April 14, 2015 Last Updated 8:29 am

Major audio streamers update their apps, Pandora latest to add Apple Watch support

HarperCollins and Amazon agree to new publishing deal; are magazine publishers really as concerned over the loss of single copy sales as industry observers are?

The major audio streaming companies have a tendency to update their mobile apps about as often as Twitter and Facebook, keeping them front center in the minds of their users. In the past 24 hours, Pandora, Amazon and Rdio each updated their iOS apps, though Pandora was the only one to mention the Apple Watch.

Pandora-iPhone6-380 7.07.51 AMPandora’s update brings their app up to version 5.9 and is already the third update this year. Since the Apple Watch is dependent on the iPhone, Apple’s smartwatch can be pretty dumb – just mirroring what is being played on the iPhone, giving some song information, etc. And that is what Pandora’s Apple Watch update is all about – that and fixing a few bugs. Users, once they have their new watch, can “thumb-up tracks you love, pause playback and change stations directly from your wrist.”

I never found it too difficult to do this on the iPhone’s screen, of course, so once again we have a solution searching for a problem.

Amazon’s update for its Amazon Music with Prime Music app has been updated for the third time in the past couple of weeks. The major update, version 4.0, released on March 23, introduced Prime Stations with unlimited skips – an attempt to out do Pandora, while not exactly competing with Spotify or Beats. The next two updates have been about fixing bugs introduced with the 4.0 update. This one fixes a bug that was only effecting those still using the iPhone 4 and 4s.

Latest reviews following the update are rather odd: a mix of very positive reviews, mixed in with very negative reviews. One wonders if the music services are fighting it out via iTunes reviews.

The WSJ and NYT reported yesterday that HarperCollins and Amazon had reached a new multiyear deal, ending the wild speculation on the part of the publishing press that we might actually see a major confrontation between the new giants. It was always unlikely.

“HarperCollins has reached an agreement with Amazon. Our books will continue to be available on the Amazon print and digital platforms,” a HarperCollins spokeswoman told the news outlets in a statement released yesterday.

Bland, and to the point. Things will go on as before: HarperCollins will price their own books, and Amazon will try to get them to discount them.

The real change has already happened: Amazon realizes, as Apple had before it, that making money off of publishers is not a sound, long-term business – there is simply too much money to be made elsewhere. And besides, the margins suck.

I doubt this will mean that Amazon will let its bookstore deteriorate as badly as Apple has its Newsstand, but I do think we will continue to see Amazon push hard in other areas other than publishing.

Meanwhile, some publishing observers continue to lament the decline in magazine single copy sales, fearing that the declines suffered over the past few years will continue. Duh.

I don’t see what others see: that the trends started at the start of the fiscal crisis of 2008 and have accelerated since. Yes, the recession brought drops, but that was to be expected. I see that the loss a major retailer, Borders, combined with the problems with distributors, is what really impacted sales.

Take one major entertainment title: in 2006 it reported more than 1.4 million in single copy newsstand sales, today it has less than half that amount, and despite increases in digital single copy sales through Next Issue Media, is not going to ever gain those sales back. A major home and gardens magazine, which had far less single copy sales, nonetheless has gone from around 240,000 in single copy to 130,000, forcing a doubling of “verified” circulation.

This isn’t a complicated situation: if magazines were a CPG everyone would simply chalk this all up to the loss of shelf space, and that is what is happening. Those Borders stores may not have been full of book buyers, but their mere presence meant that a reader could drop in occasionally, browse around, and eventually check out the magazine newsstand. Today, those Borders are discount shoe stores and medical facilities.

But if digital sales is supposed to offset print losses, I am not seeing it. Most major publishers I talk to have no clue concerning that condition of the digital newsstands. Some, as was reinforced yesterday, have never read a digital edition themselves, and have no idea how to go about downloading and buying a digital edition magazine. As one person told me yesterday, it is just too hard for them to do.

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