Publisher’s death march to digital extinction

January 3, 2011

Digital magazine subscriptions haven’t taken off. In fact, the initial limited successes enjoyed. What hasn’t fallen to the wayside is publisher desires to collect and profit from your information and they won’t be satisfied with opt in.

Back in December, I reviewed Virgin’s just released digital magazine. At the time, I said that “Project is a hipster magazine for the creme de la cool. It’s a svelte mix of stories for people on the up, or those who wish they were, and well worth $2.99 at least once.” Well, once happened.

The same can be said of the iPad versions of Popular Science and Wired. They were cool, once.

With that backdrop comes a Wall Street Journal write up that claims Google and Apple are jockeying to create digital newsstands that will attract magazine and newspaper publishers.

The e-newsstand would include apps from media companies offering versions of their publications for smartphones or tablets running Android, say people familiar with the matter. Google hopes to launch it in part to provide a more consistent experience for consumers who want to read periodicals on Android devices, and to help publishers collect payment for their apps…

Google’s apparently promising to take something less than Apple’s standard 30 percent, which could be a good thing. For its part, Apple’s said to be willing to concede the point by allowing subscription prices that are less than the sum of individual issue prices.

The real of bone of contention is, however, the transfer of user demographic data, something Apple has resisted mightily. Still, the company is said to be considering allow publishers to collect names and email addresses — much less info than publishers want — though customers would have to opt in.

Some publishers remain unhappy with this arrangement because they think few customers would opt to share such data…”

What we’re unwilling to opt into is a blizzard of third-party marketing that publishers would profit from — something they’re currently doing in the real world. That is, if you currently have print magazine subscriptions, publishers have resold your data to other marketers which in turn delivers a mountain of third-party offers — advertising, catalogs, etc. in your US Postal Service mailbox every month.

Same pile, different medium

What publishers want to do is transition the crap you get in your meat space mailbox to your email or Facebook or whatever inboxes.

This is innovation? For publishers, the attraction is obvious. For us, it amounts to trading a steaming pile of printed marketing munge for a virtual one or maybe both.

Thereupon, don’t call it “privacy.” This is a very rational desire not to get dumped on.

Wired, Popular Science and Project were entertaining once. Maybe they could do it again and consistently so. Right now, though, I don’t feel compelled to pay for it again and I’m not alone.

Digital magazines will be just that much less compelling if they come tied to third-party marketing that we have to opt out of, assuming that’s even possible. After watching the music industry self-destruct, you’d think publishers would be more open to saving their own skins.

What’s your take?

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