August 15, 2014 Last Updated 10:21 am

Digital magazine publishers experiment with reduced subscription pricing, or going free, to attract new readers

The Modern Producer goes free, while The Hockey News drops its 1-month and annual subscription prices in attempt to spur issue downloads and increase readership

The Apple Newsstand, as TNM readers know, is a tough place to find success – and each day, with the launch of more and more digital publications, it becomes harder for titles to find an audience. But some publishers are willing to experiment with pricing their new digital editions in order to see if they can find the secret sauce.

HockeyNews-iPad-lgEarly last year, The Hockey News, published in Toronto by Transcontinental Inc., launched a Newsstand version of its publication: The Hockey News Magazine. Uses the Adobe DPS , the app has received very good reviews from readers, with the only complaints involving the subscription mechanism.

Launched in early February, the publications was able to show around 1,500 digital circulation in its mid-year publisher’s statement last year. But by the end of the year, The Hockey News could claim only around 2,300 digital circulation, about 2.6 percent of total circulation.

Hockey season, believe it or not, is right around the corner, and so the magazine has updated its app and with the update comes a lower one-month subscription price – $2.99. Previously the price was $3.99 and the annual subscription price was set at $39.99 – a pretty high price point as digital editions go. Now the annual subscription is $29.99.

Will it make a difference? That’s hard to tell, but experimenting with pricing is one of the options publishers have to see if they can motivate readers.

Another option is to go free.

ModernProducer-iPadThat is what Jordan Valeriote is doing with his digital magazine The Modern Producer: Guide to Recording, Mixing & Mastering Music. The digital magazine was in April of this year and four issues, using the Mag+ platform, have been published so far.

The tablet-only magazine is published by Jordan Valeriote who maintains a music studio in Ontario, Canada. he says on his website that he started recording friends for free in 2006 and a couple years later decided to “go all-in” and became an independent producer and engineer.

The new digital magazine, like The Hockey News, was launched with a monthly subscription price of $3.99. According to the app description in iTunes, it appears that Valeriote has been experimenting with pricing right from the beginning, charging $3.99, $4.99 or $5.99 for single issues.

Since its launch, the Apple Newsstand app has been update four times for various changes – most being bug fixes. One update enabled landscape orientation in special issues.

The fifth update, though, has nothing to do with bug fixes, but is about having the digital magazine go free.

I asked Valeriote if he was having difficulty attracting readers, conveying to him some of the frustrations other digital publishers are experiencing.

“Yes, it’s been very difficult to get an audience for the app,” Valeriote said. “I have been publishing other iOS apps for almost 2 years (games) and I can say that publishing for Newsstand is completely different.”

“Honestly, the traffic sucks. I can rank in the top 10 newsstand apps for my category with less than 30 downloads per day. For games or other apps, you need hundreds or thousands of downloads per day just to break the top 200 in a category. So that tells me that organic newsstand traffic in general is extremely low.”

“I decided to go free because my test with paid issues/subs was simply not working. I’m losing money. So now I’m trying the other model – free magazine in order to build a large reader base and then earn revenue from advertisers,” Valeriote said.

Like branded magazines, Valeriote is using the digital magazine to promote his business and raise his name awareness among prospective clients. He is also a big believer that a digital-only magazine works best when combined with a good web presence.

“Since organic search traffic is obviously low for Newsstand apps, I think it’s also important to have a strong web presence to push users towards the app,” Valeriote said. “That’s also what I’m doing now… everything in the magazine is going to be posted on my blog site. It seems to me like a Newsstand magazine can only be one part of a larger picture, not just standing on its own.”

Macleans-featureAnother Canadian magazine, Maclean’s, from Rogers Publishing, is offering a free issue to readers who download their iPad app, or access the issue via Next Issue Canada (Rogers is the newest partner to join the magazine cooperative).

The special issue is a commemorative edition called “The genius of Robin Williams.”

“Like that of every great film comic, Robin Williams’s persona will live on even if most of the films themselves aren’t watched as much as they used to be,” the magazine says.

“And it’s someone we will remember for as long as entertainment exists, which is why Maclean’s has produced a special digital issue on the life and legacy of Robin Williams. The commemorative edition offers a complete look at the star’s wild genius, including a detailed analysis of his career by Jaime J. Weinman; special columns by Paul Wells and Emma Teitel; a collection of Williams’s best on-screen moments; an extensive photo gallery chronicling the comic’s life and times; and the most poignant remembrances from Williams’s family and friends.”

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