Mags Get Pushback on iPad Pricing

Many magazine customers are embracing the new format for print but howling over what they consider excessive prices for single issues.

“Come on, guys, help us help you,” read one typical customer comment, on Apple’s iTunes store,  in response to Popular Science’s iPad app. The app, a digital replica of the monthly magazine, is priced at $4.99 per single issue, the same as the print. The comment concluded: “… This is the future of magazines. This is how I want all of my magazines. But I will not pay $5 per issue.”

Magazines are pinning their hopes on the iPad and other, forthcoming tablets and e-readers to help offset a decline in circulation and ad revenue. But as the early feedback shows, they may be paying the price for the industry’s long-standing practice of charging steep discounts for subscriptions. As a result, consumers are well aware of the per-issue discrepancy between subscriptions and single issues.

As one customer of Time magazine’s app ($4.99 single issue) wrote, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re … passing the savings on [from] distribution and raw materials to themselves. I can get 56 issues of the paper version for $20. How am I supposed to feel about this?”

Making matters worse, some customers of magazine apps thought they were downloading a subscription when what they got was a single issue. (To date, magazines that are sold through Apple’s app store are available on a single-copy basis only, although publishers said their titles would be available on a subscription basis in the coming weeks.)

Sara Ohrvall, director of research and development at Bonnier Corp., publisher of Pop Sci, said she thought the response to the app was better than expected. But she added that the company would continue trying to improve the product.

“We’ll prove to them it’s worth the $4.99 over time,” she said. “That’s our strategy, at least. It has to be something that really makes use of all the beauty the iPad has to offer. We have to do a lot of work to re-create the magazine for the iPad.”

As for Time Inc., it defended its Time magazine app in a statement that read: “We are offering a compelling, robust and beautiful product. The production of this high quality, fact-checked reporting takes resources. We believe there is a real value to this product and as consumers experience it, they will agree. We are currently only offering single copy sales, just like at your local newsstand – and, the price is the same as the physical newsstand.

We will soon be offering subscriptions – both digital subscriptions and print/digital bundled subscriptions. We anticipate these subscriptions will be discounted off the newsstand price.”

Outside ($2.99 per single issue) had another problem altogether; customers commented that the app was nonresponsive. The publication posted that it was aware of the issues and was addressing them.

The apps themselves got mixed reviews for their content and user experience. Pop Sci users called the app “amazing,” but one self-professed “techie” wished it was “a little less flashy and a little more intuitive.” Some commented on Men’s Health app that they saw potential in the format, but complained about the iPad version’s low resolution and scarcity of interactive ads.

See also:

 “iPad Changes Everything?”

“Rewriting the Book”

“A New Definition of Digital Magazines”