Tablet publisher Nomad: Discovery is a problem
Fourteen months after releasing its first app-based magazines, Nomad Editions continues to tinker with the formula for building a publishing business for the iPad generation. The company is exploring new partnerships to expand its audience and drive subscriptions, is preparing its first Android versions, and is close to signing its first custom media deal.
Since its debut in December 2010, Nomad has launched eight titles for the iPad and iPhone – only three of which remain on the market. The company has also changed its pricing structure and is testing a variety of awareness-building tactics as it seeks to crack what CEO Mark Edmiston sees as the greatest challenge for tablet editions: getting noticed in a sea of apps.
“We’ve learned that discovery is really hard,” Edmiston said in a phone interview. A recent $20,000 mobile ad campaign to promote the Nomad Editions newsstand app increased awareness but didn’t bump subscriptions proportionately. The launch of Apple’s Newsstand last October provided a boost, with responses increasing between 8-10 times over previous rates. But while Newsstand is “encouraging, it still hasn’t solved the problem,” Edmiston said.
The discovery issue is just one of the challenges that startups and small publishers face as they try to define a new market for digital publications designed for the iPad and other tablets. Competing against well-established print magazine brands on one end and thousands of non-magazine apps on the other, it’s no surprise that niche publishers might be feeling a bit squeezed.
Scaling up – and scaling back
Nomad has discontinued five of the eight titles it launched over the past 14 months, including Good Dog, U+me and Wavelines, after they fell short of internal performance milestones. The bright side: An infrastructure that makes it easy to launch new titles also makes it easy to pull the plug quickly if they don’t gain a following.
Edmiston remains bullish on the company’s three current weeklies: BodySmart, Real Eats and Uncorked. Between 9 and 13 percent of people who have tried a free issue end up subscribing, and 60 percent of subscribers are opting for a $9.99 annual subscription vs. the 99-cent monthly option.
Monthly renewals, he added, are well over 90%; more telling will be the rate at which annual subscribers re-up as those accounts come up for renewal.
In the meantime, Nomad continues to experiment with different distribution and revenue models, including:
- Co-marketing: The company has partnered with a couple of suppliers in the wine industry to distribute Uncorked as a gift to their client list. Conversion rates from those promotions are around 40 percent – enough to convince Nomad to expand the program to the other titles. For example, it’s looking to partner with workout clubs to distribute Body Smart.
- Sponsorships: Edmiston said the company is about to sign its first major sponsor for a new publication that will launch in March or April. He declined to provide details because the deal has not been finalized.
- Custom publishing: Nomad is also in the final stages of a deal to produce a biweekly magazine for a major international jewelry chain, Edmiston said.
One revenue stream that has yet to materialize is display advertising. Current editions still don’t have enough circulation to attract advertisers, though Edmiston said display advertising is still in the plans.
Moving to Mag+
Nomad has been building up its infrastructure as well. The company is migrating from Treesaver, the open source cross-platform publishing technology it has been using since launch, to the Mag+ tablet publishing platform. “Mag+ is much more sophisticated,” said Edmiston. “We think the Mag+ experience will be better because it will enable us to add a lot more functionality.”
Nomad has redone its apps in Mag+ and submitted them to Apple for approval; once those are live, Edmiston expects Android versions to debut a month later, with Kindle Fire-specific apps following about a month after the general Android versions.
Despite the slow ramp, Nomad is on track to be profitable in 2013, said Edmiston. “The good thing about our cost structure is that once we break even, we can become very profitable fairly quickly,” he said. “We’ve developed an infrastructure that works and is instantly scalable.”
All that’s missing is the audience.