Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Retweet: Are Future's tablet magazine sales numbers encouraging, or a signal to be cautious about the platform

Journalism.co.uk's Sarah Marshall has an important post up this morning (actually, afternoon London time) concerning Future PLC and their tablet magazine strategy: Why Future is focusing on tablets and online. As usual, I have no intention of scraping the article and therefore would encourage you to read the post on their site.

But I do have some thoughts on the post. Future has gotten a lot of attention for their tablet publishing – mainly because the company appears fully committed to the platform (it has over 70 magazines under its name inside the Newsstand) and because it has been so forthright in telling us about their "success". This issue, ultimately, is about that success: is it really doing well, or is actually struggling?

Future is a rarity in that it is using its own digital publishing solution to build its tablet editions. The viewer app, FutureFolio Viewer, is one of their stand-alone apps you'll find in the App Store. (According to the post, 60 magazine companies other than Future are now using their platform.)

In Marshall's post, chief executive Mark Wood, speaking at the Digital Media Strategies conference in London, laid out the story so far: Future has sold 3 million magazines through Apple's Newsstand to date, has had 19 million app downloads (or container downloads, as they are calling them), and currently has 180,000 "full subscribers", according to Marshall.

This gives us some interesting numbers to digest. Of 19 million app downloads, only 1 percent ended up being a "full subscriber" – which by that I would think Wood means an annual subscriber, though this could also include monthly subscriptions. I'm not sure this is a very good result and may be influenced by the fact that many of Future's tablet editions are simple replica editions. Other factors could be price, a misunderstanding of the way Newsstand works (a common negative review is that an app is free, but the magazines inside the app charge), or simple indicative of accidental downloads.

But there are more interesting numbers in the post. For instance, Wood says that 6.4 million people have signed up for push notifications. My guess is that readers are tapping that button pretty much without thinking about it – after all, who wants a push notification from a magazine you end up deciding not to subscribe to? But it says to me that magazine publishers who use notifications in a creative way will be able to get their readers to allow them in.

Wood also says that something totally unsurprising: 80 percent of Future's audience is coming from outside the U.K.

Publishers are finding that reaching an international audience is easy in the Newsstand. U.S. publishers are often surprised to find that a decent percentage of their new readers are coming from international markets. I would think this is even more trueof U.K. magazines – especially since U.K. magazine look very much like they may be coming from the U.S. when viewed inside the Newsstand.

Wood has made it clear that Future is very committed to the tablet platform, and while I may be disappointed in some of their tablet efforts, many of their most recent launches have been impressive. But it is also clear that Future has not yet found the magic formula for success inside the Newsstand. Their numbers are impressive at first glance, but are weaker when looked at in their totality. But Future is probably closer than most any other company in successfully working through the issues involved in tablet publishing, and by owning their own platform may be able to manage the economics of the platform as well or better than any other publisher.

Once again, you can find the entire post on Mark Wood's talk on the Journalism.co.uk website.

1 Comment:

Konstantinos said...

I am currently test-driving FutureFolio's tablet publishing software and I have to say that it is one of the most full-featured programs for the job.

It is different, as it works in iOS simulator, which gives it a fantastic preview. I am still getting the hang of it (and try to work with Greek text, which is a challenge), but so far it feels great.

Total Film magazine and, especially, Football Week are showing-off its abilities in the best way.