Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Apple, Publishers Still Miles Apart on iTunes Subscriptions

Magazine publishers used to salivate over the iPad. Now they’re a lot more reserved. They make hopeful noises about Google’s Android tablets instead.

That’s because Apple and the publishing industry haven’t been able to come to terms over magazine app subscriptions: Publishers want the ability to sell the subscriptions themselves, or at least the opportunity to hang on to subscribers’ personal data. And Steve Jobs won’t let them.

Here’s what Apple is offering publishers, according to publishing sources:

  • The ability to sell app subscriptions through iTunes.
  • 70 percent of the revenue from each sale.
  • The ability to offer an opt-in form for subscribers that would ask them for a limited amount of information: Name, mailing address, email address.

That offer has been on the table for a “couple months,” I’m told, and so far none of the big publishers have gone for it. They don’t like the 30 percent cut that Apple wants to take, but their real hang-up is lack of access to credit card data: It’s valuable to them for marketing, and without it they can’t offer print/digital bundles, either.

So for now, they’re hoping to get what they want from Google and Android, and assume Apple will come around eventually.

That doesn’t mean you won’t see any magazine subscription offerings on iTunes in the meantime.

Newsweek has chosen to sell its iPad magazine as a standalone subscription without getting any data at all. And Time Warner has chosen to give away People magazine’s digital version to any print subscriber. You could see more of both those options in the near future, for different titles.

And for publishers who are launching digital-only products, like the “Daily” don’t-call-it-a-newspaper that News Corp. is working on, Apple’s restrictions are far less problematic: Publishers don’t need to worry about upsetting their valuable print subscribers, because they don’t have any. (News Corp. also owns this Web site. It’s free!)

Speaking at Business Insider’s Ignition conference, News Corp. digital head Jon Miller said today that the Daily wouldn’t launch until the first quarter of 2011.* When it does, News Corp. officials expect it to showcase a new “push”  feature from Apple, where a new issue will arrive at subscribers’ iPads without asking them to request it.

*For the record, Miller insisted that the Daily was a “rumor.” But it seems undignified to type that in the main body of this story, given that News Corp. has hired dozens of people and earmarked a budget of more than $20 million for the project.

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— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle