NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Many magazines are staying away from Apple's new iPad subscription system, which threatens to keep publishers in the dark about their own subscribers, but a small, diverse group of magazines has emerged to accept Apple's terms.
It's not a choice most are making lightly. Magazines' greatest weapon is their ability to describe their subscribers to advertisers, but Apple won't tell publishers who's subscribing through the App Store unless subscribers specifically say it's okay. "Without the demographics, which iTunes won't release, the print world is castrated," said Gary Armstrong, the former Wenner Media executive who is now consulting on branded content development for media brands.
That means the iPad won't help the magazine business as much as many publishers fantasized, Mr. Armstrong said. "Is it a complete failure?" he said. "No, but it's obvious it will now never be the panacea they long hoped for, and they'll have to readjust their entire business model."
So what are Elle, Nylon and Popular Science doing, accepting Apple's terms?
Data is nice, but not always essential
For Nylon, a small independent magazine that said Apple approached it six weeks ago to participate, the advantages of a new distribution platform seemed to far outweigh the drawbacks. And plenty of subscribers will let Apple share their information with Nylon, a brand in which they're sufficiently interested to subscribe, after all, said Marvin Scott Jarrett, editor in chief.
And if they don't? They're still paying for the app: Good enough. "As long as they're paying the money to subscribe, why should we care that much?" Mr. Jarrett asked.
"As much data as we can collect is fantastic," added publisher Jaclynn Jarrett, "but it's not a free app."
It's more important for Elle, a much bigger magazine that woos advertisers with detailed information on its readers' demographics, to know its subscribers. But you've got to sell iPad subscriptions to know anything about iPad subscribers, said Philippe Guelton, exec VP-chief operating officer at Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., which publishes Elle. "I think by trying it and testing it you will learn," he said.
The advantages of the App Store
Publishers who sell iPad subscriptions themselves, on their websites for example, can collect and keep all the subscriber data they want, but Elle isn't bothering with that right now. The App Store is convenient for consumers and doesn't require a penny's investment from Hachette, Mr. Guelton said. "The cost of developing our own e-commerce platform right now would not be viable," he said. "So what they're offering us is a great turnkey tool with little to no financial risk."
And even if few subscribers give Apple permission to share their information, that's not Elle's last chance to find out about them," Mr. Guelton added. "I do believe there will be many opportunities to collect data within the app," he said. "The data collected by Apple and share by the consumer is not the only way."
That echoes the thinking at Popular Science, which anticipates asking its iPad subscribers more about themselves well after the subscription is sold in the App Store. "We are able to ask them in the future if they would like to share their information, maybe after the second or third issue," said Gregg Hano, VP-group publisher at the Bonnier Technology Group, which includes Popular Science.
Work in progress
The publishers that are staying away from Apple's offer say they hope the terms can be improved. "It seems like Apple is taking a step toward our position on subscription offerings, but the announcement also raises many questions around consumer data we would need to work through and agree on," a Time Inc. spokesman said after Apple described its iPad subscription system.
But publishers participating are saying the same thing. "This is a work in progress," Mr. Guelton said. "I don't think this is something that is set in stone either for us or for Apple. I'd rather work with them to improve it over time than just sit on the sidelines."
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