Good News for Magazines: Popular Science iPad Subscribers Are 95% New Readers

What Conde Nast and Hearst Can Expect as They Start Selling iPad Subscriptions

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What will Conde Nast, and Hearst soon after it, find as people start buying subscriptions to their magazines' iPad editions in Apple's App Store?

About half the new subscribers are likely to let Apple share their names and other information with the publishers, as Forbes reported yesterday.

That's better than many people expected, but is half enough? How can a publisher encourage more subscribers to share? And what will magazines see when they examine the subscriber data they do get?

We got answers from Bonnier's Popular Science, which has been selling iPad subs for three months, and its sibling Popular Photography, which started selling iPad subs in April.

Ad Age : How are sales?

Gregg Hano, VP-group publisher at the Bonnier Technology Group, which includes Popular Science and Popular Photography: Sales are moving along at a good pace. We're really happy with where we're at. Popular Science crossed the 16,000 threshold this past weekend and we're averaging between 150 and 200 new subscriptions per day.

Popular Photography is at 3,500 after about three weeks.

In both cases we're still also selling single copies -- Popular Science about 1,500 a month. For Popular Photography, we've got about 2,000 in less than month.

Ad Age : The fear that subscribers won't let Apple share their data with publishers gave the biggest magazine publishers pause. What proportion of new subscribers in the App Store touch "Allow" when Apple's dialogue box asks if they'd like to share their name, email address and zip code with the publisher?

Mr. Hano: About 50%. In the case of Popular Photography, the average is actually 54% and in the case of Popular Science it's right at 50%.

We believe that 50% is sustainable being that we've been at this longer than anybody else. It's been extremely consistent over time. And then we've had the secondary experience of launching Popular Photography, where we've even seen a slight lift in the ratio.

Ad Age : How does that compare with what you expected?

Mr. Hano: We didn't really have any idea what to expect but I think we all feel it's higher than we initially expected it would be. We believe there are two strong reasons for that . The first is the trust that consumers have for the brands themselves and the second is the trust we believe they have in the iTunes store and buying through Apple. Those two things combined give the readers confidence that their information will be respected and used in an appropriate way.

Ad Age : What are you trying to encourage even more iPad subscribers to let Apple share?

Mr. Hano: We intend to do some testing of things like offering one or two extra months to your subscription in order to entice subscribers to opt in, but in the long run it's going to be all about having the subscriber opt into the community that 's built around the brand. If we can offer the subscriber reasons to join us and the community, we think the opt-in rates will even be higher.

Ad Age : Can you run a successful business if a bigger and bigger pool of iPad subscribers is half known to you, half mysterious?

Mr. Hano: The direct answer is yes, we could run a business that way. The best analogy I can use toward the print product is that there are many magazines out there that have a substantial newsstand presence; the publisher doesn't know who the newsstand buyer is month in and month out and still runs a very successful business.

But I still think I can get that rate higher as we're creative in offering products that will get the consumer to opt in.

Ad Age : Publishers have always hoped that many of their iPad-edition readers would be new to their brands, not existing readers cannibalized from print. When you look at the subscriber data from the iPad subscribers who allow you to see it, what do you see?

Mr. Hano: We are excited to report that we're getting a totally new audience in our tablet editions. At Popular Science the data has proven that 2.1% of the email addresses that we have for our iPad subscribers match active print subscribers while 2.7% match expired print subscribers. So that says to us that something on the order of 95% of the iPad subscribers are new to subscribing to Popular Science.

Ad Age : If your iPad subscriptions continue to grow, and mostly don't come from your pool of existing print subscribers, will you eventually increase the paid circulation you guarantee to advertisers -- or try to cut back on print?

Mr. Hano: First of all what we are really working to do is build a new circulation model around digital magazines. Since people have proven that they will subscribe to the digital edition and pay for it, we intend to continue to grow in that way.

In the future we absolutely see bundling print and digital, webinars, special interest publications -- all kinds of different content for incremental prices. We'll have tiers so that the consumer can opt into whichever level is right for them, but each different level which will come with different parts and will have a different price.

And if the ad community agrees that these subscribers have value, and they'll pay for the ads that run in the digital edition, we see the opportunity to reduce our print order in some cases to help save on the paper, postage and distribution of those issues.

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