Sunday, October 31, 2010

Newsweek App for iPad Shows The Complexity of Selling Magazines & Newspapers To E-Reading Customers

Newsweek Magazine and Apple sorted out subscription issues (at least some of them) and the magazine is available via an app for the iPad, replete with color photos, fancy charts and words crafted by first class journalists.

You can also get Newsweek directly in the Amazon Kindle store, or you can use the Windowshop iPad app (which Planet iPad detailed here last week) inside the Apple Store to buy the subscription from inside the Kindle Store.  It's easy to get lost in all of this.

The Apple app lets people subscribe to the digital magazine, access Newsweek’s current web content at no cost, customize a “landing page” to present personal topics and stories up front when when you open the app, “browse stunning full-screen photo galleries,” and share articles and galleries on Facebook and Twitter.

If you subscribe in the Kindle Store, however, you can only read the magazine in black and white on your Amazon Kindle. And that's the way it is--for the moment. 

Those simply presented bullet points in the Apple apps store belie the tangled convolutions being pounded out between various publishers, Apple and also Amazon and its Kindle Store. Every item is a complex battleground among giant corporations.

Apple's approach seems to be to want to control subscriptions via its apps, including controlling the cash flow and—more importantly, customer demographics—of readers. This is a major problem for magazine publishers.  The real money in magazines comes from advertising, but subscription payments are an important cash stream.

However, magazines live or die on their demographics. They need hard numbers to show to advertisers to make the case for buying an ad. Detailed publishers' statements break down the gender and age grouping of readers, income levels, geographic locations, and every scrap of marketing data that can be collected.

Time Magazine sales reps compare and contrast themselves to Newsweek.  Newsweek's ad sales people plead in advertiser's offices that their numbers are better.  The bottom line of who makes the sale in tighter economic times is who has the best numbers for the particular advertiser. Proctor and Gamble's target audience for Downy fabric softener is different from its target for Pampers diapers, and certainly quite different from the target market for, say, Mercedes Benz or Lexus.  "Show me the data and maybe I'll show you the money" is what advertisers have in mind.

So far, Apple doesn't seem to want to dole out that data on in-app subscriptions.

Meantime, over at Amazon, similar knotty issues are on the table, not the least of which is: color photos, graphics and charts.

To date, people who subscribe to Newsweek via the Kindle Store can only read it on their Kindles.  Popular “Kindle for...” apps have expanded the ebook market beyond Kindle owners to those who may not have a Kindle, but do have an iPad, or iPhone, or Android-based device.  Or some of those devices.  Or all of them.  That portability has not been extended to newspapers, magazines and blogs sold in the Kindle Store.

That's changing, according to a recent announcement by the Amazon Kindle Team in the quiet corner of an Amazon forum called “Coming Soon For Kindle.” Planet iPad reported on that announcement last week.

So iPad users who thought the Apple vs. Amazon vs. publishers wrangle was complicated might as well avert their eyes on this one.  It will get sorted out, of course.  Just how it sorts, when and by whom, and who gets the money and controls the demographic data remains to be seen.

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