March 13, 2015 Last Updated 2:03 pm

Top Hearst magazines record big increase in digital single copy sales, decline in digital subs

100K drop in digital subscriptions may be the result of buggy iPad apps, as well as the failure by Apple to maintain the Newsstand inside the App Store

The top seven magazines from Hearst lost over 100,000 in digital subscriptions compared to a year ago, according to the latest batch of publisher’s statements. But the magazines still recorded a very slight increase in total paid digital sales thanks to the single copy sales that came from Next Issue Media.

Total digital paid subscriptions, what used to be labeled “Digital Replica” in the December 2013 reports, fell to 253,700 for the seven magazines measured, from 353,046 a year ago. But Digital Single Copy Sales boomed to 150,832 from only 49,474 a year ago. (In AAM reports, sales that come from the digital magazine subscription service Next Issue are counted as single copy. Not all sales reported under Digital Single Copy come from NIM, but the vast majority do.)

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Hearst’s results are somewhat similar to what TNM reported for Time Inc., except that Time was able to report an overall growth in digital sales. Hearst, in this report which does not look at all their magazine titles, was hurt by the continued fall in digital subscriptions for Cosmopolitan, which fell from 213,592 in the December 2013 Publisher’s Statement, to 117,835 in the latest report. In Cosmo’s December 2012 report, the magazine said it had reached 243,883 in Digital Replica paid subscription – meaning that sales in this area have fallen nearly 52 percent in the last two years.

Hearst’s digital magazine strategy has been consistent, and much criticized by readers: Hearst from he start has forced subscribers to choose between their print editions and the new digital editions by making them pay for digital even if they are already subscribing to print.

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But the apps have had even bigger problems than that, caused by issues with subscriptions. Readers of the O, The Oprah Magazine, for instance, have been complaining that they cannot download issues after signing up.

Readers of the Cosmopolitan iPad app complained about its performance for much of 2013, which may have led to the sharp decline in digital subscriptions. The latest update have brought new complaints of app crashes and more subscription problems.

Despite these complaints, most readers give the actual digital editions found inside the Apple Newsstand high marks, when the app is functioning. (I tried to do a direct comparison of the Cosmopolitan digital edition found inside the Apple Newsstand and that found in Next Issue and found I could not get the Cosmo Apple app to function.)

Although Hearst has done a lot of promoting of its digital strategy, its total digital readership of the seven magazines looked at stayed at 2.64 percent of total readership.

“We want unique paying digital customers,” Chris Wilkes, VP for audience development and digital editions for Hearst Magazines told Ken Doctor in June of 2013.

“We’re not primarily interested in people reading print and digital together. We want people who are engaging with our digital products, and we’re attracting people who want to read in the digital format.”

But in 2013, things were still looking up for both iPad sales and sales coming from the Apple Newsstand. But iPad sales peaked in the final quarter of 2013 (the quarter the iPad mini was introduced) and have fallen in each quarter over quarter comparison since then.

On the print side of the ledger, Hearst’s circulation team have managed to keep total circulation of the seven magazines looked at steady, despite a big drop in single copy sales – and without resorting to verified circulation. Of the seven magazines examined here, total single copy sales feel nearly 27 percent from a year ago, caused very much (one assumes) by the closing of SourceInterlink Distribution last summer. But print subscriptions rose. Though this may be result of discounting, this is still something to cheer about.

Next week TNM will look at Condé Nast, and the next issue of App Publisher will have an overview of this latest crop of publisher’s statements and what they say about the direction of digital editions.

Oops: Forgot my usual disclosure – I once worked at Hearst, but in the newspaper division, not magazines, and it was so long ago that Herbert Hoover was still Secretary of Commerce.

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