Screen shot 2010-06-28 at 11.44.49 AM.pngSports Illustrated is the latest big-name magazine publisher to offer an iPad edition. It’s a nice looking product, btw. The app itself is free and it includes a sample of what’s to come. It joins the likes of Time, Wired and Newsweek…but they all currently have the same limitation: You can only buy individual issues, not sign up for a one-year subscription. Worse, most of them seem to think they can charge the full print cover price for each iPad edition.

I bought the initial Wired edition for $4.99 but I’m not buying the second one. Over the weekend I realized I played around a bit with the Wired iPad edition but never finished reading it. In fact, I’m more likely to read the print copy that’s sitting on my desk than the iPad version. And since I get the print version for $10/year, why in the world would I even think about paying $4.99 per iPad issue?
I’m certainly not the first to blog about this and I doubt I’ll be the last. What I can’t understand though is why, after Apple made in-app subscriptions possible months ago, are none of the big guys selling their magazines that way?

Does it have to do with Apple’s 30% cut? Are they all trying to find a way to get around this and sell direct? That’s what Amazon does. When you buy a Kindle edition via the iPad app you’re actually just going direct through the browser, not buying through iTunes. I’m assuming Amazon therefore doesn’t have to pay Apple a cent on the transaction. Why wouldn’t magazine publishers want to do the same, especially on longer-term subscriptions?

Of course, with magazines and newspapers we’re talking about publishers who aren’t exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to technology solutions. They’re still clinging to their print models as much as possible. Why else would I get at least 2-3 “please come back” snail mails from BusinessWeek every month?! So all these magazine/newspaper publishers are probably operating independent of one other, each trying to come up with their own direct sales app/tool. I wonder how much time and money is being wasted because they’re not working together on this.

Here’s a crazy idea: Maybe they should consider pushing it all through Amazon. If Amazon were smart, they’d pull an end-around on Apple and tell the magazine/newspaper publishers, “hey, sell your subscriptions through us…we won’t charge you 30% like Apple…how about 20%, or maybe even 10%?” Amazon already has the infrastructure in place to push content to the iPad as well as a terrific customer service operation, so why shouldn’t they leverage their platform for something like this?

One potential pitfall is that Apple might decide it was OK for Amazon to sell their books for the iPad without getting a percentage, but if they’re going to be magazine/newspaper distributors for the platform they’ll cut off Amazon’s iPad access. Let’s hope not. After all, if Amazon could take this on, it would create a very healthy competition with Apple, and that would likely be a good thing for consumers.

Editor’s Note: The above is reprinted, with permission, from Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 blog. PB


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