Why Success Eludes The Magazine App 

The digital newsstands are all but dead and yet publishers are still building new magazine apps. It doesn’t make sense.

According to Bloomberg Media’s global head of digital, “apps are the new magazines.” Not so fast, say Esther Kezia Harding & Chris Sutcliffe in The Media Briefing.

“Success stories are few and far between when it comes to magazine apps,” they note. “Very occasionally, publishers like The Economist manage to nail the formula and produce an app that adds real value, but the reality is that most apps never really get off the ground.”

Still, many publishers are looking to apps to replicate the print magazine experience – in which the publisher remains in control of the content and the experience – but “apps are not the way to do that. Bloomberg should take a good look around at why this has failed for so many other publishers,” Harding and Sutcliffe continue.

Many in the industry, like App Publisher’s Paul Blake, have come to realize that the idea of “magazine” just doesn’t translate into digital.

“The concept of a magazine may just not work digitally.”@paulblake Paul Blake of APP Publisher Tweet: “The concept of a #magazine may just not work digitally.”@paulblake Paul Blake of APP Publisher

“As someone who has bought magazines most of my life and who has spent a fair amount of my professional life creating them, this one pains me to write,” Blake notes in a recent article. “However, I’m just no longer sure bundling together sets of thematic content into a wrapper called a magazine works digitally.”

Publishers are looking to the app idea, determined to figure out a way to recapture the hearts and eyes of readers who may have forsaken reading magazines for browsing digital platforms. Bloomberg’s Scott Havens notes that his company is replicating Facebook’s user interface for their new magazine app, a nod to the “new way” they believe readers engage.

Adapting user experience to consumer preference isn’t a bad thing…but let’s not kid ourselves that what these apps serve up are actually magazines.

“Our editor-at-large Peter Houston, a long-time veteran of the print magazine industry, argues that when people talk about apps being the new magazine, they’re actually talking about revenue models rather than experience,” Harding and Sutcliffe note.

We were seeing the failure of magazine apps as early as 2013, and their success hasn’t gotten notably better since. Not only are publishers fighting against the idea of a magazine in digital form; they are fighting a losing battle in the app market in general: 84% of consumers who download an app delete it after just one use.

Still, it may be possible to create a content-based app that pushes good magazine media content. Hitting on that lucky result depends, according to Harding and Sutcliffe, on clearly stating the app’s purpose, funding it adequately (these things are not cheap), and providing enough frequent, good content to make it a habit for the reader to return. Unless they can do that, this could be just one more example of publishers chasing a future that doesn’t exist.