This article first published, InPub Weekly #068 21/10/2011.
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 Poynter.org 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.
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, Postdesk.com 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.