While nearly half of B2Bs now report digital edition circulation, most continue to not qualify their digital readership
While B2B publishers often include qualification forms on their websites for both print and digital subscriptions, they still avoid building one inside their digital edition apps
The growth in digital editions among B2Bs has been much slower compared to their consumer counterparts. The biggest reason for this is tied to qualification methods. While most consumer magazines employ a paid circulation strategy, a large portion of B2B titles use qualified or controlled circulation.
For those coming from the consumer side of the business, this means that the magazines are circulated free of charge, but only to those who are qualified to receive them. So, for instance, if you wish to receive Equipment World magazine, you need to complete a form that includes occupation categories such as Highway and Heavy Construction and General Building Construction. If you are not in the construction business, but have some sort of fetish for pictures of skid steers, you cannot receive the magazine for free (but often are allowed to pay for the magazine).
The problem with most digital edition apps is that they do not include qualification mechanisms inside the app itself. The typical B2B magazine Newsstand app is similar to a consumer magazine’s digital edition in that it opens to a store page where issues can be downloaded, but for free. Sometimes a subscription, also free, can be acquired, but all one needs to do is tap the button, say “Yes” and it’s yours.
Unlike some of the major consumer publishers, the vast majority of B2Bs, with small production staffs, have chosen to present readers with PDF replica editions rather than bothering to produce native digital editions (though there are some exceptions).
As most large B2B titles are audited by BPA, rather than AAM, any digital circulation that is auditable will be found there. According to the BPA, 44 percent of the brands being audited by the service are now reporting digital circulation, up only 3.8 percent over the prior year. (See BPA report here.)
But the audits of these B2Bs are far different from consumer titles. Most consumer titles are reporting between 1 and 10 percent digital circulation, with much of it not attributed to any digital newsstand but generally seen as coming from the Apple Newsstand. Those titles that use the Next Issue platform, over 140 of them, are now reporting digital single copy sales through the platform and including a not at the end of their statements explaining the circulation. The latest magazine to appear inside Next Issue is Adweek, which is a B2B for the advertising industry, but employs a paid circulation strategy. So the form you fill out to receive Adweek contains requests for name, address and credit card information, not occupation.
B2Bs titles are reporting higher digital circulation percentages in some cases because they have pushing digital editions online for a while. DuJour Magazine, for instance, is claiming 92.5 percent of its circulation as digital, over 3.3 million in digital and only 250K in print. This would be amazing if these 3.3 million were qualified, but they are listed as non-request, meaning the publisher has no record of the reader “requesting” the publication either in print or digital form.
Typically, the large digital circulation numbers come from online Flash flipbooks, not digital edition apps. Most B2B magazines that are BPA audited want to show not only their total circulation, but how much of it is qualified and direct requested. So, for a magazine like Grocery Headquarters with a total circulation of above 33K, what is important is how many of these readers are qualified (just about all except those sent to clients and their agencies, and those are listed elsewhere), and how many requested that magazine this year, versus two years ago (publishers like the one year number to be above 80 percent or so).
So, where are the numbers from those digital edition apps showing up? In many case not at all, or if so under the “All Other” category that is generally very small.
What boggles the mind, however, is that so few publishers have attempted to add qualification mechanisms to their apps. I’ve seem only a handful do so, and they all came from European publishers. Why?
The reason may be that Apple, early on, following the creation of the iPad app store, had strict and detailed guidelines – guidelines that scared away many publishers. Over the years these have been tweaked considerably as Apple wanted to avoid lawsuits over trade practices. For instance, Apple once did not want you to charge more for a publication inside an app than outside it – few wanted to do this in any case, but Apple realized that they were only asking for trouble by requiring pricing standards.
There is also a commonly held belief that qualification mechanisms are not allowed. If you read the Newsstand guidelines carefully you won’t see such language. There is, however, a prohibition on outside mechanisms to facilitate sales. This is there to prevent publishers from doing an end run around in-app purchases.
But I have recently seen an app that does just this, but in a more subtle way than a “Buy” button.
The biggest obstacle to adding qualification mechanisms inside an app might be Apple’s auto-renew feature. If the reader did subscribe through a qualification form they would remain a subscriber until they cancel it. That would mean that any digital subscriber would go from one year request status to two, then three year. But this seems a minor annoyance compared to being able to claim those readers as qualified.
To overcome this, a publisher could add a qualification reminder, maybe one with an incentive, inside their digital editions. The problem with this solution? Most B2B digital editions are PDF replicas of the print edition.
Note: if anyone has had communication with one of the app store teams regarding rules for qualification mechanisms that contradict anything here, please reach out so this post can be updated.