Why iPad magazine sales are plummeting, and how to stop it

As the first wave of enthusiastic this-is-the-Future! iPad magazine subscribers recedes drastically, it’s time for publishers to step up. On the media and tech blog Monday Note, a post by Frédéric Filloux offers a list of what went wrong, and offers suggestions for what he uninventively deems “iPad publishing 2.0”. He offers some deflating numbers:

Wired: 100,000 downloads in June, 22,500 in October and November : down 78%. According to the Magazine Publishers Association, that’s not even a meager 3% of the average print copy circulation for the first half of 2010 — for an iconic tech magazine…

Vanity Fair: 10,500 in August, 8,700 in November, down 17% and less 1% of the print sales.  (These numbers include single copy sales and subscriptions, which represent the bulk of the print revenues for US magazines).”
Wired's iPad app
Filloux offers a detailed list with four reasons readers have yet to be won over by tablet magazines. His first two reasons: Comparisons to the long beloved print magazine and the outdated notion that storing back issues anywhere is something people want (“no one will dive into a pile of magazines anymore, that’s the internet’s job”).

Number three is execution:

“As I write this column, I download the January 3rd edition of the New Yorker. At least, I’m trying to. The mostly black & white weekly weighs about 100 megabytes and the download stream is erratic. The latest issue of Vanity Fair took several days to finish downloading. (To be fair, the 700 Mb of the latest Wired issue, loaded with videos, was done in a matter of minutes, while the previous one took a solid hour).

“Here is what is acceptable: The Economist. Wether I pop up my iPad or my iPhone, the app knows I’m a subscriber and prompts me, showing with the latest issue’s cover. One button. Download. Twenty seconds on a wi-fi, less than two minutes on a 3G network. No login, no purchase confirmation. In addition, my subscription grants me constant and seamless access to the magazine’s web site.”

And four is price. “Asking the consumer to pay the same price for an electronic product with a debatable advantage is a bad idea,” he writes. Who wants to pay the same price for an electronic magazine that doesn’t use paper, ink or delivery trucks?

He admits it’s still early in the iPad’s life to declare death just yet. His tips for publishers:

1. Don’t try and replicate old concepts.
2. Make up your mind. “For tablets, the choice will be between rich media magazine — again, yet to be invented – and content centric, Economist-like, i.e. less sexy but efficient.”
3. Encapsulate the web. “Personally, right before catching the subway, for a speedy and efficient offline reading, I’d love to have my iPad quickly download a set of 200 URLs of my favorites newspapers web sites. (In real life, cellular data networks still are painfully clunky). With the web, we take for granted things such as multi-layer reading, search and recommendation engines. Unless tablet publishers find a way to offer a unique e-magazine-like experience, these features will be missed.”
4. Price wisely. See his entry for charts about what the average person who regularly spends money on the net actually spends (hint: it’s $10/month.)