Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Apple Brings Conde Nast Aboard the Subscription Bandwagon, Starting With the New Yorker

Apple is winning over the big publishers. Last week, Hearst Corp. said it planned to start selling its magazines using Apple’s new iTunes subscription service. Now rival Conde Nast is actually doing it, via the publisher’s New Yorker title.

An updated version of that magazine’s iPad app lets users subscribe to the weekly magazine for $5.99 a month, or the equivalent of a $1.50 an issue. That’s a steep discount from the app’s old model, which only sold individual issues for $4.99 a pop.

Conde Nast is selling an annual subscription to the iPad app for $59.99; a yearly subscription to the print version of the magazine costs $69.95. Very important: Conde says print subscribers will get iPad access for free.

At least, I think that’s the case. I’m basing all of this off the New Yorker app’s description in iTunes, but I haven’t been able to get the updated app to work yet on my iPad. The information syncs up, though, with what both AdAge and the New York Post reported last week. (UPDATE: After some futzing about, I’ve got it to work, as advertised. The app still allows you to buy an individual copy for $4.99.)

Assuming Hearst goes through with its plans, Time Warner’s Time Inc. will be the most conspicuous magazine holdout. Time Inc. and Apple just agreed to a deal that allows print subscribers to get app versions of Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Time for free, but they still haven’t agreed to subscription terms–which they’ve been stuck on since last summer.

Other big print publishers who have agreed to Apple’s terms include the New York Times, which has said it will start using iTunes to sell subscriptions in June. In February, Conde also announced it would sell digital editions of its magazines for Google’s Android platform, but has yet to do so.

Publishers–and other media companies–have previously balked at both Apple’s proposed cut–it will take 30 percent of each sale–and its control of subscriber data, including credit card information.

But it’s possible that Apple has backed off some of its original terms. Last week Hearst suggested it had gotten Apple to modify at least some of its conditions. And if that’s the case then Apple may be offering revised terms to all subscription partners. I’ve asked Apple and Conde Nast for comment.

The notion of iPad apps enthralled magazine executives a year ago, but sales have been underwhelming for many titles. One common complaint: Publishers have sold the digital titles at the same price as paper-and-ink versions, while most customers have expected to buy them at a steep discount, and to get them free with existing subscriptions.

Now that big publishers are starting to actually do just that, we’ll see if sales improve.

UPDATE: Just got some clarity on the agreement Conde hammered out with Apple. Apple’s fundamental proposition hasn’t changed, but the publisher has gotten a few concessions out of Steve Jobs and Co. Examples via people familiar with the publisher:

  • Apple still controls crucial subscriber information, and only allows Conde Nast to ask for name, zip and email. But the publisher now has two chances to ask for user’s email: The first as a standard opt-in screen, and then again on a screen that asks for email and a password in order to get exclusive content.
  • Conde has more flexibility on pricing than Apple originally offered. For instance, at one point, Apple didn’t want the publisher to be able to offer a print+digital bundle at a $10 premium to digital-only, but wanted all prices to be the same (which they will be when GQ offers subscriptions later this month: $19.99 a year for digital-only, or digital + print).
  • The agreement extends to international markets, etc.

Small stuff, but important to the publisher. Meanwhile, Apple gets what it wants without giving up much it cares about. Steve Jobs wins.

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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