June 3, 2014 Last Updated 12:34 pm

Digital publishers face a tough future on the major newsstands; Mag+ issues June update

Apple opens up its system a bit for developers and users, even as it is reducing the chances of success for new digital publishers

The promise of an egalitarian newsstand where any publisher/developer could launch their own new digital publication and hope to reach their audience was probably always a bit naive. But the big platforms, led by Apple, have for years pushed this concept aggressively. For years WWDC would open with a reminder that Apple had paid out millions of dollars – last fall claiming that $13 billion had been paid to developers for their apps (which, of course, includes digital publications).

Cook-event-smWWDC would have been a logical time to remind developers of all this, but instead Apple decided to instead concentrate on the ways that it would be opening up to developers – opening up apps to third party widgets, opening up options for users. It was a wise choice because many developers have along ago realized that the majority of the money paid to developers go to a select few.

The App Store and the Newsstand are a bit of a contradiction today: Apple wants developers and publishers to continue to develop first for the Apple ecosystem, while at the same time it wants to control what gets promoted inside the store limiting the store to what it feels will sell the most, moving the rest of the content off to the side where it will not confuse buyers. To do this, pay to play will become the name of the game.

Amazon has made no bones about all this: if you want to sell your books or other goods, you will have to pay. At Apple things don’t feel so cut throat – and anyone who has worked with the developer support team, or the paid books team, will tell you that the experience is generally excellent, customer service still matters. But the App Store, and most especially the Newsstand remains a mess… but this is what Apple apparently wants. The front of the store, the lead page the consumer sees, is well organized, promoting the most popular titles, what Apple wants to promote. Enter the store and things get hairy: whole categories are left disorganized, without much curation, and without the ability to easily see what is new.

In the end, this may benefit the big publishers who have the marketing resources to spend promotion dollars inside the various digital newsstands. But the world of B2B and regional publications can not support this model. None of the big platform owners will share their user information, so being able to target readers, or qualify them, is not possible. What Apple, in particular, is saying is that you must promote your digital titles yourself, and if your audience doesn’t already know how to download your app before entering the App Store you are out of luck. In other words, unless you can pay, you are on your own.

Developers and publishers will have to live with this, at least for now, and hope that other digital newsstands will move to a more fair system where new apps get a chance to be discovered based on their merits rather than the promotional dollars standing behind them.

MagPlus-review-app-icon-smThe digital publishing platform Mag+ today released an update to its Mag+ Reviewer app as part of its first Tuesday of the month update protocol. One assumes the company will publish a blog post on its website later today with more details, but the app decryption for the previewer app states that the update fixes an issue with slideshows that should prevent scrolling to an empty slide at the end.

Mag+ has gone to a numbering system that makes it easier to figure you if you are using the latest release. Its May update, for instance, was named Mag+ 5, 2014-5, signifying the platform version and the date of the release. One guesses this month’s release would be called Mag+ 5, 2014-6 when it comes out.

It was hard last week to keep up with the news involving Source Interlink. First came word that Time Inc. would bail on the distribution arm of the company, then the company said it would shut down. At the same, the magazine arm of the company announced that it would shut down several of its publications, consolidating its operations and laying off around 75 employees.

The news, though was greeted with a shrug by the industry, now used to such bad news. Meanwhile, all is well with the industry, according to the pundits who have staked out this position as a career choice. Reversing course would mean no longer being invited to events as the feel good speaker. Who, after all, whats to go to a sunny destination and sit and listen to a recap of all the bad things that have happened in the industry over the past several months. Too much bad news is a damper on attendance.

But the industry is, finally, getting to a point where it is going to have to serious confront many of the issues that will prevent its future success. Looking at the agendas for the upcoming industry events one sees that they are filled with colleagues all looking to tell attendees what they have done to keep alive of late. Missing are those players who actually determine the fate of digital publications: the major platform owners. Getting them to show up at industry events is almost impossible, of course. But that is not the point. The point is industry events really are not about serious discussions about digital newsstands, or postal policies, etc. But maybe this is an opening for a smart events organizer.

  • Nick Martin 4 years ago

    Hey Doug,

    I was intrigued by the headline of this article, but didn’t really get the gist of it in the content? What exactly are you referring to when you write “Digital publishers face a tough future on the major newsstands”? Is it again mainly due to the fact that not much is being done for the current Apple newsstand (it’s still a mess) and that makes it harder for new magazines to get noticed?

    • D.B. Hebbard 4 years ago

      Maybe if I have gone with my original headline it would have been clearer: “Publishers face a ‘pay to play’ future on digital newsstands.’ Both Apple and Amazon are moving to systems where only marketing dollars will get you promotion on their newsstands, limited the chances that small and self-publishers will have their apps promoted strictly on their merits. This will be good news for the big publishers who can crowd out their smaller competitors by outspending them.

      I think this will also be bad for the many new digital publishing platform companies that have gone to a revenue sharing model – unless they can attract large publishers with their systems, smaller publishers may not provide enough sales to compensate them sufficiently.