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iPad Magazine Sales Mysteriously Drop

December 30th, 2010

Reports are out that despite a couple of magazines having a strong debut on the iPad, sales are dropping rather quickly.

It’s a complete mystery as to why, except for the fact that it’s not. Sorry for the sarcasm, but it’s been crystal clear from the start why they’ve failed. And while some of the blame lays at the feet of the publishers, Apple is chiefly responsible. It sold the iPad as a media-industry savior, but did not give publishers a workable means of selling magazines.

Magazines are sold in two ways: newsstand and subscriptions. Newsstands work because people walk by, see an interesting cover, maybe leaf through it, and decide to buy it. You can’t do that on the iPad. Instead, you have to go to the app store and seek out either magazines or a specific magazine by name–it’s a multi-step process, in a location most people don’t even think of as a source of reading material. It’s like selling magazines at a hardware shop, and you have to ask for the magazines at the counter. And you can’t even see issue covers, unless you first download the app and check each one out. Most people just don’t buy magazines that way, certainly not at newsstand prices.

The other way is subscriptions, and Apple hasn’t been good in that respect, either. They demand their 30% off the top, and won’t allow magazine publishers to sell subscriptions elsewhere. Fair enough, I suppose–but Apple doesn’t even allow for subscriptions in the App Store–you just have to buy each copy as it comes out as an in-app purchase. Apple’s reluctance to let the publishers have direct contact with and information about the consumers is also reportedly a problem.

Apple needs to make a special effort for the magazines. Either create a magazine store or include mags in the iBook Store, for starters. Give publishers a special rate for subscription sells–they mark down, so why not Apple? And make subscriptions possible, of course.

Not that Apple is wholly at fault on this, of course. Some publishers are still freaking out about piracy (a huge issue with textbook publishers, gee I wonder why). These people have simply got to get over themselves. Their paper issues are just as pirate-able, but unless they feature porn, they simply aren’t a target for the pirate crowd.

Most notably, however, publishers have just been too damned greedy. They have way overpriced their issues. Almost all of them started out at $5 a pop, and many are still at that price point, despite subscription prices for the paper copies going for far less. People magazine, for example, started at $4 per issue but the most recent issue jumped to $5; you can get it for $2 per issue by mail. TIME is still $5 on the iPad, but less than 30 cents by mail–almost 18 times more expensive electronically. Most magazines fall within that disparity range, and most consumers will see that and will blanch. Yes, I know, newsstand prices–but that simply won’t work in the long run, and $5 for magazine content simply isn’t reasonable, when $12 can get you a novel. Many publishers simply saw the chance to fleece people who plunked down fair amounts for a sexy media device.

Yes, publishers have to create special versions for the iPad, but the lack of printing & distribution costs should make up for that and way more, just as with book publishers. Maybe it’s not as easy to cram ads into the electronic version, but I doubt that fully explains the prices either.

A lot of people undoubtedly went for initial issues for the novelty of it, and people who still buy are probably those who would pay the full newsstand price otherwise. But as it stands, this just will not work. Not unless the publishers start providing better selections at prices closer to subscription rates, e-mags simply will not sell. So Apple, get your act together and make a better magazine rack as well as subscriptions that don’t bleed the publishers, and publishers, get your heads out of your arses and give your readers more reasons than flashy presentation to buy your wares.

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  1. Troy
    December 31st, 2010 at 02:21 | #1

    Prices are way out of line and Apple really does need a media store.

    Weeklies should cost 30c, monthlies $1. Apple should halve their take given the content is both static and magazines are the killer app for the iPad.

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