Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Hearst Passes 300,000 Monthly Digital Subscribers, Takes a Bow

Hearst, which is about to sell its digital magazines via Amazon’s new tablet, wants the world to know it’s selling its digital magazines on plenty of other gadgets, too: The publisher says it is now racking up more than 300,000 paid digital downloads per month.

That’s spread out among sales from Apple’s App Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Zinio digital reader platform. “Now we’re going to get a fourth distribution channel tomorrow,” says Hearst president David Carey, without ever saying the word “Amazon.”

So what does that mean? Because digital numbers aren’t uniformly reported yet, it’s a little hard to figure how that compares to the rest of the industry.

Earlier this summer, for instance, Conde Nast put out a release announcing that it had distributed 242,000 digital copies in the six weeks after it started selling subscriptions via Apple’s App Store. But 136,000 of those came from print customers who got digital copies for free with their subscription.

[UPDATE: Conde offers some updated numbers: It says its monthly digital circulation is now 500,000; 225,000 of those are digital-only subscribers, with the rest getting bundles.]

And in Hearst’s case, the publisher is stressing that all 300,000 of its downloads were tied to a payment. Because unlike its peers, it doesn’t offer print/digital bundles.

Another way to look at it: Hearst sells yearly digital subscriptions for $19.99 a year. Since some of those download numbers come from individual sales, each monthly digital unit represents annual revenue of $15 to $20, according to people familiar with the company’s operations. In other words, Hearst’s digital editions are now on an annual run rate of $4.5 million to $6 million.

And yet another way: Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine, one of Hearst’s most popular titles, sells about 2.5 million copies a month.

So this is still smallish stuff. But it is new stuff, and that’s encouraging for an industry trying to ease into the digital world without cutting off its legacy business.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Amazon’s tablet buyers behave like iPad owners or Nook/Zinio users. While most of the digerati have focused on digital magazines on the iPad (guilty), Hearst has done best so far on the Nook and Zinio, both of which offer what digerati used to dismissively refer to as “glorified PDFs” (guilty again).

Then again, those platforms also generate more sales for Hearst because the publisher sells all of its 19 titles on those platforms. So far it has sold just 3 titles via Apple. What about Amazon?

Carey again declines to say the word “Amazon” out loud. “But for any future e-commerce opportunities, stores that we would go into would get everything,” he says. Do your own math there.

 


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