A new essay by Glenn Fleishman discusses the reasons for the winding down of his iPad-only digital publication, The Magazine, including an in-depth look at Apple’s continued treatment of Newsstand as a failed experiment. Launched around two years ago as a digital-only periodical, The Magazine focused on reaching iPad users via Apple’s then-fledgling Newsstand app and online store. At its height, The Magazine had nearly 35,000 monthly subscribers paying $2/month, however Fleishman notes that it peaked in February 2013, and has since diminished to 2,000 yearly and 4,000 monthly subscribers.
While Fleishman doesn’t completely blame Apple, he spotlights how Newsstand’s implementation failed to live up to expectations and publisher requirements, noting that Apple’s well-intentioned focus on privacy and customer experience weren’t always compatible with the publishing industry’s needs. Difficulty communicating with subscribers, nagging monthly billing reminder e-mails, required continuous app re-developmen, and the “brushing aside” of Newsstand in iOS 7’s design were all key issues that eroded and dissatisfied readership. Fleishman notes that iOS 7 alone triggered hundreds of emails from readers who forgot to read new issues, received bills, then cancelled subscriptions after realizing that they hadn’t read a single article in recent memory. The 30% cut taken by Apple for each subscription was also a factor, and Fleishman notes that it would have been more reasonable for Apple to find a way to reduce the amount to 15% in subsequent years, as most publications expect front-loaded expenses for acquiring new subscribers, but expect costs to be reduced for subscriber retention.
Fleishman describes Apple’s Newsstand today as “a wasteland for publications that only use it as an adjunct,” but offers salient points on what Apple could do to improve the experience for both users and publishers. Options include releasing publications from Newsstand to essentially turn them into standalone apps, providing an optional path for publishers to reach their readers directly, and stop sending monthly billing notifications to subscribers. Fleishman acknowledges that Newsstand clearly didn’t turn into a success for Apple, and compares it to the iBookstore, which he notes “never quite took off either.” While Apple continues to run both systems, he said, it hasn’t been improving the tools on either side. He concludes by saying that “If Newsstand is to persist, it needs its own app for users to find publications, download sample issues (currently not available; only free trials), and manage subscriptions,” describing the integration and dependency on the App Store and iTunes as “maddening and confusing.”