, 7,8,9-inch screens. Making all this work across all the different iterations requires enormous ongoing costs. And whatever you have today is unlikely to work tomorrow. And no one has figured out the revenue model yet.

    Further, as some have mentioned…..trying to create “digital magazines” is putting a square pege in a round hole. Magazine “editions” existed in the physical world because they had to; you had stop printing at some point and they created an artificial cut-off point that became the defacto form of the medium. In a digital realm that cut-off point doesn’t exist and therefore there’s no reason for an “edition” to exist.

    This is simply medic companies blindly sticking to their current business models and unable / unwilling to innovate. The digital revolution started 20 years ago and the magazine industry hasn’t figured it out yet. Perhaps we never will.

  7. I don’t think all tablet magazines are sinking. I am happy reading magazines on my Readly app- it’s so much better than Apple Newsstand (something I never really used much of). It’s great because I can read all the magazines on Readly without having to purchase each magazine individually. I can also share articles, bookmark, favorite etc. I highly recommend it!

  8. Marvin L. Price

    I completely disagree with this article. What is killing magazines isn’t Apple’s Magazine Stand, it’s the Internet itself. I have up to the minute information on every topic at my finger tips at all times now. I have no desire to wait a month for some periodical to finally get around to publishing. Even if the writers are excellent, if the topic is one I’m interested in, I’ve been reading about it for a month by the time the magazine gets around to mentioning it. I’m not going to pay for that.

    Magazines are even competing with their own websites. I love Wired, but just about everything of importance that might appear in the magazine is on the website.

    The periodical is dead. Long live the Internet.

    If you want to publish a magazine on a topic, it’s time to dump the print version, and concentrate on being the go to place for information on a particular topic on the Internet, and that means constant, up to date, fresh, information and analysis. Some magazines, for instance MacWorld, heck I don’t even know if they still have a print version. I just read their website.

    Create beautiful websites that take advantage of the medium. Explain to your writers that it’s not about a monthly article anymore. It’s about an ongoing subject analysis.

    And here’s a novel idea… CHARGE FOR YOUR CONTENT ONLINE. If its good enough, people will pay. They won’t pay a lot, but lots will pay. Charge the monthly newsstand cost of the magazine, don’t get greedy.

    Print is so dead. Time to get over it.

    • Michael Strawn

      Print isn’t dead; it will always be here. But it must adapt. Many assumed radio would die when television arrived but instead it became a different, smaller industry. Print can and will do the same.

      The key is content. The publisher who delivers a unique consumer experience will continue to thrive. National Geographic and The Economist are two examples that come to mind. Yo simply cannot recreate the experience of reading / flipping through either one of the titles on the Internet.

      Also, print can serve as a valuable brand extension. I don’t think it’s a coincedence that the two most successful print launches of the last five years have been multie-media brand extensions: Food Network Magazine and HGTV Magazine.

      Assuming print is dead is a simple-minded, myopic viewpoint. It will always be here; it’s just going to be very different than what it has been for so long.

  9. I disagree that standalone apps are the answer. One of the big reasons magazines aren’t being read as much is because it’s a pain in the butt. Every paper magazine has the same common interface. Every electronic magazine is different. Do I tap to read or swipe to read? Do I swipe up or left or right? How do I get to the TOC? Everybody is different. Apple should release a great publishing app that forces a common interface. And gee, they could probably tie iAd into that somehow too.

    • Not to mention that depending on which device you’re using, you may find the magazine won’t even work. And if it does work, what if you don’t remember your password. At least with a print magazine, if you can read, you’re good to go. With digital magazines, you have to figure out the format, the navigation, the sizing, the font, how to find new issues, how to turn on or off reminders, etc. It’s maddening.

  10. I may be unusual but I really enjoy simple page-by-page magazines.

    An excellent example is the weekly London ES colour magazine, which is a pleasure to read on an iPad, with glowing colour and detail to match.

    ES updates quickly, and you can either build an onboard library or reload when you wish.

    Excellent. Mind you, it’s free, which certainly helps.

  11. The problem isn’t just Newsstand or the ability to hide it in a folder. The entire business model is flawed. It’s a chicken and egg sort of thing. Users don’t turn to Newsstand because there’s little to read there and there’s little to read because the readers don’t exist.

    When Newsstand came out, I asked myself where ‘all the interesting free stuff’ was. It seemed intended for pricey, glossy magazines, the sort I never read. Adobe does offer the free Inspire for it, but with just it coming into Newsstand monthly, I developed no habit of using the app. I just opened it up and the latest issue I’d been reading was six months ago back in June. One subscription can’t make an app.

    Newsstand should have been built on a podcasting model. Publishing through it should be as easy as podcasting and most subscriptions should be free. It should be the sort of thing that non-profits, hobby groups, and advocacy groups could use in lieu of mailings.

    And the emphasis should have been more on subscribing to individual articles from various sources. Instead the emphasis is on mimicking the past: highly colorful, costly to create magazines with dozens of article, only one or two that might be worth reading.

    What Newsstand should have done is being done (differently) by apps such as Instapaper.
    And behind that lies a problem with Apple’s corporate culture. When I worked for Boeing Computer Services, I had serious discussions about politics and history with fellow workers. Somehow, I get the impression that if I worked for Apple the discussions would be about the latest hit song or the best beaches for surfing. It’s an idea-free, deep-thought-free zone, at least at the level of the executives.

    And that’s perhaps why OS X’s text services haven’t changed much since 10.2 and why iOS provides so little support for formatted text. Words are used for ideas and those who have little used for ideas have little use for words.

    And it’s not just Newsstand, OS X, or iOS that are being treated badly. The iBookstore is grossly underfunded in comparison to the iTunes Store. It’s taken years to get a Mac version of iBooks out, and it only runs under Mavericks.

    There’s no doubt that Amazon is behind the DOJ lawsuit against Apple and the Big Six publishers. The law firm that triggered the DOJ’s so-called investigation is only a five-minute walk from Amazon’s corporate headquarters. And why did Amazon launch that attack? Because it sensed that Apple’s commitment to ebooks was weak and might easily be eliminated.

    And the result of that has been a horrible mess for Apple in more ways that just digital boosk.

  12. It’s odd that for me I find it is the complete opposite.

    Now I do agree that publishers that go down the PDF copy model don’t get my business, the publications that go the extra mile and publish an iPad version with video links, quick search, etc. have transformed the way that I read magazines for the better.

    I am a regular subscriber of Edge, Total Film & SFX and an occasional dabbler of Empire, What Hifi and would also buy GamesTM and Retro Gamer if they weren’t simple PDF copies.

    I love being able to have the latest magazines with me when travelling, in a device that weighs less than even one issue and I don’t think I could go back tor regular magazines at all.

    Now I do understand the argument that the internet in general and the free access to news, reviews, updates etc. is making the monthly publication cycle redundant but there is still a disparity between the quality of the two. You do get what you pay for sometimes, and although it may be a good idea for some of these publications to consider an alternative financial model I wouldn’t want them to give up on the monthly publication completely.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if I was in the happy minority though.

  13. This article is utterly stupid. NextIssue is something that I use a lot. I never used newsstand. Does that mean that tablet magazines are dead since I don’t use newsstand? Stupid stupid stupid.

  14. For everyone claiming the title of the article is misleading, there’s actually a single line that drives the general point through:

    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.

    That said, the author’s position as the CEO of an app development company gives him an obvious bias.

  15. Joe Cosentino

    The publishers killed the tablet magazine. The few I tried had way to many gestures to learn, making finding information next to impossible.

    I subscribe to about 15 monthly magazines through an app called Zino ( have been using it for years) anyway the issues are basically PDF files making reading easy with simple hyperlinks ( remember those) to more information.

    The designers of tablet magazines should all be fired and the companies should return to an easier to use format

    • Zinio is only a better PDF-Reader – that can’t be the future. An e-magazine is lay outed for print. If magazines want to survive, they must find a way to entertain the readers on the screen. The digital editions of titles like New Yorker, Fast Company etc. might not be perfect, but they are a first step in the right direction. But there are many to go…

  16. Nicholas Paredes

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Ricardo Bilton

    “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.

  20. 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.

  21. G Richnovsky

    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)

  22. John S. Wilson

    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.

  23. Nicholas John Martin

    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.