The Apple Newsstand grew about 30% in size in 2014, though reliably tracking sales is difficult
Even the Apple App Store team’s best efforts to kill off the Newsstand failed to stop publishers and vendors from launching large numbers of new apps in 2014
The New Year has begun and it is a good time to look at the current state of the Apple Newsstand – the largest, but least maintained of all the digital newsstands. As 2015 begins, Apple’s App Store team is still failing to maintain or improve the store, something that was first noticed in 2013.
For most retailers, this kind of malpractice would likely result in suppliers ending their support for the store. But digital publishing has its own infrastructure made up of digital publishing platform vendors that help drive new apps into the various app stores. Magzter, for instance, now has 1,702 apps under its developer account inside the Apple App Store, the majority of them inside the Newsstand. PressPad has 347. By way of comparison, Condé Nast has only 47 iPad apps that appear under its Condé Nast Digital developer account (others under various other Condé Nast accounts such as the 19 under the Condé Nast Digital Britain account).
Despite word from many publishers that digital subscriptions are falling, and the shuttering of a few high-profile digital-only magazines such as The Magazine, the Newsstand continues to grow.
When 2014 began, just over 11,000 total apps (paid and free) were inside the Apple Newsstand. As of January 1, 2015, that number stood at 14,536. Knowing that a number of apps were pulled in 2014 as their publisher’s stopped producing issues, or Apple pulled the apps due to developer guideline violations, that is still a net increase of well over 30 percent. Compare this with the report that there were 190 print magazines launched in the US and Canada in 2014 and you can see that industry observers are continuing to miss all the publishing action occurring in the digital newsstands.
Most categories saw around the same level of growth in 2014, though B2B app launches seemed to pick up steam this last year with the category growing almost 40 percent. As the year started there were around 550 apps in the Professional & Trade category, the New Year starts with 775 apps.
The Computers & Internet category, though, recorded no growth. In April of 2014, when TNM looked at the total number of apps inside the Newsstand, there were 492 free and paid apps inside the Newsstand – today there are 490 for the iPad.
Now for an important caveat: counting apps inside the Newsstand is not an exact science. One can try and use the iTunes “Browse” mechanism, or the “Featured” mechanism inside the Newsstand on an iPhone or iPad, but one rarely gets consistent numbers. Apple is, to say the least, not a good database company – which explains why searching the Newsstand or the App Store, in general, is so difficult. So, in the future, TNM will concentrate on one mechanism: searching categories on the iPad. This should give good numbers since it is extremely rare for a publisher to release an iPhone-only Newsstand app.
While the total number of apps grew at a healthy pace in 2014, actual subscription sales are hard to track. Part of the reason for this is that the majority of magazines or newspapers that publicly report their digital circulation are audited by the AAM in the U.S., or ABC in the UK. While these audit firms represent the vast majority of popular consumer titles, only a small percentage of all publications audit their circulation, and of those that do, many are still not reporting digital edition sales.
This situation may grow worse as the industry begins to rely on surveys rather than third party audits. The fear many observers have is that there may be a temptation to report good news on a regular basis without solid third party supporting data, leading to advertisers seeing the publication industry as a less reliable place to invest their marketing dollars than that of other digital outlets.
More and more, the Apple Newsstand is a place where it is easy to find something to read, and harder to find what you want to read. (This applies to many other digital newsstands, as well.) On top of this, the mechanism that initially drove sales, the monthly digital subscription, is now being blamed for declining sales. (Apple sends out monthly renewal notices that many publishers believe encourages cancelations.) Many of those who initially saw the fast growth of the Newsstand as a net positive, now wonder if the clutter of the sales outlet will lead to both publishers and readers looking elsewhere to buy their reading material.
Two trends to look for in 2015 may be 1) the growth of Netflix-like subscription services (such as Next Issue and others) and 2) publishers selling their digital editions directly through their own websites. If discovery remains poor in the Newsstand (or on Amazon.com and Google Play), then publishers will see that they must drive their own sales and will look to create digital editions that first can be bought directly, and only secondarily be purchased through a third party newsstand.
This could lead to a large number of apps being pulled and replaced with newer apps. This is when many publishers will regret their decision to have launched their first apps using vendors that control their brand names and how their apps are presented inside the Newsstand. Launching an app, many publishers have found, is the easy part. Taking control of their digital publishing efforts, and succeeding in driving sales, is much harder.