An article this week from TabTimes about Apple’s Newsstand confirms Economist consumer research. Attracting consumers who read news on tablets versus print magazines is not a zero-sum game. As Mike Haney, chief product officer of Mag+, a Bonnier company that helps turn print magazines into apps, explains: “Our clients have seen that there’s almost no overlap between digital subscriptions and print, Pop Sci [Popular Science] has around 60,000 subscribers now–and 97-98% of those are new to the brand. Not only are they not paper subscribers, but many are not even former subscribers.”
I agree with Haney that this presents an opportunity to improve revenues by attracting entirely new audiences to digital editions whilst lowering the print rate base and saving money on printing and distribution. But that’s only part of the story. The low cost of reproducing digital content makes it possible to reintroduce marketing strategies that have been lost, like sampling. In the old days, The Economist would offer four issues to new customers risk free. This often led to new lifelong print subscribers. With digital, we can offer these types of deals again. And because of the multiplier effect of social media, the chance for more people to hear about the offer is that much greater.
Digital makes the old stuff easy again, and Haney’s research supports this. Conversion rates from Apple Newsstand are 15-40%, and that’s more subscriptions than single-copy sales. That outpaces traditional print conversions by a long shot and signifies healthy growth for traditional print magazines, especially ones with significant brand equity like ours.