Where Are All the iOS Magazine Subscription Apps?

Sports Illustrated is the latest big-name magazine publisher to offer an iPad edition.  It's a nice looking product, btw.  The app itself is free and it includes a sample of what's to come.  It joins the likes of Time, Wired and Newsweek...but they all currently have the same limitation: You can only buy individual issues, not sign up for a one-year subscription.  Worse, most of them seem to think they can charge the full print cover price for each iPad edition.

I bought the initial Wired edition for $4.99 but I'm not buying the second one.  Over the weekend I realized I played around a bit with the Wired iPad edition but never finished reading it.  In fact, I'm more likely to read the print copy that's sitting on my desk than the iPad version.  And since I get the print version for $10/year, why in the world would I even think about paying $4.99 per iPad issue?

I'm certainly not the first to blog about this and I doubt I'll be the last.  What I can't understand though is why, after Apple made in-app subscriptions possible months ago, are none of the big guys selling their magazines that way?

Does it have to do with Apple's 30% cut?  Are they all trying to find a way to get around this and sell direct?  That's what Amazon does.  When you buy a Kindle edition via the iPad app you're actually just going direct through the browser, not buying through iTunes.  I'm assuming Amazon therefore doesn't have to pay Apple a cent on the transaction.  Why wouldn't magazine publishers want to do the same, especially on longer-term subscriptions?

Of course, with magazines and newspapers we're talking about publishers who aren't exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to technology solutions.  They're still clinging to their print models as much as possible.  Why else would I get at least 2-3 "please come back" snail mails from BusinessWeek every month?!  So all these magazine/newspaper publishers are probably operating independent of one other, each trying to come up with their own direct sales app/tool.  I wonder how much time and money is being wasted because they're not working together on this.

Here's a crazy idea: Maybe they should consider pushing it all through Amazon.  If Amazon were smart, they'd pull an end-around on Apple and tell the magazine/newspaper publishers, "hey, sell your subscriptions through us...we won't charge you 30% like Apple...how about 20%, or maybe even 10%?"  Amazon already has the infrastructure in place to push content to the iPad as well as a terrific customer service operation, so why shouldn't they leverage their platform for something like this?

One potential pitfall is that Apple might decide it was OK for Amazon to sell their books for the iPad without getting a percentage, but if they're going to be magazine/newspaper distributors for the platform they'll cut off Amazon's iPad access.  Let's hope not.  After all, if Amazon could take this on, it would create a very healthy competition with Apple, and that would likely be a good thing for consumers.

Amazon's iPad App(s)

Amazon app I've been pretty critical of Amazon and their lack of innovation with the Kindle.  I've talked about those frustrations here and it's ultimately why I stopped posting on my Kindleville blog.  So when I see Amazon doing something good, particularly on someone else's platform, I feel compelled to call it out as well.  That's the case with the Amazon Mobile app for the iPad (iTunes link).

Amazon could have taken the easy way out and either (a) not created an iPad app, figuring customers can use Safari to get to amazon.com or (b) created an iPad app that's nothing more than a quick-and-dirty version of their website.  They went with option "c" though and produced an app that's highly engaging and makes you want to explore and discover more.  How many retailer apps can say that?!

What do I like about this one?  Let's start with the fact that it focuses on my interests.  Sure, most if not all of the personalized recommendations in the iPad app are accessible through amazon.com, but they're scattered all across the page, above and below the fold.  The app presents them in a way that really makes me want to see what's new.  In fact, I've done more deep dives into these lists via the app than I've ever done on Amazon's web site.

Next up, Amazon wasn't afraid to experiment with the user interface.  I totally love the product details pages.  (I've included a sample screen shot of one in the top left corner of this post; click on it for a larger view.)  Each of those three objects that look like sheets of paper (Details & Features, More to Explore... and Customer Reviews) can be tapped to enlarge, all without ever leaving the main product page itself.  It's a clever way of offering quick and easy access to a lot more content than can fit on the iPad's screen.  The result is a very clean UI; compare that to the extremely busy and cluttered product page on Amazon's website.  In fact, I'm hoping Amazon's website team considers implementing some of their iPad app's simplicity.

I like this app so much I've given it one of the precious slots on my iPad's home screen.  I open it almost every day, curious to know what's new and whether something is worth buying.  I'm sure that's music to Amazon's ears.

P.S. -- So if they can build a terrific retailing app, why are they unable to improve their Kindle app for the iPad?  As I've said before, Amazon needs to make an even bigger investment in the Kindle iPad app.  Apple's iBooks app is already better and will undoubtedly add more features in the future.

Amazon, your Whispersync technology is great.  The fact that Apple doesn't have an iBooks reader for the iPhone (yet!) means you've got an app availability advantage over them.  I love it that I can read part of a book on my iPad then switch to my iPhone and pick right up where I left off.  Wonderful.  But soon that feature will feel as old and unappreciated as Whispernet does today.  Don't make the same mistake you made with the Kindle hardware platform.  Be bold and invest in the Kindle readers on all the platforms.  Make them the envy of the rest of the industry.  You've got the resources, so stop letting these apps feel like an inferior reading experience to the Kindle itself, OK?

eReaders and Digital Bookstores

Zerosnones I recently came across a couple of great articles that are must-reads for anyone in the publishing industry.  The first one is a Gizmodo piece called How to Fix Today's Ebook Readers.  Much of the article talks about aesthetics like fonts and hyphenation.  Noteworthy, but not revolutionary.  Things get much more interesting with the headline The Greater Whole.  Here's an excerpt:

So consider this: 10,000 of us reading the same Kindle book, each of us highlighting and taking notes. Would the aggregate of this not be illuminating? If I want to publicly share my notes with fellow Kindle or iBooks readers, shouldn't there be a system in place to do this?

And check out the illustration that appears shortly after that excerpt.  Yeah, Id love to see that sort of heat map for some of the books I've read over the years.  Then there's the plea for Amazon to integrate social networking so excerpts can be tweeted.  Hey, Amazon patented one-click buying, so why not create a one-click tweet feature?

The other article I want to highlight is from Fast Company and it's called Amazon Slaps Penguin Across the Beak Over eBook Pricing.  Here's the key quote:

And if consumers buy into an e-reader platform that only supports one digital bookstore, then they might find themselves in tricky positions until the various business shenanigans have wound down to a conclusion.

That's one of the reasons I ditched my Kindle.  Sure, you can load content from sources other than Amazon, but there's really only one digital bookstore for the Kindle.  The iPad offers two advantages.  First, you can buy from Apple and Amazon, not just one.  And second, the iPad natively supports ePub files, which are closer to an industry standard than the Kindle's mobi format.

It's so easy to load an ePub file onto an iPad. I wonder how many iPad owners realize you can buy ePub products that look just as good in the iBook reader as the ones you buy from Apple.  Speaking of which, when are more publishers going to start selling these files right off their own websites?  I'm still amazed at the number of publishers who are so wedded to DRM that they can't imagine creating that direct relationship with their customers by selling non-DRM'd content on their own site.

How Magazines & Newspaper Publishers are Training Me

Hamster wheel The iPad is now more than 3 weeks old and there are apparently 1,000+ apps available for it (plus the 180K or so iPhone apps you can run on it).  If there are a thousand iPad-specific apps out there I haven't discovered one tenth of them; I just keep seeing the same ones over and over again in iTunes.  Even with that many apps available there are two areas I feel are severely underrepresented: magazines and newspapers.

I've purposely avoided renewing all of my print magazines subscriptions for the past several months because I figured I'd switch them to iPad apps/subscriptions.  My plan hasn't worked so well.  I no longer get BusinessWeek, Fast Company or The New York Times, but none of them are available as apps either.  So what has this led to?

I now just bookmark all those magazine/newspaper web sites on my iPad and read pretty much everything I want for free.  The longer these publishers delay introducing an iPad app for their content, the greater the likelihood I will have moved on and won't ever buy it.  What a mistake.

The whole experience has also caused me to wonder if there's an opportunity for a whole new type of app.  Think of it as a combination of Fluent News and Offline Pages.  What I want is an app that automatically checks each of those magazine/newspaper sites and pushes me the full contents of the latest edition.  Without this sort of app I'm forced to do this manually, looking through nytimes.com, clicking on each article that's interesting and then hitting the "Save to Offline Pages" webmarklet that's installed on my browser.  Why make me go through all that effort?  Why not let me tell this new app what newspapers and magazines I want the latest from and deliver them to me?

Before you say that's what the RSS feeds are for think again.  Many of those feeds are partial.  They don't include the entire article or they make you click and go to their website to see their ads.  Fine, I'll look at the ads...but in the version that's cached in this new app I'm describing.

Isn't this ridiculous though?  These publishers are trying to control the flow and use of their content so they're forcing customers like me to come up with better ways of using it.  (Hey, that sounds a lot like the denial stage the music labels went through back in the Napster days.)  And btw, I'm a customer who is more than willing to pay for online access to this content, but by not providing apps these publishers won't let me!  These are the same publishers, at least on the newspaper side, who constantly complain that Google has stolen their IP.  Google hasn't stolen anything.  And if the publishers don't get wise to the rapidly growing iPad platform they'll probably see someone else swoop in and steal the app revenue opportunity they're currently ignoring.

Payment Models

Money2 I thought the micropayment model was dead.  Back in the '90's and early 2000's it was simply too much of a hassle to pull out my credit card for any one- or two-dollar transactions.  Then came iTunes.

Now I'm amazed how quickly I'll make a 99-cent purchase.  Part of the reason is the seamless way iTunes is integrated into the overall iPhone/iPad ecosystem.  Apple has created a model where payment is too temptingly simple.  Amazon may have patented one-click payment but Apple is perfecting it.  A quick check of my recent AMEX statement shows I paid Apple more last month (for mostly sub-$5, including a large number of 99-cent, transactions!) than I paid Amazon.  That wasn't the case 6 months ago.

There's still a huge difference between grabbing a free app and paying for one, even if it's only 99 cents.  I'm still pretty stingy here and I want to feel confident I wasn't snookered into paying for something that's not even worth a dollar.

The problem in the book publishing world is that we haven't found a good content model for the sub-$5 purchase.  Customers don't want to buy chapters, so don't kid yourself about that model.  And sure, you can do the quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversion and sell it for a fraction of the print price, but that's not much of a future.

We need to create more product entry points that appeal to the masses with low initial prices that offer a great value proposition as well as upsell opportunities for additional irresistible content and/or services.

What can we learn from other experiments in the app world?:

  • First, don't assume the quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversion model is more viable just because the iPad offers a large, full-color screen.  I still refuse to pay $4.99 for a single iPad issue of Time, for example.  (You'd think the magazine folks would realize that's no way to attract new customers.  What about the free trial subscription to let me see what's special and get me hooked?)
  • Second, and perhaps most importantly, think about rich content, not just quick-and-dirty conversions (see my earlier highly relevant posts here and here).  A chemistry textbook publisher creates this while a visionary creates this.  The former is a yawner while the latter, even as a fairly high-priced iPad app lures me in because it's so tempting to explore and discover with it.  Question: How many customers would describe your e-products with words like "tempting", "explore" or "discover"?
  • Third, think about subscriptions, not just one-time payments.
  • Fourth, think about selling the network, not just an individual product.
  • And finally, don't ignore the advertising and sponsorship worlds.  Yes, I know many people say they won't stand for in-book advertising.  That's fine.  Offer two different versions, including the higher-priced one for those folks who won't tolerate the ads.

The Uber-Index

Infinity The Rich Content post I wrote back on March 29th keeps popping into my head.  I think our industry has spent way too much time trying to force-fit video and other types of content in with the written word.  Meanwhile, the real solution to rich content has probably been right here under our noses the whole time: the index.  Actually, what I'm talking about should be called an "index on steroids" or an uber-index.

For years publishers have generated those backmatter elements we've grown to know, love and rely on...the index.  Index specialists are charged with finding all the critical terms, synonyms and other entries then compiling them into one of the most important elements of the book.  Up to now those indexes have been static and almost exclusively focus on providing pointers within the book the where index appears.  In tomorrow's ebook, the uber-index should grow as more related content is available on websites, blogs, other books, apps, etc.

Liza Daly expressed a similar vision in this excerpt from an iPad-related interview she did with The New York Times about a week after my "Rich Content" blog post:

I see the consummate iPad reading experience to be one that is, on the surface, traditional: heavily textual, quiet, hand-held. But lurking beneath the words is the whole Internet, ready to be questioned — “Find other works that quoted this,” “Where was the Marshalsea prison?”, “Which of my friends is also reading this?”, “What is that attractive person across from me reading?”

None of that requires a publisher to “enhance” the e-book prior to publication. A truly modern e-reader is one that is intimately connected to the Web and allows a user to make queries as a series of asides, while reading or after immersive reading has ended.

So what this all means is that authors and publishers could continue to build books they way they've done for hundreds of years, but a new effort needs to be dedicated to the index itself.  Not the print index, of course, but the uber one that works within the e-reader.

Imagine an e-reader/app that lets you read a book in the traditional way but below the surface it offers smart links to all the related content and resources you could hope for.  As I mentioned in the 3/29 post, some of this could be automated but then it's little more than a set of algorithm-based search results.  I want something more and I'll bet you do too.

How about applying the wisdom of the masses to the problem?  Just as the Wikipedia provides encyclopedia-length entries on subjects far and wide, what if there were a community-based service that created nothing but the most relevant pointers to all the best content?

You're an expert in 70's music and you spend all your waking hours looking for the best sites, videos, interviews, etc., on the subject  Why not share your discoveries about Thin Lizzy and Mott The Hoople by adding to and helping curate the uber-index on these topics?  The uber-index would then be made available to e-reader apps so that when someone clicks on Glen Frey's name in Don Felder's (terrific!) book about The Eagles, Heaven & Hell, they'll immediately have access to a growing list of outside resources that confirm Felder's point that Frey was a complete jerk!

All of this functionality would be included, btw, with little to no work required by the publisher.  A utility would run the book's contents against the uber-index and generate all the relevant links.  You could do this when you buy the book or periodically as you're reading it, to make sure it's always up-to-date.

How about that?  An infinitely deep index, the uber-index, that dramatically enhances and extends the reading experience while preserving it at the same time.  Isn't that what we're all after?

P.S. -- Now take it a step further.  Are you familiar with the "Sponsored Links" area of the Google search results?  These are the links someone has paid to have included in your search results  Why not introduce a sponsored link section to this as well, where monetization can occur?  So when you pull up the menu for Glen Frey mentioned earlier it also includes a paid link from Amazon where you can buy his latest CD, if you're so inclined.  Click that link and the publisher/author get a cut of the sponsored link payment.  If a substantial enough AdSense-like ecosystem builds up around this it creates an additional revenue stream that could be shared by all parties.

In-Book Advertising

Ironic billboard Apple's upcoming iPhone OS update will include an option for in-app advertising.  The iAd service is just the next step Apple is taking to beat Google in what will surely be a very lucrative mobile advertising market.

Does this represent an opportunity for book publishers and authors?  Absolutely.  Hear me out, even if you're one of those purists who insists on books existing as they always have, without ads...

Let's start with the fact that you could always sell two versions of your products: one with ads and one without.  The version without ads is priced higher than the one with the ads.  Test, measure, rinse, repeat.  Why wouldn't you want the opportunity to study real world data from your customers to see whether ads have an impact on product acceptance and sales?  The results might just surprise you.

Or, how about all those free samples you have floating around?  I'm talking about the excerpts you distribute in the hopes that you'll convert some number of browsers into buyers.  Your conversion rate is something less than 100%, so why not find other ways to monetize that experience?

This is yet another one of the Kindle platform's shortcomings.  Amazon never built a model content owners could leverage to drive some additional revenue.  They didn't offer it with books but I'm even more amazed that they never figured it out for newspapers and magazines, especially since we're all quite used to seeing ads throughout those products.

In case you haven't noticed, most customers feel ebook prices should be lower than print prices.  That pricing pressure alone should cause every author and publisher to experiment with services like iAd.  What have you got to lose?

P.S. -- If Apple is smart they'll build iAd into the iBooks app.  You'll tell them whether or not you want iAd service included every time you provide them with ePub files for your next book.  Hopefully they'll also let publishers try out that two-pronged approach where the book is available both with and without ads, at two different prices.

How Will the iPad Affect Content and App Pricing?

Question MarkWade Roush recently asked three question about the iPad, one of which inspired this post.  That question was, "How much will iPad-only apps cost?"  It got me thinking about the different user experience between the iPhone and iPad as well as how not only apps can (and will) be priced differently, but content as well.

We've grown accustomed to paying only a dollar or two, if anything at all, for most iPhone apps.  I don't expect that will change much going forward, but I do anticipate more successful higher-priced apps for the iPad.  As Wade points out, Apple will lead the way with their $9.99 iWork apps.  Although you could argue any one of the iWork apps is much more powerful than the typical iPhone app, I think the additional display surface on an iPad (vs. an iPhone) will lead to opportunities for richer applications and content content.

Publishers currently spend a lot of time trying to figure out the best user experience on the smaller screen.  Reference material in particular is tricky because you want to pack as much into one screen as possible.  Not only is that less of an issue with the iPad, the larger display lends itself to some clever things publishers will be able to do to enhance that smaller-screen content.

Does anyone remember VH1's "Pop-Up Video" series from several years ago?  They took old videos and added value to them by popping up bubbles of behind-the-scenes info.  No matter how many times you saw the original video, you learned something new when you watched the enhanced pop-up video version.  Interesting factoids as well as silly trivia were added to the original videos and they were fun to watch.

Now imagine the same thing added to the small-screen version of a tutorial or reference work.  (Btw, I'm pretty sure Pete Meyers described something like this in his recent TOC session.)  If the original format worked well on the iPhone's screen, why not make it even more powerful by adding richer functionality on the bigger screen?  This pop-up option is just one way to add value and I'm sure others will come up with even more compelling enhancements.  Ultimately though, you'll be able to offer one product for the iPhone and something that builds on that same framework of content for the iPad.  Done properly, and if enough value is added, it's easy to see where the latter could be higher-priced than the former.

Envisioning iPad Apps

Appstore_20100127The more I play with my iPad Nano, also known as my iPhone, the more I realize the potential the bigger screen will offer.  This is the time of year when I go out and buy a Major League Baseball preview magazine.  My old favorite, Street & Smith's, was rebranded as Sporting News awhile back, so I picked one of those up last weekend.

What did I get for my $8 investment?  The same type of season preview guide I've seen for the past 30+ years.  That's great, but why not create something to take advantage of today's (and tomorrow's) technologies?

There's a Sporting News app for baseball.  It's a free alternative to and offers a subset of the features offered in MLB's own $14.99 app (which happens to be one of the best apps in the entire store, btw).

Rather than creating a poor man's MLB app I think Sporting News should have broght their preview guide to life as a different type of app.  I'm not talking about a quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversion.  What's needed here is a dynamic guide, something that's always up-to-date from spring training till the bottles are uncorked after the World Series.

Players get cut, traded, put on the disabled list, etc.  My $8 print product is already out of date.  So why not offer an app with the same content for, say, $4.99 and charge me a dollar or two every month for updates?  Another option is to let me buy the full season's guide for $9.99.  Either way Sporting News gets more money out of the deal than they did on my $8 print purchase.

More importantly, think about how this sort of content would render on an iPad!  Those rich images in my color preview guide would come to life in the form of videos and other rich content.  And rather than the limited view box scores you get on the iPhone, imagine a scorecard display on the iPad.  You hook up to the game in the 5th inning and the app shows what looks like the official scorekeeper's sheet with pitch-by-pitch details of the game, all on one screen.  Let's see someone do that on an iPhone.

Speaking of improved renderings on the iPad (vs. iPhone)...  I recently discovered the Tech Junkie iPhone app.  This is a terrific product that lets you aggregate all the popular tech news sites into one app.  If you're into technology and you have an iPhone you need to invest 99 cents in this one.  It's great on an iPhone but I can't wait to see it on an iPad.  There's way too much scrolling required on the iPhone but that will be less of a problem on the larger device.

Why isn't there a premium, paid upgrade option for apps like Tech Junkie with more features?  I'd pay $5 for the app and a couple of dollars per month (minimum!) if this would just do one simple thing: Push the content to me and don't force me to go out and retrieve it.  It's the same complaint I have about the New York Times app.  The free version is terrific but I'd pay a monthly subscription if the content would come to me instead of me having to click and save each individual article.  I was told once that the NYT app doesn't do that because of the volume of data it would require.  I don't buy it.  Configure it so that it only happens when I'm on wifi or charge me more for 3G.

I can't be the only person looking to dump all my print magazine and newspaper subscriptions for e-replacements.  This push vs. pull issue is a critical feature that's largely missing in today's apps, and one that could generate a lot of revenue.  Here's to hoping Apple's iPad is more successful than Amazon's Kindle has been at getting more newspaper and magazine publishers to recognize this opportunity.

Three Questions as I Head for Tools of Change (TOC)

Picture 1It's time for our Tools of Change (TOC) conference.  I'm heading to NY and an looking forward to taking in as many of the sessions as possible.  Before I head east though, I thought I'd share a few industry-related items that are on my mind:

Where are all the in-app purchase/subscription apps for the iPhone?  This was supposed to be one of the major features of an iPhone OS update last year, so how come I have zero apps using the model on my iPhone?  I'm sure some apps with this functionality exist, but how obscure are they?  Where are the big magazines and newspapers?  I use the free New York Times app but I'd gladly pay for a feature as simple as sending me the entire edition (as opposed to forcing me to retrieve each article separately).  I've purposely avoided renewing some print magazine subscriptions, figuring apps are right around the corner.  Wrong!  What an enormous missed revenue opportunity.

iPad: To buy, or not to buy?  Several friends and family members have asked me if I plan to buy an iPad.  My answer: If you're in the publishing business, can you really afford not to buy one?  I waited about 8 months to get a Kindle and, despite the fact that I'm now abandoning that platform, I wish I would have bought one sooner.  Owning both a Kindle and an iPhone has enabled me to appreciate the user experience and think more about what features are useful, missing, etc.  I figure the iPad adoption rate will be higher than the Kindle's but lower than the iPhone's, so how much sense does it make to sit on the sidelines for this one?

What can we learn from radio?  Owning an iPhone causes you to wonder even more about the future of radio.  I'm not talking about the fact that the device holds all my music.  I'm talking about the radio apps that make the clunky thing on your nightstand or in your car dash seem so old-fashioned.  One good example is AOL Radio, which lets me listen to stations I can't pick up with an antenna.  But while you could argue that radio is dying, use of these apps indicates the content is finding a new way to customers, many of which are well outside the station's traditional reach.

As this USA Today article notes, "Those high-powered smartphones that can access the Web from virtually anywhere may be the best thing that's happened in years to one of the oldest and most beleaguered of traditional media: radio."  I find myself listening to more radio now than ever before, but it's almost always from my phone.  If stations are smart, they'll build apps that do much more than just tune in to the live broadcast.  Why not offer recording capabilities too, turning my iPhone into a TiVo for radio?  What lessons from the radio might apply to the book publishing business?

Speaking of radio, I was an XM customer until a year or two ago.  I loved XM at first, mostly because it allowed me to go well beyond the limited AM/FM offerings here in Indiana.  I was hooked for a couple of years and then tossed it aside, partly because I discovered so many better alternatives on my iPhone.  Sound familiar?  That's pretty much what's happened to my early fascination with the Kindle.  Is the Kindle our industry's XM Radio?