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Archive for October 2011

Is Apple’s Newsstand the answer to our prayers?

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This article first published, InPub Weekly #068 21/10/2011.

Is Apple's Newsstand the answer to our prayers?

It’s just over a week old, but publishers are already daring to dream that Apple’s Newsstand can drag digital magazines out of the doldrums and into the mainstream.

In case you’ve been on the moon since Apple announced iOS5 at its World Wide Developers Conference in June, the Newsstand built into the operating system upgrade is a cross between an app and a folder on the desktop of the iPad or iPhone. It looks like the iBooks bookcase, but Apple is pitching the Newsstand as a cross between a newsagent and a paperboy. Basically, it stocks all your magazine and newspaper subscriptions in one place and delivers fresh content into publication apps automatically and in the background.

The introduction of the Newsstand has certainly brought magazine and newspaper apps some serious public attention; a few titles have even sneaked into the top-50 apps chart, wonderfully placing National Geographic in direct competition with Angry Birds.

In the US, downloads for the New York Times iPad app jumped from 27,000 to 189,000 and iPhone app downloads to 1.8 million from 21,000 the week before. Jeff Sonderman on points out that nearly one-fifth of the 9.1 million people who ever downloaded the New York Times iPhone app did it last week.

Leading UK magazine publishers have committed early to getting their titles on the Newsstand’s virtual shelves. At launch, Future had 55 titles listed, including Total Film, Edge and its most successful iPad title T3. Hearst in the UK made 21 of its iPad available in the Newsstand; Dennis Publishing, 18; and Imagine Publishing, 20.

With such a healthy representation in the Newsstand at launch, the British contingent has enjoyed a similar surge in interest. Future PLC reported more than two million downloads in the few days following the October 12th launch. “Future had sold more digital editions in the past four days through Apple’s Newsstand than in a normal month,” Future UK CEO Mark Wood told the Association of Online Publishers.

PixelMags, supplying iPad publishing solutions to Hearst UK and Dennis Publishing, says revenue and distribution of iPad titles has skyrocketed. In a statement, PixelMags COO Ryan Marquis said that on the morning of the launch he got a phone call from his server company, worried that they were under attack. “I told them that we were for sure – from all the new iOS5 users who wanted to download magazines from us.”

The stampede story is familiar to Exact Editions, delivering the Spectator and Press Gazette as iOS apps and reported to have made up to 10 percent of the magazines in the Newsstand at launch. “Sales are much higher today. Could this already be an iTunes newsstand effect? Another 20+ of our apps went in last night,” tweeted Exact Editions Chairman Adam Hodgkin on Friday the 14th.

So that’s it then. The Newsstand is out, the big publishers have jumped aboard and digital magazines are flying off its virtual shelves. The digital magazine future’s so bright we’ll all need to wear shades.

Not quite.

Firstly, we need a little fiscal perspective. Downloads do not equal money spent. Although Future saw 2 million downloads in a few days, these were mostly free container apps and sample content. Similarly, download growth of 14 times at Exact Editions includes a lot of “Freemium” sample editions. Real success can only be measured by real sales.

And just because readers downloaded something from the Newsstand, doesn’t mean they are happy. Alongside glowing reports of exponential download growth, reports a slew of negative comments directly from Newsstand customer comments. Alongside the obligatory complaints about buggy iOS5 app upgrades, rants against overlong download times, lack of interactivity and over-pricing are all too common.

It would be all too easy to convince ourselves that, overnight, the Newsstand has become the only game in town. But, despite being written off by the New York Times as one of 10 apps that the Newsstand would kill stone dead, Zinio’s own Newsstand, is still holding one of the top spots on Apple’s top grossing chart. And yes, Kindle’s Fire and Android readers are still out there.

No doubt, the Newsstand is off to a good start. It’s been impressive to see readers rush to fill those empty shelves and it’s encouraging to see publishers big and small acknowledge the opportunity to highlight, organise and update their digital magazine and newspaper content in one easy to use place. This is, however, only the first step. As always, the industry needs to deliver real value to the audience before the newsagent and paperboy are forever replaced by the Newsstand.


This article first published, InPub Weekly #068 21/10/2011.

The Future of Digital Publishing

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Predict the future of digital publishingI was asked to predict the future of digital publishing this week. No, not really, but I was asked to answer a few questions about publishing in the digital era by an MA Publishing student working on a research study about the future of digital publishing. His emphasis is on the iPad and the replication of print periodical business models and values and how art direction can be used on the web.

Being as focused on re-purposing content as I am these days, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share my responses on the blog. If you have any thoughts about what I’ve said, please chime in, I’m sure my interviewer would welcome the input.

1. How do you think information consumption habits will change in the future?

The big issue for media consumption is fragmentation, both in terms of devices used and information sources. Consumers can access information on an ever growing list of platforms, from phones to tablets to TVs. This means information is more accessible, more places, than ever.

The economics of print publishing (magazines, newspaper and books) meant that control of what got published was reasonably centralized; digital publishing options have brought the barriers to publication down and the number of content producers has risen exponentially.

This is largely positive for consumers, the one problem it creates is how do people know what information to trust. This is the biggest single factor that commercial publishers need to hold on to and exploit when they are trying to figure out how to complete with startup websites, blogs and social media.

2. Do you think the iPad is capable of replicating the design, economics and experience of the print world?

Yes on design and reading experience – I think this is already happening with magazines like the New Yorker. But to be really successful the iPad needs to do more than replicate the print reading experience, otherwise what’s the benefit from the reader’s perspective? Readers might as well stick with print and not spend $400 for a reading device.

The economics of iPad publishing is a mess at the moment; the medium is still too new for the rules of the game to have been agreed. Advertisers, who fund most print publishing activities, are still wary of digital magazine formats. Readers are not paying for content in big enough numbers (look at recent coverage of the Daily), and publishers are struggling with Apple’s 30% subscription levy – do they eat it, or leave as the FT did and gamble on their own audience development efforts.

3. Looking at the figures for iPad magazines, it’s largely true that they haven’t resonated with the iPad’s user base. Why do you think this is?

Many things. One has been price – single copy prices have been too high and until recently have represented a double charge for the most loyal readers who already have print subscriptions. Also, many magazines haven’t figured out what they want to be on the iPad yet. I mentioned the New Yorker, which does a great job of transferring a much loved magazine format to the iPad. But if I could buy it on the newsstand, why would I read it on the iPad.

Popular Mechanics on the other hand does an incredible job of layering text, photography, video, animation and audio, but sometimes it gets just a little too complicated and overwhelming. People are still experimenting. Once they find the mix of bells and whistles that’s right for their audience and once the pricing/subscription issues get sorted out, I think take up will grow steadily.

4. With advancements in web typography and new web standards capable of achieving a richer user experience, do you agree with Khoi Vinh’s assertion that most content on the web will eventually return to it’s natural home – the browser?

I don’t know the answer to this and I actually don’t think it really matters too much. So long as readers can access content conveniently through an interface that makes sense to them, they won’t care. It’s a bit like arguing over whether perfect binding or saddle stitch is better for a print magazine. The reader doesn’t care so long as the pages stay together. This is really an issue for publishers and ultimately it will probably come down to which is most economical to produce and easiest to distribute.

5. Have you seen anything (apps or otherwise) that you feel is advancing the dialogue between digital publishing and the publishing industry? e.g. Flipboard?

I like the Flipboard and Zite concept, but the implementation is still a long way away from where it needs to be to truly add value. At the moment, Flipboard has maybe 20 publication integrated; it needs 20,000 for people to really feel that this is truly a personalized media platform and not just a funky Facebook viewer. Zinio, has this kind of volume, primarily because they plugged into the publisher’s existing production cycle. Long-term they will need to do more to help publishers optimize for multimedia, but I’m really interested to see where they end up.

 6. If you were going to start a magazine or newspaper from scratch, what things would you take into account today? (In addition to anything mentioned above).

Same as it ever was, good content, strong audience need and a decent revenue stream. What’s different now is the content needs to be multi-platform and it’s crucial to find out what the most important platforms are for your audience. We did some research recently in the Scientific community and we were a little surprised to discover that the iPad just isn’t there yet.

Written by Peter Houston

October 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Newsstand launches with iOS5, October 12th

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iOS5 Newsstand

So yesterday didn’t bring a new iPhone, but it did give us a bit more information on Apple’s iOS5 update – including the Newsstand launch – on October 12th.

When Apple first announced the Newsstand in June, there were more questions than answers.  We found out that it was basically a dedicated folder for organizing newspaper and magazine apps, but beyond that details were sketchy. Yesterday’s announcement from Apple filled in some of the blanks.

Many magazine publishers have wondered if they’ll have to go in the Newsstand, but it looks like it will be optional. Publishers who choose to register their apps for the Newsstand will appear in a special section of the App store. Unregistered apps will continue as they are.

The most obvious benefit of being in the Newsstand is to appear with similar magazine and  news content under one icon on the iPad  screen, as iBooks does for books. But probably the biggest benefit of registering for the Newsstand will be automatic background downloading of subscriptions using a push notification to alert the device to downloaded a new issue automatically in the background. To protect battery life automatic dowloads will only happen once a day; fresh content will be downloaded on viewing. Publishers outside the Newsstand will not be able to take advantage of background downloads.

Worried B2B publishers that are wondering if they can get their free-qualified titles into the Newsstand at all can relax. Apple is obviously focused on paid titles and its 30%, but it won’t be blocking free publications.

The mechanics of the Newsstand are becoming clearer, but the business model and the user experience won’t be completely understood until the application has bedded in, and there are still concerns. The closing paragraphs of this Poynter article by Jeff Sonderman sum up the issues beautifully.

Written by Peter Houston

October 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm

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