Are iPad Magazines Failing? And If So, Why?

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Over the last few days there have been numerous reports around the web about how iPad magazine titles are failing. Here’s a slice from a recent article at BGR on this:

Every big name magazine title available on the iPad has seen its purchase rate decline since introduction, and most didn’t find much success to begin with.

Glamour, for example, sold only 4,301 copies in its debut month. Sales then dropped 20% in October and another 20% in November, landing at 2,775. GQ sold 11,000 copies in November, down from an average of 13,000 per month between May and October. Sales of Vanity Fair slid to 8,700 copies in November from an average of 10,500 from August through October. Men’s Health, which averaged sales of just 2,800 copies over the spring, sold 2,000 copies each month in September and October. Wired, which had a monster month when it debuted in June with over 100,000 downloads, dropped to an average of 31,000 between July and September and an average of 21,500 between October and November.

There have also been some subsequent articles attempting to put some of these numbers in perspective, and arguing that perhaps the case for failure is not as strong as it initially looks. That some of these numbers, when looked at in the light of around 10 million iPads in the US by now as opposed to the 300 million population, are maybe not so bleak.

I don’t know publishing industry numbers, so I’ve got no thoughts on how good / bad / terrible these figures are for iPad magazine sales. I do think the whole subject of whether iPad magazines are failing is a very interesting one though – not least because I am a huge fan of reading on the iPad and think there’s huge potential in this area.

For the last day or so I’ve also been following this topic at a new favorite place for web conversations – Quora. Quora is a site that collects questions and answers, but it’s much more than that and is a great spot for intelligent discussions about lots of tech (and other) topics.

There were some very good answers at Quora to the question ‘Why Are iPad Magazines not selling well?’. Here’s the answer summary from that item:

Answer Summary

Pricing (too expensive)
Lack of features
User experience problems.
No subscription model
Large downloads
Little extra benefit over web version (free)
Low iPad penetration – there are only ~10m iPads in the USA versus 300m magazine buyers.


I think that’s a pretty good set of answers to explain why iPad magazines are not taking off in what are still the early days of the iPad App Store. Given these, it seems clear that these titles can look for much better sales in 2011 as long as a few things happen:

— Apple and the major publishers work out a good, reasonable subscription model. One that is fair to publishers and easy for users to work with. Hopefully we’ll see a dedicated newsstand / store sort of app for this, or perhaps an add-on to iBooks.

— Publishers, with a decent subscriptions model to work with, reduce their prices for iPad editions and / or offer better combo subscription plans for print, online, and iPad editions.

— Publishers produce much better titles. Real iPad editions rather than ‘mail it in’ glorified PDF renderings of online sites or similar.

If we see those things happen I don’t see why we shouldn’t see some very successful iPad editions in 2011.

What do you all think? Are iPad magazines failing? What can help them sell better in future?

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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10 thoughts on “Are iPad Magazines Failing? And If So, Why?”

  1. My (limited) experience reflects a couple of the points made above.

    I bought the iPad edition of a surfing mag. Whilst it was a lot cheaper than buying the mag, it was essentially a pdf'd version of the mag and is awkward to read. Even photos split across two pages showed the crease of the middle of the mag. Photos are good quality. Pricing seems reasonable with an iPad version annual subscription being around 1/4 or so of the mag price.

    I should write and ask them if they have any plans to develop the app further as I'm sure that it could be a great way to read their mag.

  2. I have a strong desire to read magazines on the iPad. I have used Zinio to see a duplicate version of several print magazines. Zinio allows reasonable pricing but the experience is inferior to many of the somewhat dedicated iPad editions I have tried. My main deterrent to continuing to purchase is the price structure. Magazines must be offered at an attractive subscription price; if they were I would actually purchase more iPad versions than i do printed subscription because of the convenience of carrying all of them in the space of a single magazine. The other reasons given are valid but I believe cost is by far the biggest reason.

    1. I completely agree, the price needs to be much less than the printed version. I don't know what the publishers are thinking. With an iPad version of a magazine, there are no printing or distribution costs and with Zinio they don't even need to develop their own app. So why are they so expensive? I think they are stuck in the old world of publishing and are too scared to break the mould or worse they have a vested interest in the printing industry.

      On a side note, the only down side of Zinio is that the images are not of high enough resolution, so when you zoom in to see the detail it gets pixelated very quickly.

  3. I bought "Project" when it was billed as the first iPad magazine developed ONLY for the iPad and not available in print. They did some really nice stuff with the articles to make them interactive, added links, a blog and a promise that the second issue would be available on Dec 23rd. It's still nowhere to be found. I'd buy it today based on my initial experience. (It's available for free during the holidays if you want to get a taste)

    I do think they spend a significant amount of time and effort in making something that is interactive and not just a PDF of a printed copy and I'm willing to pay for their effort, but I get less interested if I have no idea there will be another issue coming. Something that's just a digital copy of the printed version isn't interesting to me…I'd rather read it in magazine format on paper. Something fresh and developed distinctly for a digital market would hold my interest…and my wallet.

  4. I agree with the previous commenter that they seemed to be slightly enhanced PDFs. I bought Vanity Fair and was surprised that articles were not contiguous but instead made you go to another page like you do in a regular magazine. I was even more baffled why the couldn't at least give you a link to the page rather than force youW to find it – which was not always easy. That, along with a propensity to crash, made me wary about buying subsequent issues.

    Produce a better reader and I'd be a fan.

    1. Yup – I think a lot of well-known titles are similar to this. Just very poor initial efforts in their iPad editions. Definitely need to step up their game a lot.

  5. The only reason they are failing is that Apple has so far failed to provide a subscription service through iTunes. As soon as they implement this, subscriptions will soar.

  6. The "300 million magazine buyers" is just wrong. There are about 300 million people in the U.S. TOTAL. That includes adults, infants, children, etc. So it's not 10 million iPads vs. 300 million "magazine buyers." There are about 225 million people over the age of 14. When you consider that these people are mostly grouped into households, and that there will rarely be more than one copy of a magazine (digital or print) purchased per household, you're looking at more like 100 million or less potential purchasers. That's still a lot, but it is NOT a potential pool of 300 million.

    I think publishers have been wildly unrealistic in their pricing. Everyone knows the publishers avoid printing, postage and/or distribution costs by going digital, so people are NOT going to pay the same amount they do for a print publication. Some publishers haven't gotten that message yet. And most publishers have not yet done a good job of creating publications that really use the medium of the iPad to deliver content in a different way. Sorry, publishers, but a PDF of your print version is NOT what most of us have in mind for a digital publication to which we subscribe.

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