By now, you may have caught up with my widely-tweeted article at the Hospital Club on the “failure” of tablet magazines, aka (by me at least) “maglets”. If not, it’s here.
I don’t have much to add to the topic right now, other than to say Adam of Exact Editions tries to cheer me up by refuting my points, and that the latest move today by Apple to add subscriptions isn’t quite what the industry has been waiting for. Oh Steve, you are a tease. The reader might not care about the finer points of this, but you can bet that the publishers do.
The headline problem is the legal obligation to offer the same subscription deal on iTunes as they do anywhere else.
Two issues with this requirement. Firstly, many mainstream magazines currently have hugely complex discounted subscription contracts with numerous sources, most of whose value is based on two things: being able to deliver the subscribers’ data to advertisers – either as demographics or mailing addresses, depending on which boxes were ticked; and on automatic renewals at a higher rate than hugely discounted “new subscriber” offers.
The thought of paying Apple 30% of all of that – almost certainly far higher than the other contracts are worth – without getting any of the subscriber data out of the deal, might make a few publishing execs turn a little pale. It also forces them to be up front about the discounting that goes on, and to simplify it hugely.
Secondly, who is to say that an iPad edition is identical to one on Android? Or one on a Windows 7 phone? What happens if Time offers a year’s subscription with every Motorola phone, or National Geographic wants to do a deal with Verizon to bribe new iPhone customers? How far does the “same deal” requirement stretch? How that will be policed is going to be tricky – and maybe end up in the courts.
• Some of the industry pulls out of the iPad (Time is doing this already. As a rule, though, I’d say it’s only likely if another big player enters the tablet market and undercuts Apple significantly on price without compromising quality. Could happen);
• The industry succeeds in getting Apple to backtrack on the deal (out of Steve’s cold, dead hands – unless the above scenario plays out soon);
• The price of magazine subscriptions in the USA is standardized, and goes up noticeably to overcome the transactional losses that come from forced standardization (would create a societal shift, and probably hasten the decline of mainstream print – though that might not be a bad thing, as it would increase the perceived value of some titles, at the expense of the headline circulation figures);
• The mainstream magazine industry bets the house on the iPad, and Steve gets what Steve wants (likely for a few publishers, but not most);
• The industry sticks to an HTML 5 app standard, allowing them to sell across multiple platforms, and accepts that they make less on the Apple devices than anywhere else (probably the way it’ll go for a while – until the next thing comes along);
• Magazine subscription houses start to fade away (and about time too).
UPDATE: Google responds, and responds hard. The industry may be battling Google on syndication and advertising, but it can’t argue with this.