Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Magazine publishers need to think beyond just issue sales or subscriptions to capture the digital market

I didn't realize that magazine publishers could not sell subscriptions directly on the iPad but were limited to single issue downloads and a ridiculous pricing structure to match until I read this article in the New York Times.  I did see that magazines selling subscriptions on android tablets like the Color Nook I received for Christmas from my daughter are trying to charge as much for a digital subscription there as they do for a printed and mailed edition which is also outrageous.

It never ceases to amaze me that after all this time, major content providers still don't try to innovate when they redesign their business models for the digital marketplace.  I also don't understand why they still haven't learned the lucrative lesson of offering content via micropayments either.

I severely reduced the number of magazine subscriptions I maintained long before the internet began supplying the lion's share of my reading content because I found bundled content to contain too many articles that offered little interest to me.  I don't mean to pick on National Geographic because it is a quality magazine but in the last ten years or so it got to the point that I was reading only one article per issue if that much even though I had subscribed to National Geographic for years.  Their content focus was changed by a new editorial staff away from archaeological exploration to regional travel/culture pieces that I really didn't care that much about.and it finally reached the point that I discontinued my subscription because I saw no reason to pay over $20 per year for five or six articles.

Having an editor/gatekeeper determine what I would receive is as galling as having to purchase television programming by channel or by satellite tier or having to purchase music by album or CD.  I realize the subscription model offers the most reliable revenue stream for publishers.  But how about marketing written content on the Netflix model?  A subscription across a collection of magazines that would entitle me to download and view content up to a certain number of articles or Mb of data per year.  Many publishing companies produce an entire stable of magazines including constellations of magazines around similar topics.  But publishers should also consider collaborative groupings with other publishing companies as well.  This could provide more attractive packages to niche readers like me.

Of course ala carte article purchase could also be offered for a reasonable sum of say 50 cents for an article up to 3,500 words or so.  I realize ala carte article purchase has not proven successful in the past, mostly because ala carte pricing has been so ridiculously high like $2.50 per article - the price of an entire printed edition in some cases.  Publishers should take note of the lessons learned about micropayments from the "app" market.  If you make the payment amount seem small and insignificant enough, even browsers with a casual interest are often lulled into making a purchase. 

Consider the recent article about the 14-year-old boy who taught himself to develop an iPhone app that has become the most popular app at the moment, being downloaded over 4 million times.  As one of the news anchors pointed out, if the boy had charged as little as 99 cents for the app instead of offering it for free, he could have been a millionaire.  I firmly believe micropayments and ala carte choice options are the key to a bright online publishing future!
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