Apple is getting closer to unveiling its digital newsstand — the iTunes of newspaper and magazine iPad subscriptions. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that Apple could unveil its subscription marketplace in the coming months or, if a few kinks in the technology aren’t resolved, early next year.
Magazines and newspapers have two major reasons to be anxious about the logistical details of e-subscription sales: Apple is used to taking a 30% sales commission on all the media that it sells; and if subscribers are buying through an Apple e-storefront then publishers won’t have access to subscribers’ demographic and contact information, which is an important piece of their offering to advertising partners.
On the upside for publishers, they will have access to 160 million Apple account holders who have already entered their credit card information and are just one click away from paying real money for digital news product, which costs nothing to duplicate.
There is a lot of trial and error going on, too. Hearst, Condé Nast and Time Inc. have all had different approaches to the question of whether or not an iPad edition of magazine should cost more or less than a print edition. Hearst was planning to charge more for Popular Mechanics on the iPad; Time Inc. has been charging the same for the paper and digital editions of Time; and Condé initially charged the same for Wired on the iPad as in print, but then discounted the e-edition for return subscribers.
Publishers will certainly have more leeway to determine how their digital subscriptions are sold once there is a legitimate competitior to the iPad, namely a device from Google. In a post yesterday about Sports Illustrated‘s decision to change its app so it only works in the iPad’s landscape mode, Peter Kafka quoted from Josh Quittner, Time editor-at-large in San Francisco and Time Inc. iPad idea man. Mr. Quittner explained on his personal blog that producing for landscape view exclusively was cheaper than producing a magazine that supports both views on the iPad.
[D]oing away with the vertical view allows us to economize on resources. The brunt of the iPad issue falls on the shoulders of our designers—they’re the folks who, in one magazine after another here at Time Inc and elsewhere, are the people who suddenly added an extra day to their already busy weeks. (They’re also the ones, by the way, who continue to be most excited about the endless possibilities of designing in this medium.) This reduces their work load by a third, minimally.
Why not add more designers? Well, if we were able to build a real business, with subscriptions that offered our iPad versions to readers at a reasonable price, that would be a no brainer. But we can’t yet, so the best approach for us is to experiment with the format, marshal our (human) resources and start building products on other platforms that will allow us to scale up as our business grows.
The landscape view is better for the Sports Illustrated app anyway becuase it’s mainly picutres. And “In the meantime,” Mr. Quittner added, “if readers tell us they don’t like this, we can always go back to two views—that’s the beauty of the current, experimental period in new media. There are no fatal mistakes.”
Sports Illustrated Tells iPad Readers to Turn Around [Peter Kafka]