Some developers find the Newsstand a good place for mischief
For many magazine publishers launching a new digital edition, let alone a new digital-only magazine is a big deal, one that takes months to accomplish – especially when producing a monthly tablet edition calls for added work on the part of the staff, even if the end result is a replica edition.
So it may come as a surprise to hear that at least one publisher has managed to launch 36 magazines in less than a year. Well, actually less than a handful of months. How do they manage to do that?
One can readily guess: they are PDFs that are only about two dozen pages in length and in only a couple cases did the new magazine apps actually show that more than one issue had been produced (yet all offered annual subscription that said 12 issues could be expected).
The magazines themselves are embarrassingly bad, but I doubt they are actually meant to attract loyal readers. The covers all feature a single shot with a few teasers lines, most have a circle with another teaser, as well. The titles promise video and actually deliver that through a YouTube video.
None of the stories I saw had bylines, and none of the titles had a staff box or any publishing information at all. The app descriptions all have links that take you to imagii.net, a website that has broken photo links, as well as a broken link to the About page.
I asked an Apple developer support person today if the company had any policy regarding whether publishers had any obligation to actually to produce more than one issue if they are selling annual subscriptions, they pointed me to the developer guidelines which are silent on the matter, as well as the legal team (do I really want to open up that can of worms?).
The reality is that Apple guidelines have become less exact over the past few years, probably do to misinterpretations such as that which occurred with the launch of iBooks Author. And so today we have a situation where a publisher wishing to flood the Newsstand with titles of dubious value can do so. If a vendor can flood the Newsstand with PDF replicas, for instance, why not original apps, as well?
It is interesting to compare the requirements to launch a paid eBook with those required to launch a digital magazine into the Newsstand. With the bookstore there is no fee to become a developer, but to get approved for a paid book account one must have a legal name and an EIN number from the IRS. Then, any book published through the paid account must have an ISBN number, something that costs $125 for one number to as little as a dollar a piece if you buy them 1000 at a time.
But to launch a digital magazine all one needs is a developer account which costs $99 per year.
If you are looking to produce a native tablet edition using a major platform the costs can be steep, but if you can develop a simple app yourself and stock it with PDFs the costs are negligible.
With eBooks, Apple requires that you offer a sample of the book for free, giving readers a chance to evaluate the end product. Few magazines offer much more than screenshots, though a one month free trial is becoming something of a standard with most Newsstand magazines.