Discovery Girls App Shows Challenge and Promise of Subscription Model

“I think it’s important that every format, every device we put it on is unique to that device,” said Catherine Lee, publisher of Discovery Girls magazine and its companion apps. I’ve blogged before about the Discovery Girls approach to apps, because it represents an integrated approach that seems promising, a possible model for publishers who still haven’t fully taken the app plunge. Until now, the apps that Discovery Girls has launched have been, not versions of the magazine itself, but interactive educational games that tween girls enjoy playing. The games lead back to the publication, but don’t reflect the full range of content of the publication itself.

That seems to be changing. The publisher recently unveiled the Discovery Girls interactive magazine app for iPhone and iPad. I spent the weekend playing around with it and came away thinking it got a lot of things right.

The app weaves the interactivity of games and social media with the magazine’s signature content for girls ages 8 to 12. It has a series of cute icons you can click to read about girls’ most embarrassing moments; every user, of course, is also encouraged to submit her own. It includes polls that can be taken right there on line, tallied on the spot: Do You Feel You Get Enough Privacy? Girls get to vote and to read about the experiences of other girls at the same time.

It includes quizzes: How Well Do You Know Your Family? And it still includes the value of editorial features: Pressured to Grow Up Too Fast!

Lee wanted to develop an app that meets girls’ needs in both content and format. “Our readers were the ones telling us what they wanted,” Lee explained. “Most of our girls have ipod touches they carry with them every day, all day. It’s important to them to find out what other girls experience; it’s important to them to make their voices heard. Having a format that is portable is very important. Now they don’t have to choose—they can have the magazine, they can enjoy the app on the iPhone or iPad—wherever they are, we can be there with them.”

Tackling the content and the format was challenging enough, but Lee also wanted to get delivery right the first time. “I want my subscribers to be able to sample the content for free, and then if they think it’s valuable, I want them to pay for it,” Lee said. “And because my relationship with my subscribers is direct, I want to do this transaction directly with them. That’s the part that was hard.”

To show them what the paid subscription offers, Lee developed a preview copy available for anyone, and a complete first issue free to her subscribers. “It’s the total experience,” said of the preview. “All the interactivity, the social media, the game-like features. I didn’t want to provide just a replica; I wanted to give them more. They can dive right into it and actually participate in all the activities.”

Having accomplished so much on a technical level, it would seem that the conversion would be easy. Not so, says Lee. The back end remains challenging; the programming and the process of subscribing both have their cumbersome aspects. A girl leaving the preview is given detailed directions for nabbing her free first issue: Tap on the app; tap on account; enter your subscriber information; log in. But from a marketing standpoint, the sequence is too long, and the less-committed readers will drop out before they redeem the issue.

“It all adds a level of possible agitation to the process,” said Lee. “So we’re going to change that. We don’t want to hurt our subscribers or to annoy them in any way, so we’re going to get rid of the agitation factor and offer the first issue for free to anyone. It wasn’t quite what I wanted to accomplish, but until the interfaces become more streamlined we’re going to simplify.” The publisher feels strongly that this clunky back end remains an unsolved problem in our industry. Publishers, their distributors and their fulfillment companies need to work on that and move it forward.

Apple has done that, I suggested. A would-be subscriber to digital editions can sample and purchase easily through Apple. “It’s true, they could do it quicker through Apple,” Lee acknowledged. “But then they are Apple’s subscribers. They aren’t mine anymore.”

Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (, offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google PlusMagazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.

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