How the Apple Newsstand is Failing Publishers

[responsive]newsstand_tipping_point[/responsive]We’ve been talking about this for a few weeks now, recounting stories that tell of the sad state of affairs with digital magazines. Publishers are, if not outright blaming Apple for killing subscriptions, at least assigning them a good portion of the blame.

Even a digital title like Magazine, once considered the poster child for Newsstand success, is shutting down and the editor isn’t shy about citing Apple’s subscription tactics and app design as part of the problem.

Of course, it’s easy to blame others for your own issues, so some of the grumbling from the publishing sector should be taken with a grain of salt, right?

No, Apple really is making a mess of things, according to Ricardo Bilton in Digiday.

“Apple was supposed to save publishers, but these days, it seems like publishers need to be saved from Apple,” Bilton writes, supporting his statement with technical specifics on exactly what Apple has and hasn’t done that is hurting digital publishers.

“Core to the problem is the way Newsstand alerts users when they have new magazines to read. In iOS 6, Newsstand’s home screen icon would automatically refresh whenever a new edition of a periodical was available, giving iOS users a clear indication of when new content was available,” Bilton notes. That feature went away in 2013 with iOS 7, “which ditched the bookshelf style icon for a simpler one that gave no visual cues at all.”

No visual cues at all means readers are simply unaware that a new issue has arrived. It would be like the postal carrier delivering your new print magazine directly to the pile on your coffee table, and burying it halfway down. Would you even think to look for it? And would you renew it if you never read it?

Other issues Bilton notes that have a negative impact on subscriptions:

  • Newsstand doesn’t allow readers to give gift subscriptions, a huge deal for titles like National Geographic.
  • Discovery is limited, and many publishers say it’s almost impossible to get noticed unless you’re featured by Apple.

Bilton notes that “In the end, the best course for publishers is to assume Apple isn’t going to help.”

That may mean rethinking the entire digital distribution strategy—from platform to content to delivery—at a time when publishers are already struggling with digital sales and ad revenues.