On Friday AdAge posted a story that looks at the sales figures of a group of consumer magazines that have acted as early experiments at tablet publishing and attempts to make sense of the early returns.
In the story Nat Ives talks about some of the sale figures of early magazine apps, specifically looking at the early single copy sales of Wired, Popular Science, People, Men's Health and Vanity Fair. So far, sales figures vary widely, with some magazines showing sales that are equivalent to 37 percent of the same issue's newsstand single copy sales, to less than one percent for Men's Health.
I think the story is worth reading in full -- go here.
I'd like to add one thing to think about, however. The magazines looked at generally performed fairly well. Growing single copy sales by 20 or 30 percent or more is an impressive accomplishment for a platform that did not even exist before April 3 of this year. But it should be remembered that each of the magazines looked at have pretty decent magazine apps -- all except one.
That one magazine, Men's Health, is the one magazine that is also performing the worst, sales-wise. Don't take me word for it, look inside iTunes and see the reviews and star ratings. Of 5,804 ratings, over 80 percent of the ratings are one or two stars, and truly horrible judgement by iPad owners.
The reviews are pretty consistent, but this one probably sums it up best:
5 bucks for a PDF viewer
I bought the first magazine (April) to show support because I love the concept of magazines for the iPad, it was buggy, just a PDF and had awkward controls . . .
Back in June I wrote that Rodale was advertising for an in-house developer and that I felt this was a great move citing their poor app reviews inside iTunes. But, unfortunately, things are not much different and so the publisher can not expect sales to improve until their app improves. While I applaud the fact that they were able to make their magazine available at the time of the iPad's launch, their approach proved to be wrong -- time to change it.
If there is one thing magazine publishers should have learned in the almost seven months since the launch of the iPad it is that app quality is important -- as is app philosophy (native app versus replica edition). If you are a consumer magazine, and you want to attract a large audience you will have to take the platform seriously. Simply launching an app that is a replica edition will not satisfy most early tablet owners (maybe this will change over time, we'll see).
Things may be different for newspapers where a large number of readers may be satisfied with a replica of their old print newspapers, but I doubt it. I have consistently advocated this simple position: it is a mistake to believe that one product that was specifically designed for the print format can successfully be converted to the tablet platform without significant changes that take into account the inherent features of the tablet. That is why the best "replica editions" offer serious feature upgrades and are not just "PDF readers".