Apple’s App Store team makes changes to Newsstand for iPhone, but it’s not good news
Unfortunately, the changes make the iPhone side of the Newsstand more like the iPad side – with less ways to find a title, and with far less promotion of digital publications
The Apple Newsstand has finally seen some changes this month, but publishers are not exactly going to be thrilled with what they see as Apple’s App Store team have seemingly gone out of their way to make the digital newsstand even harder to use.
For the past 18 months or so, the Apple App Store team has failed to maintain the categories inside the Newsstand and have made a few changes designed to limit the number of newspaper and magazine titles promoted. Sales, not surprisingly, have plummeted. Starting with the summer and fall batch of publisher’s statements (newspapers and magazines are on different reporting schedules) many titles were showing either slowing digital growth, or even declines. With the latest December statements, the majority of major magazine titles are reporting actual declines in digital subscriptions.
Not all the declines can be blamed on the App Store team, as there is plenty of blame to go around. For instance, many major magazine publishers are struggling with their fulfillment, with readers of titles complaining inside iTunes that the apps do not recognize their subscriptions. Then there is the issue of app bugs, always a problem, especially right after the release of a new version of Apple’s iOS.
But the biggest problem is probably just the overall design of the Newsstand, with its push notifications to monthly subscribers, which many believe leads to cancelations.
Inside the iPhone Newsstand, at least until last week, one could still search for publications by release date by tapping on the “All” apps choice found at the bottom of the iPhone Newsstand home page. This would pull up all titles based on either its release date or by sales. Apple has now eliminated this, just as they did for the iPad many months ago.
Is it possible that the changes to the Newsstand are a deliberate attempt to kill it off? It seems like a tin-hat theory until one realizes that Apple has known about the problems with the Newsstand for a long time, and Apple employees I’ve spoken to have expressed shock and embarrassment at the condition of the Newsstand. Still it remains as before (only worse).
It is also odd that none of the magazine trade associations have made this a major issue, or called out Apple for what it is doing to the digital sales of its members.
So, who benefits from the Newsstand in its present condition?
Beyond Next Issue Media, I can’t think of any company that can look at the latest batch of publisher’s statements and claim any positive news. For many magazines part of NIM, their digital single copy sales are on the rise.
But NIM is a closed newsstand, it is about increasing sales for its publishing partners who are producing the 140 or so magazines being offered. Unlike other digital newsstands, NIM is never going to claim they have the most titles, just the titles readers want most.
Neither Google nor Amazon have stepped up to make their own digital newsstands significantly better and so we are stuck in this horrible sales environment where all the digital publishing vendors continue to push for more and more new digital publications to be launched into the digital newsstands, while the digital newsstands become a far less attractive place to buy and sell media.
Those most committed to digital publications, small and self-publishers, are getting hurt badly. While the major publishers seem less concerned, talking instead about native advertising and programmatic buying as the future of digital publishing.