December 3, 2013 Last Updated 7:46 am

Flipping Pages: Would its own industry association help the digital magazine sector grow?

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The UK publishing blog Flipping Pages has an excellent post asking whether there is a need for a new association for digital publishing.

TNM, for the past almost four years, has questioned the lack of leadership shown by the major US trade associations. The MPA effort to create metrics standards for digital publications, while laudable, has been mostly a member-centric exercise, with little relevance to the majority of digital publishers who are not members of the association. As I told an MPA representative recently, the association continues to act as if the large number of new digital magazines and their publishers do not exist as part of the industry.

Not surprisingly, I never hear from either the MPA or ABM unless they are responding to my inquiry (and the ABM does not even do that).

“That still doesn’t mean another association is the best way to increase the digital magazine sector’s share of circulation and advertising revenues. For me, that would depend very much on what the association looked like.” – Peter Houston

Peter Houston, who publishes the Flipping Pages website, suggests some excellent guidelines to what a new digital magazine association should do: be completely international, don’t get obsessed with creating standards, “no phony war with print,” etc. Houston has a good list and you should read the entire post.

I would add two things that are somewhat related:

1) Any new association would have to recognize that today digital publishers are at the mercy of the digital newsstand owners, and their objectives are far different than those of the publishers. In the print world, the big printers recognize that a healthy magazine publishing world means a healthy printing world. This is most definitely not true of Apple and Google.

Apple promotes a very small number of magazine titles, and keeps on promoting those titles. The vast majority of new titles are lost in the giant marble jar. Getting Apple to respond in any fashion – through their press team or their app store team – is impossible. Unless you are Walt Mossberg calling, Apple simply doesn’t care.

This would be a huge barrier to overcome to any digital magazine association, whose job it would be to lobby the big digital newsstand owners for changes that would benefit their members. As I mentioned in a past, we just are not that important to Apple.

seo_cw_productTake Hearst Magazines: they recently bragged that they now have 1 million paid subscribers of digital editions. That is a great milestone. At $1.99 a month that equals $2 million in new revenue every month, or $24 million a year. But on a quarterly basis that would represent 0.16 percent of Apple’s revenue of last quarter. Until they could sell $375 million each quarter they could not even be worth 1 percent and get anyone’s attention in Cupertino.

2) The other problem that any new association would face is that the actual platform used is constantly at the mercy of the big tablet and mobile device makers and the vendors that provide digital publishing solutions. The launch of iOS 7 and Kit Kat are good examples of this. The number of app updates, followed by big fixes, issued by publishers recently shows that we publishers may own the car, but someone else has their hands on the stirring wheel.

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