For some publishers, as well as some developers, the promise of the electronic newsstand is both the creation of a new marketplace for publications, as well as a way to sell products outside the confines of Apple's infrastructure. But this 'promise' might just be an illusion, judging by the results so far.
Next Issue Media grabbed a few headlines last month by announcing that its service, billed as a kind of Hulu for magazines, will open for business early next year -- following the trend of a number of new tablet ventures, announce early, launch late.
← L'Express, the latest branded app released
by digital newsstand company Zinio.
It created a bit of publicity by saying that it would launch first on the Android platform, choosing this way to launch supposedly because of obstacles being put up by Apple (meaning that Google is will to play ball in exchange for a competitive advantage?). The company's website, however, still prominently displays its idea of its magazines on the iPad, as well as the magazine displayed in color on e-readers that currently are black & white only -- illustrating that much of the 'promise' of the next newsstand is still just a theory.
But the real issue here is reader habits -- in particular, tablet reader habits. Since Day One of the iPad's launch back in April Zinio has served the market with its own electronic newsstand. The Zinio app has been one of the most popular to download, but is it generating significant business. Who knows, but the company is certainly not bragging about its sales in public.
Instead, Zinio continues to release branded apps for some of their magazine customers. The latest branded app to be released is for the French magazine L'Express. Following the usual model, the app is free to download, then readers buy individual issues or a subscription through the app.
So far there seems to be two major problems with the concept of the "electronic newsstand" for tablets: first, these continue to be replica editions, sometimes with links or some embedded content; second, individual branded apps continue to get more attention, and probably more sales than magazines found on an e-newsstand.
As far as the replica issue goes, publishers need to stay focused on the feedback buyers are giving them within the App Store. Only in markets where content is a sparse, say in a new app store in another country, are readers open to replica editions. The biggest lure of replica editions remains ease of product, not reader satisfaction.
The problem with the newsstand concept may simply be buying habits: readers subscribe to a limited number of magazines, either because of cost, time constraints, etc. How many magazines can you read on a regular basis? The idea that consumers will browse an electronic newsstand and start buying magazines in bulk seems far fetched -- they tend to buy single copies just like a brick and mortar newsstand. Because of this, readers seem to like to have their magazines as individual apps. This may also be the result of the fact that most individual apps offer readers more interactivity because many of those apps are "native" apps, rather than replicas.
I am certainly open to changing my mind about all this, so little research has come out about the reading habits of tablet owners that I would be fascinated with any new information on the subject. But the good news is that Next Issue Media and others appear determined to launch newsstands based on their own ideas, and their own hopes for the future of the market.