The digital magazine industry: 2014, the year in review
The digital magazine industry had its ups and downs in 2014 – from launches that died quickly, to the shuttering of pioneering titles – but the year ends with some excellent new digital-only titles inside the Newsstand
The year is nearly over, and while the U.S. economy appears to be finally recovering from the fiscal crisis of half-a-dozen years ago, both Europe and the magazine industry are still waiting for green shoots to appear.
The year began with Apple no longer maintaining the Newsstand, and it is amazing that 12 months later nothing has been done to fix the situation. As a result, many magazine publishers began to consider options other than their Apple-first development philosophy. But the vast majority of new digital-only magazines and new digital editions, still appeared inside the Newsstand first in 2014.
The Year Begins
In January, a new digital-only magazine, built using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite appeared that represented the digital publishing industry as a whole. Nomad Magazine featured the actor Benicio Del Toro on its animated cover and was quite a tour-de-force of digital publishing.
“Nomad Magazine is one of those new digital magazine start-ups that has you scratching your head, wondering if you are really seeing the truth, or something else altogether. Viewed in isolation, just through the app itself, one sees an interesting new publication,” I wrote in January.
My concern was that, like many new digital publications, there was less there than at first appeared. Where was this interesting publication coming from, who was the publisher, and was there any commitment to publish the magazine on an ongoing basis. My concerns, I called it an example of the Wild West of digital publishing, were valid as no second issue ever appeared, and the app is no longer in the App Store.
Another digital edition that appeared that month that also uses the Adobe DPS faired better. Toronto Life Magazine launched in January and is still going strong, having updated its app just this month.
Not all digital magazines are launched as apps, of course. Many, like that from the website All About Jazz, attempt to build an audience online. The digital magazine used Issuu to create a Flash flip book – and as you can tell by my use of the past tense, my effort ended after only two issues.
Unlike print magazines, the life of a digital magazine can sometimes have the lifespan of a bug. Swing Image from Studio View Ltd. used the Mag+ platform to create its Newsstand app. I wrote that the “first issue weighs in at 741 MB, which is pretty hefty. But there is a lot of content here, including very attractively produced advertising, so the reader will forgive surrendering some of their iPad storage of the magazine.” But at some point the app was pulled from the Newsstand, yet another digital magazine launched and closed very early in 2014.
Hearst launched a new print title, along with a digital edition, in February for the television brand Dr. Oz. The goal, of course, is to replicate the publisher’s success with Oprah Winfrey. The magazine may well succeed, though one wonders if in the end Hearst will regret teaming up with the sham doctor and his endlessly bad advice.
Things Don’t Last Forever
The NFL’s Official Super Bowl Program was launched into the App Store this year as an interactive magazine. The app was created by Joe Zeff Design, the design studio that launched some of the very best digital publications into the App Store since the launch of the iPad by Apple in 2010.
Sadly, we learned in August that Joe Zeff would be closing his studio and joining ScrollMotion. “The next frontier for phones and tablets is the workplace,” Zeff wrote on the company website blog. “And to seize that opportunity, I’m closing the studio I founded 14 years ago and joining ScrollMotion as its Vice President/Executive Creative Director.” Bummer. (Jeff was featured in my book Talking Digital where there is a long interview with Zeff about his newspaper and design background and his views on digital publishing.)
In May TNM looked at the digital publishing efforts from the Canadian publisher Transcontinental. That month the publisher of The Hockey News had released a new Newsstand app Cellier Nouvel Arrivage, a food and wine magazine published for Société des Alcools du Québec. In November, though, came word that the publisher would be selling their magazines to a company controlled by Canadian media company Québecor Inc. Despite the sale, the apps still appear in the App Store under the Transcontinental name.
Sometimes a sale can be the best thing for a magazine’s digital strategy. In April, TeamRock, which had bought some of the music magazines from struggling Future plc, launched their first digital editions for Classic Rock Magazine. While Future, which could have produced native tablet editions using its own FutureFolio, instead had been publishing replica editions. TeamRock went in a different direction, teaming up with The App Lab, made up of David Hicks, Craig Llewelyn-Williams, Rob Fluellen, and Pip Tallents, to create far superior native digital editions. Later in the year, TeamRock released additional apps for the other magazines they bought from Future.
B2B had another rough year. Questex was picked up by the private equity company Shamrock Capital Advisors, while Cygnus Business Media sold off all its properties in chucks to various buyers, the last portion going to SouthComm Inc.
The B2B division dumped that hurt the most was that of the sale of McGraw-Hill’s construction division to the PE firm Symphony Technology Group (also in September). The group includes Engineering News-Record, as well as other properties I was associated with in the early nineties when I worked at The McGraw-Hill Companies, now called McGraw Hill Financial. I learned during that time that the company no longer wanted to be associated with publishing, but the company was still making big profits from both publishing and construction information.
“We are pleased to have found a buyer in Symphony with a strong track record of acquiring high-performance companies that will enable McGraw Hill Construction to continue pursuing growth opportunities and its proud tradition of serving the construction market,” said Douglas L. Peterson, President and CEO of McGraw Hill Financial in the company’s sale announcement.
A month later I interviewed Gregg Hano, the president of Mag+, on that companies transition away from digital magazine publishing and towards corporate communications.
“What we’ve chosen to do is continue to support our core publishing customers, but really work into other categories. Which is a pretty natural evolution, when you think about it,” Hano told TNM.
“Corporations have so much content already in the can, so to speak. They know who they are marketing to – have images, text and local which depending on what country they’re in, culturally relevant images.”
The End and the New Beginning
In September, TNM published its second edition of the Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms. The first edition had appeared in our one issue of the digital magazine Tablet Publishing in 2013, but this time the guide was published as an eBook.
The idea was to publish in eBook form in order to make updates far easier. After the first guide was published many new companies approached up about being included in any second edition, and it was anticipated that more companies would approach us again this time.
Sales have been much better for the eBook version of the Guide, but a funny thing happened: we were approached by new companies but none of them bothered to complete the survey form so that we could include them in any update. Because of this, no update has had to be published as of yet, though an update is still planned for Q2 of 2015.
A few weeks after the Guide made it into the iBooks Store, Glenn Fleishman announced that he would be shuttering The Magazine, the digital-only magazine founded by developer Marco Arment. The Magazine had been heavily promoted by Apple inside the Newsstand, but subscriptions were falling.
“It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn’t replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough,” Fleishman said at the time.
The demise of The Magazine could be chalked up to many things, but the way Apple is managing the Newsstand has much to do with it. One had hoped that Apple’s CEO would have a strong commitment to digital publishing, but that has not been the case. Perhaps the company’s bad experience with the big book publishers and its fight against the lawsuit that followed has something to do with it.
Just a week before Fleishman’s announcement, word leaked that Apple had brought on Michel Elings, who along with Jochem Wijnands was associated with another digital magazine enjoying better luck, TRVL. The story was that Apple had acquired Prss, the digital publishing platform launched by the publishing duo, but the move now looks more like an acqui-hire as not much has changed at Apple regarding the Newsstand or the introduction of a digital publishing platform.
That did not stop TNM from announcing in early November that it would team up with Paul Blake to relaunch the digital magazine App Publisher. The digital-only magazine about digital publishing will be relaunched in early 2015 and will move from a quarterly publishing schedule to six times a year.
With all the negativity surrounding digital magazines this year, one might wonder why? The answer is that both Paul and I are very optimistic long term concerning digital publishing, even if we might have grave concerns with things in the near term. Far too many vendors are taking advantage of those in the publishing industry, over promising sales, under delivering solutions. Some software companies are even telling their customers to expect less services in 2015 than they received in 2014.
But great digital magazines are still being produced because readers are migrating to digital. First Light Magazine, the English language digital magazine from the Association Française d’Astronomie, is a good example.
Both digital magazines show us is possible when creative professionals are dedicated to digital publishing and want to explore its possibilities. We look forward to more launches like these, and hopefully more sales, as well.
Note: You can’t boil down a whole year into one post – topics like commenting (several magazine websites ended reader comments this year) or developments in digital newsstands (Adobe launched Papergarden this year with Samsung, though even Adobe hasn’t mentioned it since its launch) will inevitably be left out. But if there is a major development you think should be mentioned, feel free to add a comment (TNM hasn’t dropped comments yet, though this site did delete almost 500 spam comments this year).