In a New Year letter to Hearst Magazine employees, David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, claimed that the division had "nearly 800,000 monthly digital subscriptions in the U.S. across iPads, NOOKs, Kindle Fires and Android devices—the highest in the industry." Carey also said that after 24 months of investment their digital subscriptions were generating a profit.
Another claim, though, seems odd: that more than 80 percent of Hearst's digital subscribers were "new to our files." This would be hard to support knowing that Apple is not sharing user data with the publisher.
But most importantly, the claim runs up against their own digital subscription policies which require even print readers to pay again if they want to access their magazines digitally. The policy has made Hearst Magazines some of the lowest rated media apps in the App Store.
The total circulation claim, however, seems about right. By forcing print readers who have purchased an iPad to pay again, the publisher is essentially forcing readers to make a choice, and driving them towards their digital products and away from print.
In August the ABC reported first half circulation numbers for magazine publishers and, in general, Hearst showed mediocre results with magazines such as Cosmopolitan showing a small decrease in overall paid circulation. The results for the second half of 2012 will not be released for a few months and we will then be able to see what effect tablet magazines may have had on overall performance.
(My biggest complaint with Hearst's subscription policy is not so much that they are making readers pay for digital, but that they seem so oblivious to the concerns of their customers as exemplified by their tone deaf app descriptions that neither explain their policy, nor tell digital device owners what to expect in their numerous app updates.)
Nonetheless, it is obvious that Hearst is continuing to see its future in digital media.
"The company’s digital leadership team is working on plans to “future-proof” our digital business models for a world where more than 50 percent of our traffic will be on small screens, and our readers will demand fresh, high-quality content from our brands around the clock," Carey said in the employee letter.