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How to Price and Sell Online Magazine Subscriptions

Multiplatform magazine subscriptions and native Apple editions that provide a high-quality user experience are keys to success

Now that we’re 5+ years into the advent of the iPad and responsive website design has penetrated to a point where it’s now a must-have for Google-friendly sites, it’s become widely accepted that online magazine subscriptions and native tablet editions are the future of publishing. One challenge remains: Few publishers understand how to architect and monetize their content online.

Without a clear plan to profit from digital publishing, most publishers upload their magazine content to the web and cross their fingers that it’ll work. They may create a flip-book style or PDF version of their magazine and hope that’s enough to please their readers. At Mequoda, we have a bulletproof plan that makes finger-crossing unnecessary. And one of our clients, Prime Publishing, publishers of digital-only magazines I Like Crochet and I Like Knitting, is proving that online magazine subscriptions built natively can be a solid revenue stream.

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Online magazine subscriptions done right

i like knitting pricing

The I Like Knitting subscription page.

Prime Publishing has figured out a great way to monetize its content online, offering a custom native Apple edition and a fully responsive HTML web magazine subscription for each of their two new magazine brands, both launched in 2014. Their multiplatform price and offer structure for both magazines is:

  • Website & Tablet $34.97 (Get the magazine on your iPad, along with website access for printing out projects and watching tutorials on your computer, and access to full magazine archives)
  • Website Access $29.97 (Get projects and tutorials on your laptop or desktop, plus get access to magazine archives and additional projects and tutorials)
  • Tablet Edition $19.97 (Get the magazine on your iPad)

Here’s where the magic happens: 42% of orders for I Like Knitting, for example, are for the higher priced Website & Tablet combo, increasing the lifetime value per customer and creating multi-buyers, which are better and more loyal customers. Less than 20% are opting for the Tablet only edition, enforcing the notion that users value online magazine subscriptions. They want to engage the content on all their devices and want access to the web magazine archives.

Add value to your subscription by providing a phenomenal user experience

An article in the I Like Crochet web magazine.

An article in the I Like Crochet web magazine.

When Prime launched these multiplatform online magazine subscriptions, they knew they had to create a stellar user experience both on the iPad and on the web in order for the product to sell and be profitable.

“Our goal when we built the Apple edition was to give consumers a great tablet and content experience. All too often magazines create a ‘replica’ type issue based on their print title that is difficult to read, navigate and enjoy,” says Stuart Hochwert, Prime’s President & CEO.

i like crochet magazine

The Table of Contents for I Like Crochet’s web magazine.

And his web editions, which are linear magazine experiences with a Table of Contents and a beginning and an end to each issue, are fully responsive HTML pages. This means subscribers can access the magazine content anywhere, from any device – desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone – and have a pleasant user experience regardless of where and how they’re consuming the content.

“The iPad has great built in features that consumers enjoy which is among the reasons why Apple is so successful. So we took advantage of that and invested heavily in video and photography that we create in our studio to produce a well-designed experience,” said Hochwert.

And this commitment to a quality experience is paying off. Hochwert’s cancel rates on these magazines are in the low single digits – 75% less than what we’ve seen with digital editions in similar markets. Give users a high-quality native product and they aren’t left disappointed.

Work the Apple brand to your benefit

Regular readers of Mequoda Daily know how we feel about Apple’s 70% remit rate. We believe it’s the greatest bargain of all time. Especially when publishers understand that Apple only gets a cut of what’s sold through their own digital store. If, instead, you as the publisher sell subscriptions to your Apple edition through your own website, Apple gets zero dollars. And with 94% of Hochwert’s orders coming from his own website, it means he only pays Apple the 30% on the 6% that they sold directly.

So naturally, being the astute business man that he is, Hochwert is busy finding ways to pay Apple MORE money! “Only about 6% of our magazine sales are coming from Apple and we know we can do more. We’ll be working toward getting greater visibility in iTunes by focusing on reviews, prompting users to write objectively about the product, writing better descriptions, and sending more directed traffic to Apple,” says Hochwert.

Part of the challenge with new brands like I Like Knitting and I Like Crochet is that people aren’t yet searching for them by brand in the Apple store. But as Hochwert points out, “when the magazine subscriptions are digital, we can afford to pay 30% all day and still build a very robust business!”

Another benefit to creating a native Apple edition of your digital magazine, especially if there’s no print edition, is that it gives you a certain credibility with the buyer. The buyer recognizes the Apple brand and when presented an offer for a multiplatform digital magazine, the Apple and the iPad brands help users recognize and envision what the product experience will be like.

Creating your own online magazine subscriptions

Online magazine subscriptions should become a healthy part of your overall publishing revenue, as they have for Prime after less than one year in operation. Share your experiences and wisdom gained from transitioning or launching online magazine subscriptions below. And if you need help getting started, I encourage you to attend our Digital Publishing & Marketing Intensive to understand the entire process from start to finish!

This article was originally published in 2013 and is updated frequently.

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