Single Copy: The Sexiest Thing Going
In the world of selling magazines to customers, newsstand is the unpredictable relative, the circulation no one wanted to think about, let alone talk about. Eccentric, hard to get along with, sometimes ravishing, other times completely missing the point. Circulators roll their eyes when talking about newsstand, and say, we just can’t control it.
Thanks to the iPad, single copy sales have risen to an unprecedented estimation in people’s eyes. All of a sudden newsstand, or more appropriately the digital newsstand, is all that.
Why is this? Because iTunes is built on the one-off model. They sell items one by one, not as a subscription. You don’t buy a subscription to your favorite singer, right? You listen to the clip of music, and, on impulse, you buy the song. Boom. Done.
The unpredictability of the channel comes directly from this fact: if you are going to pick up a magazine as a result of the magic combination of cover image, cover headline and brand identification of the magazine logo, then the customer is king. If the magic does not work just right for her/him this issue, they will bypass your magazine and go for another. This is a terrifying world to live in, but one that hones both the skills of editors and art directors, and keeps them close to the hearts and minds of their customers for newsstand-heavy titles.
In the last blog I wrote about pricing and the iPad, and gave you several vocal and unhappy customers who would not consider buying a digimag for the same price as the single copy print version. But, listen up, readers. These squawky customers were subscribers. That is, these are not the folks who buy an occasional issue of Popular Science when the magic is there; these are people who are more interested in the convenience of the magazine coming to them over choosing what they want to buy issue by issue. If one of your goals in providing your magazine on the iPad is to reach new readers, then you may want to think twice about bowing down to their pressure.
Publishers are working feverishly to fill the gap and offer subscriptions. Sports Illustrated was forced to withdraw their subscription offer. Time, Inc. was dinged but good by Apple; even though they did their best to get approval prior to creating the subscription app, only when it was turned in to Apple for approval did Apple reject it, leaving Sports Illustrated once again left with a single-copy sale only.
So, enjoy it while you can, Single Copy. You’re on top of the heap, giving customers exactly what they want in that specific issue. And they are paying more for two of your issues than they would for an entire year if it were a subscription. Worth it? Check out Wired’s video on what you get with the Pixar cover and you tell me.
Next up: a survey on how people are marketing their iPad digimags.
M. Thea Selby is a Principal in Next Steps Marketing, a San Francisco boutique firm that solves audience-building challenges in creative, customized way using practical "call-to-action" marketing techniques where the return is clearly measurable by clicks, online sign-ups, responses to direct mail, orders from partners, or sales at newsstand.
She was the 2010 Women's Leadership Conference Chair, is a co-founder and board member of Exceptional Women in Publishing—a national organization dedicated to supporting women in and through the power of online and print media—and is the former CEO and Publisher of Light Green Media, a digital publishing company.