The U.K. division of RBI yesterday released a new tablet edition for its paid circulation B2B title Airline Business. The digital magazine appears under the developer account name of Eric Lambert, who happens to be the Production and Editorial Systems Director at RBI. Nowhere in the app description does the name of the publisher appear, so maybe Mr. Lambert is doing this on his own – at Reed it is a pretty good idea to make preparations for your next position.
The app appears to be a native tablet edition. I say "appears" because at $13.99 for a single issue there was no way I was going to spend the money to look at the actual digital edition. So what you see here is from the App Store screenshots. A 1-year subscription costs $159.99 (£109.99, €139.99). As expensive as this may seem, it is actually a small discount off the print subscription price.
This new app is the seventh to make it into the Apple App Store, the third to be placed inside the Newsstand. Another aviation title, Flight International, is there, as well – and a hairdressing title HJ Plus. The later looks to be a replica edition and was launched in 2011 and has not be updated since its release – while the aviation books seem to be now experimenting with the native tablet platform.
For B2B titles that charge a fortune to subscribe – books like these from RBI or AdAge/Adweek or ENR – the decision to launch a tablet edition should be an easy one. With no qualified audit to maintain, the main goal is paid subscriptions, just like their consumer magazine counterparts. In fact, B2B publishers producing paid circulation magazines have an even better incentive to launch a Newsstand edition as they rarely offer deep discounts to readers, while their consumer cousins often push discounted subscriptions in order to maintain their rate base.
But for publishers of qualified circulation titles, the costs associated with launching their titles into the Newsstand merely adds more costs to the bottom line.
I spoke to several B2B media companies this week about this very issue – when and how to launch first tablet editions – and it was interesting to hear their perspectives on the issue, as they sounded so different from their digital pure play counterparts.
In both cases, it looked like the job of creating the new digital publications had been placed into the hands of someone who would be responsible for finding a platform and implementing it. The goal seemed to be not so much creating a new profitable product as to get the job done as economically and easily as possible. Since both publishers were producing qualified circulation magazines, there was little opportunity to drive new revenue through paid subscriptions (though one of the publishers was, in fact, building in a paid subscription model for new readers).
The problem, as I saw it, was that neither publisher was really strategizing on what they should be offering readers and advertisers. As I told one publishing exec, it reminded me very much of the early days of the web where the only goal was to get something online as quickly as possible before someone else stole their URL.
For most B2B publishers, digital media remains more a cost than a profit center. Many B2B publishers find that their most profitable digital product is their paid e-newsletters, assuming they aren't giving these away. Websites are often home to press releases on new products rather than any real news, and attempts at maintaining blogs often gets abandoned after a few weeks.
One publisher was very much concerned with finding a system that would both produce a new Newsstand app and also produce their online digital flipbooks – I failed to ask the one question that should have been asked which was 'what do flipbooks at all' as most readers do not like them, according surveys, and the ad staffs rarely sell into them.
It may be because, unlike many of the my B2B publisher friends, I am comfortable with P&Ls that I am a strong advocate for creating separate P&Ls for all digital products. Most will end up showing a loss, which makes them vulnerable to cost cutting B2B executives who are representing their PE firm owners, but at least one can see the true financial condition of the digital product. Also, I've always found that a good publisher, when they see a big fat zero under Revenue will immediately begin working on creating new revenue sources to improve the situation.
I'm a huge believer in the tablet platform, but creating a new tablet edition out of fear of being late to the party is a bad reason to launch one. Because of this, I would think that any new tablet launch that did not include meetings where the publisher, the editor and the ad team were involved is a recipe for failure.