Monday, May 13, 2013

City/Regional magazine publishers prove slow to embrace native tablet publishing solutions, risk facing tough new competition from digital-only publishing start-ups

The last post, about the new city magazine, Citygram, could have gone on for quite a few more web pages talking about the state of digital publishing in the city/regional category, but I think it is worth a separate post. (You can read all about Citygram here.)

Like B2B, city/regional magazine publishers have been slow to launch native tablet editions, or even native news apps. For B2B publishers, the reason for the caution may have much to do with the market penetration of tablets, in general. Since a B2B magazine reaches a highly specialize audience – say, only plumbing contractors who buy, spec or recommend plumbing products – a B2B publishers needs to know that their new app will actually reach their audience. Even now, after Apple has sold around 150+ million units, it would still be difficult to say with any amount of certainty how many readers in a given industry are tablet owners, and how many of those would be considered qualified readers.

For city/regional publishers the problem is less about demographics and more about geography. Since iPad owners tend to be more upscale than those who do not own and use a tablet, the demographic of the iPad reader would seem perfect – but exactly how many readers own an iPad or other tablet is, say, New Orleans or Atlanta or Portland?

But reviewing the state of city/regional tablet editions one can see immediately that the issue isn't procrastination, its enthusiasm for the tablet (and mobile) platform. Of the 32 publishers I list after the jump, only one quarter of them still do not have an app inside the Apple App Store – and it is possible that my search did not turn up an existing due to naming issues. But of the apps in the store, few, very few, are native tablet editions.

For the most part, city/regional publishers have been early launchers into the App Store and into the Newsstand. But by far the most common way a publisher has launched a tablet edition is through a third party replica edition vendors, often through a service offered by the magazine's printer.

In a recent conversation I had with one city magazine publisher I was told that the issue of their tablet edition was settled long ago with their replica edition launched. They may be not very satisfied with their sales numbers but they chalk that up to the App Store. "We're done with thinking about the issue," I was told.

What will get city/regional magazine publishers to look at this issue again? I would say only two factors will force a rethinking of tablet editions: declining newsstand sales and advertising – but not new competition from digital-only publishers.

The reason new competition will not immediately effect print publishers is that they are often not aware of the competition for quite some time after it has arrived. Few print publishers scour the Apple Newsstand on a daily basis.


The declining number of traditional bookstores is effecting both print books and magazines alike. For local newsstands, the city magazine is usually given a highly sought after location on the newsstand. As a result, subscriptions become even more vital to a city/regional publishers readership levels.

With the advent of the tablet platform – not only the iPad, but the Kindle, as well – younger readers are migrating to digital devices. Research is slow to track the migration, but digital-only publishers are certainly seeing it and are encouraged to launch their own digital magazines because of it.

Pew’s Project in Excellence in Journalism research shows that young adults are still reading, but they are prone to use digital devices to read rather than print – a quarter of 18-29 year-olds who won tablets said they read ebooks on them on a daily basis. (while 47 percent of those over 50 remain print only subscribers).

Many city/regional magazines skew towards an older readership versus, for instance, the alt-weekly reader. But today's alt-weekly reader is tomorrow's home owner, and therefore more likely to be interested in a city/regional magazine. Unless city/regional print publishers can reach this audience they are likely to find that their audience is shrinking.


For city/regional magazines advertising continues to pay the bills. For now there is very little threat from tablet-only magazine publishers. But if digital-only publishers are able to reach local merchants with interactive advertising the tables will be turned.

The secret to this, I believe, is video. While all replica makers say that publishers can embed multimedia into their PDF-based digital editions, very few bother.

My instincts tell me that new, digital-only city/regional magazines may pose a greater risk to the ad market shares of alt-weeklies than that of traditional print magazines – at least initially. The question is whether, through good sales, the proper use of spec ads, and through pricing, if digital-only publishers can lure local businesses to begin using tablet magazines to reach their customers.

Here is a brief look at what many city/regional magazine publishers are doing with their tablet (and in some cases, mobile) publishing products.

You won't see The New Yorker or New York magazine listed here as these titles are really seen as national consumer magazines rather than strictly regional titles. In both case, their publishers have used native digital publishing platforms to produce state-of-the-art digital publications.

Many of the publishers listed below are members of the City and Regional Magazine Association.

(I can not guarantee that this information below in 100% accurate, but I will be very willing to correct any errors pointed out to me.)

417 Magazine – Whitaker Publishing
Universal stand-alone news app from Godengo Inc

5280 (Denver) – 5280 Publishing, Inc.
no apps

Atlanta Magazine – Emmis Communications
Newsstand app, replica

Austin Monthly – Open Sky Media, Inc
no apps (they now find themselves competing with Citygram)

Baltimore Magazine
Rosebud Entertainment
Newsstand app, replica

Boston Magazine – Metrocorp
iPhone news app

Buffalo Spree – Buffalo Spree Publishing, Inc.
Newsstand replica app from Texterity

Chicago Magazine – Chicago Tribune Media Group
Stand-alone news app

Cleveland Magazine – Great Lakes Publishing
Newsstand replica edition
Ripple Effect Interactive (part of Great Lakes)

Columbus Monthly – Dispatch Printing Company
No apps

D (Dallas) – D Magazine Partners
No apps

Dallas – Modern Luxury
Newsstand replica from Blue Toad

Diablo – Diablo Publications
Stand-alone replica from Trend Offset Printing

Indianapolis Monthly – Emmis Communications
Newsstand replica

Los Angeles Magazine – Emmis Communications
Newsstand replica

M: Milwaukee's Lifestyle Magazine – Conley Media
Newsstand replica from BlueToad

Milwaukee Magazine – Quad/Graphics
no apps

Minnesota Magazine – Greenspring Media Group
no apps

Mpls. St. Paul Magazine – MSP Communications
no apps

New Jersey Monthly – New Jersey Monthly, LLC
no apps

New Orleans Magazine – Renaissance Publishing
Godengo stand-alone news app

Philadelphia Magazine – Metrocorp
no apps

Pittsburgh Magazine – WiesnerMedia LLC
Newsstand replica from Texterity

Portland Monthly – SagaCity Media, Inc.
Newsstand universal replica from PixelMags

Sacramento – Sacramento Magazines Corporation
Stand-alone replica from BlueToad

San Diego Magazine – San Diego Magazine LLC
Newsstand replica from PixelMags

San Francisco Magazine – Modern Luxury
Newsstand replica from BlueToad

Sarasota Magazine – Gulfshore Media, LLC
Newsstand replica

Seattle Magazine – Tiger Oak Publications
Newsstand replica from Exact Editions

St. Louis Magazine – St. Louis Magazine, LLC
Newsstand replica from PixelMags

Texas Monthly – Emmis Communications
Newsstand replica

Washingtonian Magazine – Washington Magazine, Inc.
Newsstand replica

Yankee Magazine – Yankee Publishing Inc.
Native Newsstand app using Mag+
(Also publishes Almanac Monthly Magazine)