Why Apple’s Newsstand isn’t working out as hoped for ‘The Magazine’

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Glenn Fleishman (Erynn Rose Photo)

When Marco Arment created The Magazine in October of last year, it caused a splash as one of the first independent publications that chose to publish exclusively on Apple’s Newsstand platform for the iPad and iPhone.

Now, Glenn Fleishman, the Seattle-based journalist and entrepreneur who bought the publication from Arment earlier this year, is working on expanding the reach of The Magazine past Apple’s platform.

While reaching across platforms is a logical move for any publication, it’s particularly important for The Magazine. According to Fleishman, building its audience outside Newsstand is critical because Apple just doesn’t seem to care about its home for iOS magazine subscriptions anymore.

“I just don’t think it rises to the level of attention where it’s important to them,” he said. “They keep their focus very tight, and I think Newsstand is very, very far outside their focus, based on their actions.”

One problem: As a part of the shift to iOS7, Apple transformed Newsstand’s icon on the home screen from a wooden bookshelf — which showed all of the new covers — into another flat icon, which makes it harder for readers to know when they have new content waiting for them.

themagazineWhile being a Newsstand app had a number of unique benefits in previous versions of iOS, such as allowing a publisher to update the content of their app in the background and charge an ongoing subscription rather than a one-time fee, many of those advantages have been given to apps outside Newsstand under iOS 7.

At this point, the only real advantage a Newsstand app has over other apps, according to Fleishman, is the ability to update its icon with a new cover without having to re-submit the app for review, and even that’s now hidden behind the Newsstand icon. Fleishman said that’s a huge problem for periodicals, because unlike an app, which might garner a one-time purchase, periodicals need readers to re-engage with their content in order to keep making money.

Because users pay an ongoing subscription to The Magazine, they need to feel a connection to the publication to justify the continued payment, Fleishman noted.

“So, each issue is both content and it’s a reason to continue to subscribe,” he said. “If we don’t deliver each issue, with that motivation, people stop the renewal, and they’re gone.”

To be clear, Fleishman doesn’t think that Apple’s relative neglect of Newsstand is out of malice. The company just doesn’t have enough of an incentive to focus on Newsstand, because it’s not bringing in enough revenue to matter, compared to Apple’s other streams.

IMG_0073“Apple wants everything to be a billion-dollar line of revenue,” Fleishman said. “And it should be, for them, because of the way they work, they’re at that scale. So, Newsstand clearly never grew to a point where they care enough about it to make the experience better.”

A core problem with Newsstand, as he sees it: While many users are buying subscriptions to periodicals and reading them on iOS devices, they’re buying direct from the publisher, rather than through Newsstand. Because consumers aren’t paying through the App Store, Apple doesn’t have an incentive to make Newsstand better.

So, what will it take to get Newsstand working for publishers, and vice versa? Fleishman says that Apple should look into giving publishers a greater cut of the subscription revenue, allow users to move Newsstand apps out of the Newsstand and onto their home screen, give subscribers a better way to see new issues from all of the publications that they subscribe to, and give developers a pathway to port their Newsstand apps from iOS to the Mac. He thinks that if Apple makes those moves, publishers will be more inclined to promote Newsstand, which would boost Apple’s revenue.

But Fleishman isn’t waiting around for things to get better. Currently, The Magazine is also publishing articles on its website, and Fleishman is posting some of the publication’s content to Medium, the blogging platform started by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. In addition, Fleishman has partnered with BoingBoing to share some of the publication’s content with that blog’s audience and he’s working on Kickstarting a book that compiles the best stories from its first year of publication.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

Previously: GeekWire Radio: Glenn Fleishman on new iPhones, The Magazine and more

  • Starman_Andromeda

    Appreciate this write-up. It’s fascinating material and Fleishman has solid insights. I wish Apple would do the things he suggests with Newsstand. It was absolutely the best place that the much-derided skeuomorphism worked!

    I’m assuming he’s the same Glenn Fleishman from the old MacWorld print days?

    • Blair Hanley Frank

      One and the same.

  • Screamerina

    I just tried to see the latest issue of The Magazine & instantly got hit with a pay wall, before I could even see content. Apple, perhaps erroneously, expects publisher partners to be better retailers. It behooves publishers to do the best they can to entice readers to buy in a newsstand that, unlike the real world, lacks any way to advterise content. Tiny versions of covers don’t cut it.

    • Glenn Fleishman

      We have a 7-day free trial, and that was, for many months, the way people tested out whether they wanted it. That’s changed, and we’ll update the app to provide previews and some free articles (as we do online).

      However, we have a full-fledged Web site, and the issue of subscriptions and attention are the same there. The Newsstand issues have more to do with retaining subscribers than acquiring them.

  • Billg

    I have subscribed to The Magazine since day 1, and I continue to do so, but “it’s the content, stupid.” This isn’t a technical problem, it’s about the editorial quality, which frankly I am disappointed in. When I cancel, it won’t be Apple’s fault at all. It will be because of the mediocre publication.

    • Glenn Fleishman

      I’m sorry to hear you feel that way, but I appreciate you’ve stuck with it. We publish features at the level of quality and attention that I and our freelancers publish in mainstream periodicals, like the Economist, the New York Times, and many others. I can understand if you don’t like the material, but I would be happy to stack up our average piece against features in publications with 100 times the circulation — the same ones in which our writer also regularly appear.

  • Woody Harrelsonpecker

    First, Newsstand is just a flavour of app, why not just deliver the content as an app. Second: Going to a website for content is instinctive. A dinky little newsstand app/magazine thats not connected to the wider web feels just as old fashioned as woodpulp. And thats my 25 dollars. (Im paid by the minute).

  • Mickey

    For me reading a magazine on my iPad through newsstand is really a great experience and whenever I find some free time I love to do that. Reason behind Apple not having an incentive to make Newsstand better is not very clear. Magazine lovers are always glad to find their favorite magazines on Newsstand. Recently read an article on applenewsstand.com about Why is it important for magazine to be on Apple Newsstand? Worth a read too.