April 9, 2014 Last Updated 8:15 am

Amazon and Apple Newsstands: compare and contrast

A look at the two digital newsstands, their sales environment, and the way one magazine handles the different platforms

The iPad launched four years ago this month, and the Newsstand a year and a half after that. Because of this, the Apple App Store, and the Newsstand in particular, are still where most magazine and newspaper publishers look to first when launching their tablet editions. Many now launch simultaneously, but many more do not.

KindleNewsstandBut the Apple Newsstand has become a mess, a neglected mess, where categories go without any promotion of apps, where “New” means listing apps alphabetically. Yet publishers pretty much stay quiet about the Newsstand out of fear of upsetting the App Store team.

Increasingly, though, publishers can see that Android tablets, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire line, are catching on with the public. Yes, iPads are still selling, and the demographic of their owners is attractive, but one can not ignore all those other tablet owners.

The combination – dissatisfaction with Apple’s Newsstand and the growth of tablet alternatives – could potentially mean a shift in priorities by publishers and their vendors. But both sides tell this isn’t happening. Instead, many tell me, they are simply continuing on, hoping something will happen to straighten out the mess.

Newsstands-bestsellersComparing the two digital newsstands (leaving Google Play out for now), one sees most of the same titles are listed among the best sellers. But there are differences: Amazon’s bestseller list includes not only digital editions designed for the Kindle, but magazine apps, as well (though there are fewer of them); it also breaks out the magazines by their subscription type so that a magazine like The New Yorker shows up twice, once for an annual subscription and later for a month subscription.

Because of this, The New Yorker is at the top of Apple’s list of Top Grossing magazine, but appears far down the list on Amazon.com.

At first glance, the Apple Newsstand is by far the most attractive store, and one that seems to promote more magazine titles. But once leaves the front page of the Newsstand things change as categories are without their top of the page carousel, and the other promotional areas have not been maintained.

Amazon’s newsstand, on the other hand, provides an easy browsing experience, and a better search mechanism.

But Amazon has an interesting dilemma: while it may want to sell Kindles, it also wants to sell books and other media to owners of other tablets through their online website. So, if one wants to read the latest issue of Cosmopolitan, one and do so through Amazon.com, then send the file to your iPad to be read using the Kindle reading app.

Several years ago there was a move to convert publications for reading on black and while eReaders. With the introduction of the Kindle Fire, however, almost all the top magazines are designed for tablets capable of delivering an interactive reading experience. Digital publishing platforms know this, as well, and have for the past year or two been giving their customers the ability to create digital editions similar to their native iPad editions.

But most publisher are content to deliver replica editions for the Kindle, and hybrid editions for the iPad. It creates an interesting comparison.

Take Hearst’s Cosmopolitan: both editions receive fairly mixed reviews thanks to Hearst’s policy of forcing print subscribers to pay for digital. Since the audience of Cosmo is not the tech crowd that might be attracted to Wired, reviews rarely comment on the digital formatting of the issues, so it is hard to judge reader satisfaction with the digital editions.

Cosmo-iPad-KindleThe Kindle Edition can be read in both portrait and landscape, which is useful because the magazine contains so many 2-page ad spreads that generally do not contain a lot of text and so look very good. But reading the editorial in landscape would be very difficult, so the reader is forced to turn their device to portrait – but even then the replica edition is a challenge to read without resorting to pinch-to-zoom.

The iPad version is designed for portrait-only and because it is a hybrid the advertising suffers. It is a sign of the carelessness of ad agencies that they do not swap out creative. The editorial content, however, is reformatted and is a much more enjoyable read.

Four years after the birth of the tablet platform, there appears to be more confusion in the market, with little direction from readers as to their preferences. Some vendors who produce PDF replicas have often told me that readers say they prefer replicas. But I shut down this idea quickly by reminding them that surveys that ask if they want their digital editions to mimic print is like asking a cell phone user in 2007 if they would demand a keyboard on their phone. Consumers can only compare two versions of something if they are familiar with both things being compared – most consumers have still not been exposed to interactive publications and so will usually say they want their digital magazines to replicate print (after all, they already know and like print magazines).

Most I have spoken to say they assume that sales of digital publications at Amazon and Google will one day rival what they see at Apple, and some say they are starting to see this trend now. But the digital newsstands are very different, and the reading experience remains very different in the two ecosystems. The platform that can provide both the best reading experience and the best buying experience is bound to dominate. For now, though, things remain a bit confusing for most publishers.

  • Nick Martin 4 years ago

    Yeah it’s amazing that Apple has just let their newsstand browsing experience drown as it could be so much better! I agree with you that right now we might be in a period where most publishers are content with a replica non-interactive magazine, but I also believe readers will catch on and demand that their favorite magazines become more interactive.

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