Digital and mobile technologies are pushing the envelope for reader engagement and consumption. A number of our periodical clients lean on us for advice with regards to their digital and/or mobile strategy. One of the most common questions we are asked, because the Jones’ are doing it, is ‘How do I get my publication into Newsstand?’

The initial response, somewhat apologetically, is “Which one and why?” You would think that a company whose focus is to help publishers and marketers generate new readership, increase brand engagement, and drive digital growth would be supportive of newsstand(s). But, we aren’t. At least not from the perspective of the ‘Field of Dreams – If you build it’ principle. There are glaring issues with the digital newsstand offerings. We’ll explain those issues below.

 Physical newsstand sales may be in decline but the digital newsstand has not figured out the rules of succession.

Physical newsstand sales may be in decline but the digital newsstand has not figured out the rules of succession.

Maybe before we do that let’s consider what we are referring to when we say ‘Digital Newsstand’. A digital newsstand is an online collection of published materials that exists as either a browser-based website experience or as a native app. Or in some cases both. It is the digital equivalent of a physical newsstand that you might pass in the grocery store or on a downtown sidewalk.

If we acknowledge the introductory paragraph and admit that there is an absolute proliferation of methods for connectivity (PC’s, laptops, phones, tablets and every hybrid in between) there is great promise for the digital newsstand. So, what is preventing this from being the case?

‘Newsstand’ Discovery

Despite current downward trends the benefit of a physical newsstand location is visibility. It is vibrant, colorful and tactile. The same cannot be said of a digital newsstand. There is no casual interaction. Discovery of a digital newsstand for a fledgling reader can be difficult. In a browser based situation searching the term ‘newsstand’ only generates confusion as results range from various different newsstand platforms to businesses who assist in newsstand publishing. It can be argued that visibility isn’t such an issue on mobile since the Newsstand Apps are offered natively and are displayed prominently on the home screen. However, it does not solve the issue of…

…Attracting Readers

 NextIssue is the Netflix of magazine consumption. Rightly or wrongly?

NextIssue is the Netflix of magazine consumption. Rightly or wrongly?

What a magazine needs, beyond anything else, is an audience. This concept does not require explanation. The premise of a newsstand is to attract and deliver the audience. With that said, if the average citizen was asked to provide a list of digital newsstands, how many responses would be generated? One? Two? The one on their mobile device and one other? If there wasn’t a newsstand natively installed on their mobile device what would that number be? Most newsstands are massively under-promoted and insufficiently marketed. That may not apply to a venture capitalist funded endeavour such as NextIssue who has a well-funded and organized campaign but what about the other guys? Many of the other newsstands have a massive flaw in their…

…Business Model

Many newsstand offerings entice publishers to commit with ridiculously low cost to absolutely free incentive plans to ‘on-board’ them. For example, a publisher may be provided with 'no cost of entry' to launch a title within the newsstand with a small fee per issue download or subscription sale. For a publisher this makes the decision to launch on a particular newsstand simple. However, is this simply a case of you get what you pay for? Without any start-up revenue from the publisher how does the newsstand intend to deliver an audience? Where are the marketing and promotion dollars derived to generate new readers? Or, as is most likely the case, is the publisher expected to bring readers to the newsstand? That would seem counter-intuitive. The unsustainable business model does not apply to ALL newsstands but it is relevant. The use of capitals for the term 'all' in the previous sentence was intentional since it unveils the issue of...

…Fragmentation

When it comes to available digital newsstands there are an absolute plethora. For example there is the previously mentioned NextIssue, which was created by publishers Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rogers and Time Inc. It is a mobile-centric ‘Netflix’ type offering providing unlimited access to a hundred or so titles at a monthly fee. There is also Zinio which is a digital magazine hub offering a self-proclaimed 5,500 different titles. We would be remiss not to mention Apple’s Newsstand which is natively installed on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad. These are just a small sampling at the exposed peak of the glacier – many more lay below the surface. Without committing to a firm count there are undoubtedly two or three dozen more newsstands in existence. With so many options available how does a publisher (or reader, for that matter) determine where to invest their dollars?

Part 2 - to be continued...