According to a new report from Women???s Wear Daily, digital magazine sales are on the decline. A closer look at the data, however, reveals that sales are not nearly as bad as they appear.
The report, which cites numbers released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, points out that magazine sales on the iPhone and iPad are down across the board.
Vanity Fair sold 8,700 digital copies of its November issue, down from an average of 10,500 between August and October, while Glamour moved 2,775 iPad issues in November, down 35% from September.
GQ, meanwhile, had its second-worst digital sales months since its debut on the iPad in April, having only sold 11,000 copies on the iPad and iPhone in November. Men???s Health had its worst performance on record, averaging 2,000 iPad sales in October and November, roughly a 30% decline from spring.
Wired rounded out the decline with an average of 22,500 sales in October and November, down from 33,711 in September and 100,000 in June, the month of its much-applauded arrival on the iPad.
When you compare digital sales to print newsstand sales, however, it becomes clear that digital sales numbers aren???t nearly as poor as they first appear. In fact, after an initial spike, the sales performance of issues on the iPad and iPhone roughly correlate their performance on the newsstand (note that except for Wired, sales data is relative):
Red dot marks the first release of GQ???s iPad app.
Men???s Health did not report iPad sales data for July/August.
However, given that more than 14.1 million iPhones and 4 million iPads were sold during Apple???s fourth quarter (which ended on September 25) and have continued to sell since then, fall sales should be trending higher. So why aren???t they?
Why iPad Magazine Sales Aren???t Improving
1. Price: The number one complaint about magazines on the iPad is the price. It???s difficult to justify $4.99 for content that will entertain consumers for, at most, six hours ??? especially when a) much of that content, including those oh-so-special behind the scenes videos, is available for free on the web and b) other apps provide so many more hours of entertainment for half the price. Furthermore, it???s difficult to persuade current subscribers to pay for individual issues when they???re already receiving the same content at a fifth of the price in print.
2. Lack of Exposure: It???s not easy to browse for magazines in the App Store, which are stowed among hundreds of thousands of other apps. Magazines need their own iBooks app that resembles a newsstand, or at least a dedicated area in the App Store. Magazines need to showcase the covers and some of the content of their latest editions in order to trigger the same impulse purchases made at checkout counters.
3. Failure to Innovate: Part of the reason the first iPad editions of magazines sold so well is because they delivered truly novel experiences for the device, from animated covers to interactive graphics. The problem is that the experiences haven???t evolved since then. The same bells and whistles are attached to each app; only the content differs.
4. Large download size: Magazine apps need to slim down. Wired???s first issue was half a gigabyte, or nearly one-thirtieth of the smallest iPad???s 16 GB storage capacity; the first issue of The New Yorker, a weekly, came in at 173 MB, thus discouraging consumers from downloading apps in the interest of saving space. Their size also prevents users from downloading issues over 3G.
If rumors that Apple will soon allow magazines to sell subscriptions are true, thus substantially lowering the cost of digital issues, we can expect to see a reverse on the recent declines. Until then, magazines need to up innovation and decrease size to increase their appeal.
How else do you think magazines, or Apple, can help increase magazine sales on the iPhone and iPad?
More perspective on the digimag decline.