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5 Tips for Publishing on Apple Newsstand

It’s far from perfect, but you can’t succeed in digital magazine publishing if you don’t know how to publish on Apple Newsstand.

The other day, a piece of really, really bad news slipped into the magazine industry blogosphere, with relatively little attention. Short version: most publishers’ apps will never, ever be found in the Apple Newsstand.

As Talking New Media explains it – and I can confirm –  the “All” display function in each category no longer appears to work. Oh, you can click on “All” in, say, the Sports section, but when you get there, your options of choosing to sort by name, release date or “featured” yields exactly the same list of magazines. Twenty-eight, to be exact. And yet there are 124 sports magazines in the Google Play Newsstand.

This is fantastic for Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, and all the biggest players in the industry. For everyone else … not so much.

What’s more, Apple no longer allows users to search the newsstand by category. If you want to browse entertainment magazines, you can’t. And yet this is one of the primary ways in which users search for magazines. If you type “entertainment” into the search field, the only results you’ll get are titles with that exact word in them.

Imagine if your local brick-and-mortar newsstand hid most of the magazines in the back room, and for the rest, abandoned categories and instead forced customers to search randomly among Guns and Ammo, People and WIRED in order to find House Beautiful. Customers and publishers alike would be storming the proprietor with malice aforethought.

Certainly Apple has never suffered materially from customers’ displeasure. And let’s face it, Apple’s business is selling hardware, not content. And what a good business it is, with 170 million iPads sold since their introduction in 2010, and 732.4 million iPhones since 2008.

Which adds up to one sad fact: You still have to know how to publish on the Apple Newsstand. However, I will say that I perfectly understand why several bloggers and software vendors have changed their routine advice to publish to Apple first, and now recommend publishing to all platforms simultaneously or to skip the Apple Newsstand altogether.

Perhaps the news that Android devices have caught up to Apple is more exciting for publishers than I realized when I recently wrote about the Google Play Newsstand.

Having said all that, I’d like to offer some ideas on how to publish on the Apple Newsstand, to make a task that’s now less profitable at least a bit easier, especially for those digital publishers who don’t have the resources to publish in all the platforms at once.

Discover digital publishing tips for creating digital magazines in a tablet magazine publishing world when you download our FREE Digital Magazine Publishing handbook today.

Tips for publishing on the Apple Newsstand

Apple has helpfully created a vast array of documents to cover all the technical aspects of publishing to the newsstand. You can find it here. But most of this isn’t geared toward publishers and other decision-makers. What you need to know is entirely different.

How to publish on the Apple Newsstand, Tip 1: Choose your digital magazine publishing software wisely

Don’t think you must publish with Adobe’s industry-leading Digital Publishing Suite. Its startup costs can be prohibitive and slow your entry into tablet magazine publishing. There are a number of good, affordable options out there for smaller publishers with one to three titles, including our partner, Mag+.

How to publish on the Apple Newsstand, Tip 2: Accept the fact that the 70/30 revenue share is awesome.

Some publishers wring their hands over what they call Apple’s “remit rate” of “only” 70%. This is mystifying to us, given that not so very long ago in the print era, a remit rate from news agencies of 18-40% was typical. Paying Apple just 30% to live on their wildly popular tablets and leverage one of the most well known brands in the world is a bargain.

How to publish on the Apple Newsstand, Tip 3: Pay special attention to the name of your app

Mag+ advises publishers to use a common search term that you think your audience would use, because the name of your app carries more weight in the search function than keywords you set for the app. You should also keep it short; only 20 characters will be shown in the iPad in a top list, with up to 40 or so showing in a search result. Those numbers are even less on an iPhone, at ~11 and ~22 respectively. A title such as Home Design DIY Interior Floor Layout Planning & House Decorating is just too long.

How to publish on the Apple Newsstand, Tip 4: Write a short, compelling description

Users will see only the first part of your description without clicking “more.” And as we all know, every time you make a potential customer jump a hurdle, you risk losing him.  Our client, Bayou City, tells readers exactly what they’ll find in the app right up front.

Bayou City magazine brings curated coverage of lifestyles, trends and experiences to your iPad. Our imaginative editorial and stunning photography help you to fill your life with close-in experiences …

Coastal Living, however, believes that the most important thing it can tell you about itself is:

Experience Coastal Living magazine on the iPad or iPhone … plus get 1 month FREE with an annual subscription!

(And I just corrected the random capitalization that the actual description employs … )

How to publish on the Apple Newsstand, Tip 5: Keep the Apple Newsstand in mind when designing covers

Those tiny little thumbnail images of your print cover are far too small to be compelling. Consider designing a cover specifically for your digital edition that relies heavily on a single image and a short, bold title. Remember, you’re not losing all those wonderful teasers and other copy that you normally put on your cover – because no one can see them in the thumbnail, anyway.

Compare, say, The Magazine and Shift with Discover and Mental Floss, which are currently side-by-side in the Science and Technology featured bar of the newsstand. The first two lose nothing in their thumbnail, whereas the others might as well have greeked copy instead of carefully-created teasers – and that’s on an 11-inch iPad, not a 7-inch tablet or smartphone.

Keeping all these things in mind will help you make the best of the Apple Newsstand, no matter what wacky changes the company makes to it. Do you have any other ideas for making it easier? What are your thoughts on the problems that are surfacing?

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3 Responses to “5 Tips for Publishing on Apple Newsstand”

  1. Dave Ball Says:

    Perhaps the reason that Apple is not putting much effort into the Newsstand is that they are not making much money from it. Perhaps they only are showing the top 28 titles is because they know that is where the vast majority of their revenue comes from. Perhaps consumers are rejecting the concept of digital magazines on a scale that makes it worthwhile for Apple to put any more time or money into it, considering how much they are making on other categories of apps.

    That said, good suggestions for maximizing the likelihood for being found in search. The most challenging is naming the app something other than the name of the magazine. I suspect that will be a hard sell for many publishers (and editors).

  2. Ed Coburn Says:

    Thank you Dave. think that’s right. (Of course what constitutes “not making much money” is relative. I suspect plenty of us would be happy to be making what Apple makes off Newstand, but that’s an aside.)

    Your suggestion that “consumers are rejecting the concept of digital magazines” isn’t supported by the data we have seen. Quite the contrary in fact. The lean-back, finite experience of reading a magazine is something that has never appealed to all consumers but that appeal doesn’t seem to be waning for the 20% who do read magazines. The tablet is such a demonstrably better platform for experiencing magazines that we expect virtually all magazines to be tablet rather than print within the next decade or so. Of course, the waters are muddied by the many legacy publishers who have been slow to move or who put out simple replica editions that didn’t function well or did not meet readers’ expectations. That is changing as those publishers get more sophisticated in their efforts.

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