As Predicted: iPad Magazine Subscriber Numbers Plummeting

from the gee,-who-woulda-thunk-it dept

Right before the iPad launched, we warned media companies that expected iPad apps to be their savior that they were making a mistake. Specifically, it seemed that this was all wishful thinking from publishers, who were hoping to go back to a gated system that they had used for many years. They were betting on restrictions, which is never a good bet. Of course, the early numbers actually sounded good, with many magazines trumpeting how many iPad subscribers they got in the first few months. But, it appears that many people tested out iPad magazines, and then decided they just weren’t worth it. Again, this is not a huge surprise. Just a few weeks ago, we again discussed how iPad magazines generally suck, and it was unlikely they were going to have lasting success.

Even so, it’s still surprising to see just how dramatic the dropoff has been — especially in a platform that is apparently still selling like hotcakes. Wired Magazine, which initially appeared to drink the Kool-Aid big time on using iPad apps, now sees less than a quarter the number of buyers that it had when it put out its first iPad issue. Vanity Fair, Glamour, GQ and some others have all seen big declines.

Hopefully this will kill off the dream of just recreating magazines for the iPad, and content providers can focus on creating tools that are actually useful, rather than just on replicating the structure of a magazine in a digital format.

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Comments on “As Predicted: iPad Magazine Subscriber Numbers Plummeting”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Thoughts on eMagazines

I’d venture a guess that two challenges at work here:
1. Developing an iPad eBook (e-Magazine) on a monthly basis is more difficult than most people thought, and the technical specs/understanding hasn’t been fully hammered out yet when it comes to advertisers and media buyers.
2. The entire core audience doesn’t yet own an iPad or tablet PC.

When you make a venn diagram of challenge #2, you can see that many traditional magazine outlets will have a challenge of adoption. How many people do you know that subscribe to “Better Homes and Gardens” that also have an iPad?

So it makes sense to wait until there are a few more formidable competitors to the space. It’s not an overnight thing. In particular an Adobe-Air based publishing platform holds a lot of promise because it’s similar enough to InDesign and Flash (Layout folks will be able to adopt the tools easier.)

Pete Smith (profile) says:

Thoughts on eMagazines

The second challenge is exactly why developing for one specific device is bad; you limit the audience and have to develop separate products for each device.

A cross-platform ‘magazine’ would solve this; and what better than the web.

So many ‘Apps’ could of easily been instead developed as a web-based application, simply optimised for mobile browsing and enjoy users from any device.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Thoughts on eMagazines

While I’m sure there would be some technical hurdles at the beginning, are you suggesting that the hurdles are getting more and more difficult? Wired Magazine started at 100,000 copies and has, over 6 months, dropped to 23,000 copies. It is worth mentioning that Wired’s core audience probably lines up well with people who own iPads. I was led to believe that the iPad version has the same data as the paper/online versions, so it’s not like they’re having to write extra stories.

The issue is this, I think: If I buy a song, it’s because I intend to listen to it more than once. If I buy a book, it is because I intend to read it more than once. If I buy a movie, it is because I intend to watch it more than once. When I buy a magazine on a shelf, I spend money because I know that it costs money to get that magazine to the shelf for me, *not* because I intend to read it more than once. So, for a digital magazine, there is no distribution costs. In fact, because I need an internet connection, *I* have to pay to get it to me. So, why would I pay them to allow me to pay to get the digital magazine (that I’m only going to read once) to me? Hint: I’m not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Every try out one of those "free" magazine subscription?

A person would think that the marketing geniuses at the magazines should have realized that they would expect the same sort of experience as when they used to give away free trial subscriptions.

Many people took them up on the free issues and then canceled as soon as the trial period was up, or shortly after that, because the customers eventually realized that the money they were being charged was not worth the content they were receiving.

What a bunch of morons…

Anonymous Coward says:

Thoughts on eMagazines

Exactly. I looked up the circulation numbers of the top 50 magazines, the #1 and #2 spot are occupied by AARP-published magazines, and #3 is the Costco Connection. Point is, it’s not exactly the most technically-savvy group of folks occupying even the top 20– you have to head down to #64 to get Popular Science.

Cross-platform would be nice, but it’s just as important as an inexpensive platform. I just can’t see granny spending her Social Security Check to get her AARP articles delivered on an iPad…. yet. The price would have to come down.

Jason Buberel (profile) says:

The 'Front Door' problem

Ever since the advent of news aggregation (Google News, Yahoo! News, etc.) there has not been a newspaper or magazine whose front page has been able to reclaim the status of ‘Front Door’ or ‘Starting Point’ for my news consumption.

Even those magazine that I do subscribe to, I never read every article in them. They are more useful to me when their content is accessible from many entry points and aggregation sites.

By transitioning to an app-format publication, these publishers are making the assumption that I consider them my starting point.

Personally, I would prefer to see a (I know, dreaming…) micropayment network that would allow me to access my content on multiple devices and via multiple aggregators (including RSS feeds with Netvibes/Google Reader).

MD2000 says:

The Real Question

What’s an “eMagazine”, except a web site packaeged in a different way?

Why the &*$$##? would I pay for it? I can get the same information on the web for free.

If you want me to pay, or even just register (yes, you, WSJ and Economist) well then I guess I can find the same information somewhere for free thatnks to Google. If your information is so priceless(??) that I WANT to read it on your site, then I sure hope your reporters/writers are being paid handsomely!

Ashar (user link) says:

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fogbugzd (profile) says:

Newpapers are in an even worse position

Magazines usually cater to a specific audience that is willing to seek out (and often pay for) the content. They often have content that is found nowhere else. Other readers of the magazine have shared interests, so it should be fairly easy to build up a community of people around that fact. In other words, if anyone could take advantage of subscription apps, it should be magazines. From the ones that I have looked at, they tend to be based on the consumption model where the publisher pushes things out and buyers consume it. I haven’t seen any of them really do a good job of building a community of loyal ipad users. There might still be a glimmer of hope for them if someone can figure out how to do that.

General circulation newspapers that had been hopping for salvation in subscription apps lack a lot of what the magazines have going for them. Even most local papers have very little local content. As we have discussed before, local newspapers have decreases local reporting and used more and more filler material from syndicates or fluffy and cheap human interest pieces. At one time they had good local classifieds, but now you can find most of that on local craigslists. In short, most newspapers don’t have much left to sell. Again, there may be hope in building local communities. However, I doubt that newspapers can give up their old ways in the manner that is needed to build them. It is possible that local communities could be build just as well by local TV and Radio stations or even unexpected source.

Some national publications do have some things like columnists that people will pay to read. The propblem the national newspapers have is that they are charging prices based on the assumption that consumers are willing to pay for all of the content they put out, and they are grossly over charging. They also have week attempts to build communities.


Movie of the week...

> While I’m sure there would be some technical hurdles
> at the beginning, are you suggesting that the hurdles
> are getting more and more difficult?

For a monthly publication, those hurdles have to be jumped over on a monthly basis.

It’s possible “hurdling” at that frequency isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

coldbrew says:

yes, but

Unfortunately, the advertisers don’t want to pay as much to subsidize the digital version as they do for the dead-tree version. So, the publishers either need to get real creative about where and how they can add more value, or they need to scale down their organizations to allow for the decreasing margins in their product. The whole business needs a reboot.

Not that it’s an original thought, but flipboard, and products like it, seem to have a better vision for the future of magazine-like publishing than the incumbents do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Thoughts on eMagazines

I’m just pointing out that people purchase iPads want to accomplish a plurality of tasks. Until magazines offer the same level of interactivity as apps, email and web (which carry no additional fees on the iPad), it will be difficult to sell anyone on the premium content. Right now, eMagazine publishing is a very basic platform that carries high labor costs.

In my mind, an eMagazine must, at minimum, provide verbatim content as the print version for it to displace print subscriptions. Also, if Apple is going to keep Adobe out of its walled garden or provide publishing platform tools to develop on, it won’t ever be seen as a viable alternative to the publisher. Now, Apple could remedy this by creating its own publishing tools on-par with InDesign or even Quark with import capabilities of InDesign files.

Here’s the thing. If I was a publisher, and had to make a choice of publishing 1M print magazines OR 10k digital magazines and I realize I would have to hire two teams to perform editing, layout, and design to hit monthly deadlines, I would probably say “hasta luego” to the digital platform until it costs proportionately per copy to the print medium to develop on. It’s basic economics.

Until the customer is satisfied (declining subscriptions indicate dissatisfaction), the ad revenue won’t be there, content will be kept to a minimum due to the high development costs, and eMagazines will be seen as a “diet-version” of the print version. Without the tools to displace print publishing, it simply won’t displace print publishing. But who knows, this may very well be Apple’s long term goal– to not displace print publishing until others are able to catch up.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the problem is much simpler than you try to make it out. I think it is just about people trying something out, and realizing that the device itself doesn’t let itself to the format. They got their new Ipad, they tried out a bunch of stuff, and got rid of what wasn’t working for them in this format.

I also think that after the initial “wahoo” moment, many people living in the big city commuting probably realized it wasn’t a very good idea to hang their spendy pad computer out there, advertising that they have it. Reading the dead tree version makes way more sense.

It’s one of those deals where the old fashioned way works better.

Griff (profile) says:

How could iPad be better than dead tree ?

The assumption that people would subscribe just to read it on the iPad almost for the novelty value seems to be at the core of the problem.

if you actually look at the dead tree experience, and ask “how could iPad be better than this” you end up with either
– sensible stuff (cross links to articles in this or previous issues, or better use of hyperlinks to replace “inset panels” to make reading flow better)
– hype and nonsense (“make it interactive” whatever that means) which miss the point that sometimes people want to just consume without interacting.

Advertisers, though, should be salivating. A video ad with a click through to be sent more details while you carry on reading the magazine ? Ads that can feedback WHO turned on the volume for this particular vid. Targeted live ads (this guy likes car ads a lot but hates drug company ads).

And yet unlike the web, the guy’s not sat at a computer – he’s in relaxed mag reading mode.

I’d have said that the real innovation that would make the iPad compelling should be coming from the advertisers, not the main content presenters.

But regards pricing, there should be a single subscription and you get all formats.
I get the economist by subscription, and I consume about half on a sat am with breakfast (dead tree), and half as MP3 while walking the dog. The latter REALLY adds value for me, but if I had to pay separately I might not.

Anonymous Coward says:

2011 will be the year of the tablet though. The instant-on of the tablet combined with the almost immediate 3G link makes it hard to beat when you are in a hurry. It will become a great computing device as soon as the iPad has competition. Then we will see some juice applied to it with multi-core processors, more storage and quicker internet access, etc. As far as even reading books and magazines none of the digital systems can replace the way the older generation were taught to read. They can’t sit up ergonomically or effortlessly adjust the view to match the light.

pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuou&#592 says:


And to a point, I agree, however, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

If I was a publisher, I’d have this perspective:
When Apple gave me iPad, and now wants me to rejigger how you I do business and alienate an entire existing business channel. You know, this isn’t exactly the best way to make long term partnerships. In fact, he looks for competitors, and where there are none, I actually think he creates them.

Keep an eye on Android.

Anonymous Coward says:


This is true. I just think they made a simple mistake in assuming that people would use an Ipad in a certain way. After a while of trying it out, people are finding that it just isn’t what they want.

Apple is certainly “our way or the highway” mentality, and while that boosted them from near death cult status to a major player, it is also what likely keeps them in their niche.

The Ipad could be this generation’s Apple Liza.

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