Despite HP Deal With Time Inc., Magazines and Apple Still Stuck on iPad Subscriptions

The Daily's Model Might Work -- If You Think Subscribers Will Opt in to Marketing Messages

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- It suddenly feels like Apple and publishers must be close to a deal on selling subscriptions to magazines' iPad editions.

You've got new pressure on Apple in the form of Time Inc.'s deal to sell tablet edition subscriptions on HP's forthcoming TouchPad. You've got a reported compromise on offer from Apple in which publishers' apps could ask new subscribers for all the data they want as long as there's a simpler, side-by-side iTunes subscription method also available right there. And you've got the iPad newspaper The Daily selling subscriptions through iTunes and sharing some of the subscriber data that publishers and Apple both want to control.

But cool down. The deal that magazine publishers want isn't coming to iPads very soon.

Time Inc. has a deal to sell magazine app subscriptions on the HP TouchPad.
Time Inc. has a deal to sell magazine app subscriptions on the HP TouchPad.
"This is a very fluid environment right now," said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna. "Things are going to have to shake out a bit in the course of the next three or six months before these subscription plans really start rolling out."

For one thing, the TouchPad and every other tablet that lets publishers sell app subscriptions the way they want to will certainly pressure the iPad, but they're hardly going to create a panic at Apple headquarters.

Dominating this year and next
The iPad represented 87.6% of U.S. tablet sales last year, will make up 79.6% this year and still rack up 74.1% in 2012, according to eMarketer's latest projections.

"The iPad just might lose some ground if people start making decisions about which tablet to buy based on the content choices and the different subscription choices available to them," Mr. Verna said.

But we're not there yet, he said. "I'm not saying that it's at that point, where people are going to make a decision based on subscription choices, especially if there aren't too many differentiators."

Is that a compromise?
It's also unclear how serious, or appealing to publishers, the reported Apple compromise offer really is. The compromise, which was reported by TechCrunch, would let magazine apps whisk new subscribers to forms demanding the data publishers want -- as long as the apps also let you subscribe through the much simpler iTunes, which won't make you fill out any fields. If that happens, you can guess which path a subscriber is going to take.

Word of that potential compromise also hadn't reached executives at one of the major magazine companies. "I'm not sure that was accurate," one of those executives said. "The whole industry is engaged in a level of discussion. That was a head-scratcher to us."

The Daily wants to know: Would you like more marketing messages?
The Daily wants to know: Would you like more marketing messages?
The Daily model
The closest path to an iPad subscription system that publishers might try seems to be the one on display at News Corp.'s new Daily iPad newspaper. The Daily sells subscriptions through iTunes, which is an Apple priority, but it also asks subscribers to share their information, a sop to publishers' hunger for useful specs on their customers.

"The publisher would like your name, email, and ZIP code so they can send you messages about related products in accordance with their privacy policy," The Daily says when you subscribe, with the on-screen prompt of "Allow" or "Don't Allow."

"I think that is the leading edge of where all this goes," the magazine executive said.

The trick is whether publishers believe that approach will capture enough subscriber information to mollify publishers. "It depends on whether you're optimistic on the opt-ins or pessimistic," the executive said. "Some people would say that's a good start. Others would say nobody is going to opt in."

Follow Nat Ives on Twitter.

In this article:
Most Popular