Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

IPad Magazine Subscriptions, With a Catch: Zinio Launches Apps for Sporting News, National Geographic

Another day, another new iPad magazine app. But the latest entry, from Sporting News, is worth mentioning, at least for its subscription model.

That is: Unlike much bigger rival Sports Illustrated, and almost all of the other big magazine titles that have moved to the iPad so far, Sporting News has a subscription model.

The app itself, which limited dollop of preview content, is free. But if you want to read the sports tabloid, you can pay $0.99 for a single issue or $2.99 to get an update sent to your app every day of the month.

How’d they do that when the big guys couldn’t? By letting digital newsstand operator Zinio handle the transaction.

The magazine industry is currently in an uneasy standoff with Steve Jobs and Apple (AAPL): Publishers like Time Warner’s (TWX) Time Inc. want to sell iPad subscriptions through their apps, and keep the money and consumer data the transaction generates. Apple, for the time being, won’t let that happen.

The apparent loophole: Publishers with existing digital e-commerce options, like Amazon (AMZN) and the Wall Street Journal (owned by News Corp., as is this Web site), have been allowed to sell app subscriptions without going through Apple.

And Zinio, which ran a digital “newsstand” prior to the iPad’s launch, has also been selling subscriptions to magazines like Sporting News, Esquire and Cosmopolitan from its iPad reader for months.

But not many Cosmopolitan readers–or anyone else–would know to search for “Zinio” in iTunes to get their favorite magazine, so Zinio is launching a line of magazine-branded apps. Today you can get subscriptions to Sporting News and National Geographic apps, and more are on the way.

The caveat: If you’re one of those people who complain that most iPad magazine apps are simply replicas of their print editions, then you’re going to really grumble about Sporting News, and presumably most of the other Zinio-powered apps as well.

Zinio started out publishing digital magazines via PDF files, and that’s more or less what its iPad titles look like today, brightened up with a video here and there and an injection of updated news. That’s presumably why some of the publishers that sell digital magazines through Zinio will end up putting out their own apps, as Hearst plans to do with Esquire.

But for smaller outfits like Sporting News (which is actually owned by American City Business Journals, which in turn is owned by Condé Nast owner Advance Publications), a no-frills app is better than none–especially if they can convince you to pay for it on a monthly basis. Anyone interested?


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald