iPad app update: Pricing model needs a quick fix


One thing we’ve learned from the magazine apps for the iPad: There’s a big disconnect between what consumers want and what publishers are delivering. And Apple isn’t helping matters.

The problem is pricing. Users are proclaiming they won’t pay full newsstand price for iPad editions. Existing print subscribers wonder why they have to pay twice for the same content. Still others complain about the bait-and-switch tactics of offering a free app that doesn’t offer any real content but serves only as a placeholder for in-app purchases of single editions.

Here’s the rub: Publishers want to implement subscription pricing that’s better aligned with print subscriptions, but Apple is making it difficult/impossible for them to do so committed to controlling the transaction and the flow of user data. Apple reportedly rejected an in-app subscription pricing model from Time Inc. for Sports Illustrated. Other publishers complain (off the record) that Apple is not only stalling subscription efforts, but is slow to approve updates, which is hampering single-copy sales.

A resolution to the subscription standoff does not seem imminent, which is bound to increase frustration levels as more iPad editions make their way to market. Hearst has several titles in the iPad pipeline, including Esquire, O, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. The Economist plans to release its first native iPad app by the end of the year. Playboy announced a PG-13 version of its magazine this week.

Meanwhile, user complaints of the first wave of iPad magazine offerings get louder. Here’s a sample of ratings and user comments from the App Store, and download numbers if available. Overall, not a good showing.

Sports Illustrated (Time, Inc.)

  • Price: Free (limited content). $4.99 per issue ($5.99 for Aug. 2 issue).
  • Average rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
  • Telling user comments: "Instead of trying to deepen their relationship with me as a customer, there’s an expectation that I’ll pay twice for the same content – put that on the list of things that are not going to happen."  … "Very limited content available. Nothing but a way to sell magazines."


Glamour (Conde Nast)

  • Price: Free (feeds only). $3.99 an issue.
  • Average rating: 2 stars
  • Telling user comments: "I already paid for two years and don’t want to pay again." … "There is no reason at all that I should pay the magazine price for an electronic version."


Wired (Conde Nast)

  • Price: Free (limited content). $3.99 per issue.
  • Downloads: More than 100,000 (July issue)
  • Average rating: 2 stars
  • Telling user comments: "Digital versions are nice, but not at highway robbery prices." … "This app has introduced me to a magazine I’ve never read before. I guess you can’t please everyone."


Time (Time, Inc.)

  • Price: Free download (sample content). $4.99 per issue
  • Average rating: 1.5 stars
  • Telling user comment: "Only $260 a year to get content freely available on the Web or delivered to your door in print for a fifth of that. Idiots."


Vanity Fair (Conde Nast)

  • Price: $4.99. $3.99 per issue.
  • Average rating: 2.5 stars
  • Telling user comment: "Unbelievable arrogant pricing for a clunky, ad-overloaded magazine which is so unpleasant to use that it becomes almost unreadable."


Popular Science (Bonnier)

  • Price: $4.99 (includes current issue). $2.99 for back issues.
  • Downloads: About 15,000 per issue, according to Bonnier
  • Average rating: 2.5 stars
  • Telling user comment: "Same content as paper, 5 times the price."


Women’s Health (Rodale)

  • Price: Free download. $3.99-$4.99 per issue.
  • Average rating: 1.5 stars
  • Telling user comment: "As a paid print subscriber, I shouldn’t have to pay to view the same content on my iPad."    


Men’s Health (Rodale)

  • Price: Free download. $2.99-$4.99 per issue.
  • Average rating: 2 stars
  • Telling user comment: "You guys are asking too much for this. Couldn’t even preview an issue to decide if it was worth it. Deleted this app after opening it once."


Runner’s World (Rodale)

  • Price: Free (26-page preview). $4.99 per issue.
  • Average rating: 1.5 stars
  • Telling user comment: "Not going to pay twice. Nuff said."


Lower pricing seems to beget better rankings and more positive comments. Especially if the app itself is good.

Popular Mechanics (Hearst)

  • Price: $1.99 per issue
  • Average rating: 4 stars
  • Telling user comments: "It’s pretty much safe to say this is the future of magazines and periodicals." … "This is, by far, the best magazine app I have seen for the iPad. … Perfect price point."


Geo (G&J International Magazines)

  • Price: $2.99
  • Average rating: 4 stars
  • Telling user comment: "Well done and a reasonable price! You should sell your service to the other magazines so they too can put out a quality product!"


GQ (Conde Nast)

  • Price: $4.99, $2.99 per additional issue
  • Average rating: 3 stars
  • Telling user comment: "Price aside, this is a great app and a good start."


Of course, even lower prices can’t mask a simple PDF replica:

Newsweek (Newsweek, Inc.)

  • Price: Free download, $2.99 per issue.
  • Average rating: 2 stars
  • Telling customer comment: "Digital content means more than just an image of the magazine. I should be able to search by a keyword and find EVERYTHING that is related to it."

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