March 20, 2015 Last Updated 8:48 am

Condé Nast: TNM’s look at the latest digital edition sales trends

The New Yorker reports gains in digital paid circulation with its latest publisher’s statement, bucking an industry-wide trend towards lower digital subscription sales

Each Friday this month, TNM has looked at the recently released publisher’s statements from some of the largest magazine publishers in order to get a sense of the direction of digital editions. For the most part, what can be seen is that publishers are struggling to maintain their digital subscription sales, while those that are part of the Next Issue Media consortium are recording gains in single copy digital sales.

NYer-front-featureFor the most part, this trend continues with the top circulation magazines from Condé Nast: digital circulation which stood at 3.9 percent for the top seven titles in the December 2013 statements, slid to 3.6 percent in the latest reports. Condé Nast’s top titles, though, continue to outperform those from other major publishers.

One Condé Nast title, The New Yorker, was able to buck the trend of seeing lower digital subscription sales by recording a gain in its latest report (when comparing its number against their report from a year ago). The Digital Issue category (formerly called Digital Replica) stands at 80,023, virtually unchanged from the publisher’s June statement, but up 5 percent from the December 2013 statement. Single copy sales also were up slightly.

With its latest statement, The New Yorker can now claim about 8.7 percent of its paid circulation is now digital.


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Condé Nast also owns a couple very important magazines not on the spreadsheet above: Wired and GQ, which have circulations just below the one million level (and so were left off the report above). Both titles have been leaders in digital circulation, especially Wired whose digital edition app was widely anticipated when the original iPad was released, and was often the first digital magazine many tablet owners bought.

One year ago both magazines could claim that their paid digital subscription sales and single copy digital added up to more than 10 percent of their total paid circulation (kind of an important milestone for digital magazines). In the case of Wired, its more than 103,000 in digital meant that 12.1 percent of its readership was digital (in the December 2013 publisher’s statement). The magazine’s latest statement puts that number at around 86K, or 9.7 percent of total paid. GQ, in December of 2013, was right on the cusp of going over 100K in digital, with 10.6 percent of its circulation digital. Its latest report saw its digital circulation fall to below 85K, or 9 percent.

It is nearly impossible to know exactly why digital subscription sales for the major magazine titles in the U.S. are falling – almost across the board. But there are likely three reasons, all tied to the Apple ecosystem (because that is where the sales were).

First, many of the major magazines have been receiving mostly negative reviews of late, with readers complaining of either bugs or subscription fulfillment issues. In fact, fulfillment seems to be the most common problem. Second, a majority of publishers decided to offer monthly subscriptions when they launched their digital editions. This drove sales, but now may be proving to be a deal with the devil. Each month Apple sends out push notifications reminding readers that their subscriptions will renew, allowing readers to opt out. A publisher would never consider offering such a subscription level for print, especially one where they mailed out a notice each month. Finally, the Newsstand itself is a mess and unmaintained and may be leading to discovery issues. It has been assumed that the failure to maintain the individual categories would hurt smaller titles and new publishers more – after all, many of the major magazine titles are constantly promoted through the front page of the Newsstand. But finding a publication is difficult, and with new titles added daily (many of them bogus digital magazines from unscrupulous developers), the Newsstand is more crowded than ever, and a terrible retail outlet.

But the evidence that sales declines are the fault of Apple is mostly circumstantial. Apple’s Newsstand is not the only digital newsstand, after all. But despite the fact that many titles have, in the past year or or two, added the Google Play newsstand, or, the NOOK newsstand, Zinio and Magzter, digital subscription sales are falling for most major magazines, not increasing.

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