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8 Ways to Sell Digital Magazine Subscriptions

How to sell digital magazines as the demand for many platforms rises


It’s amazing to look back just 5 or so years ago, when digital magazines were still something of a novelty. Today, it’s a given that print publishers have some version of a digital edition of their magazine, either app or web.

There are also publishing entrepreneurs who have launched from scratch with print, digital and website simultaneously, and even established websites with no magazine at all are beginning to create their own magazines – multiplatform publishing run backward, so to speak.

But even as they’ve become part of the norm, everyone is still trying to figure out how to sell digital magazine apps and web magazines in this brave new world. Sometimes the newest and hottest ideas are just that – ideas. We’re focused on strategies that have actually been executed and demonstrated to work.

So here are 8 strategies we’ve compiled for selling digital magazine apps and web magazines, and as always, we welcome your ideas in the comments below.



Consumers are telling us loud and clear what they want—are you listening? How much would you pay for that information? Download a copy of What Consumers Want from Digital Magazines and How to Meet Their Needs for FREE instead, to find out how you can improve your digital magazine rapport with subscribers. Download now.


How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 1

03-The Best Online Cart Shopping System for Publishers-01Track device users: If you’re making even the smallest effort at online audience development, you’re getting a sizable number of unique visitors to your website. You should always identify those visitors who arrive on a mobile device, and deliver a floater with a digital subscription offer they can’t refuse. This will help you sell digital magazines in the future because you’ll have the benefit of data to guide your decisions.

How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 2

Keep the whole pie: At Mequoda, we always build a subscription website as a companion to our Gold Members’ magazines. Besides the obvious benefits of audience development, subscription websites are vital in selling digital magazines, because you can do so directly from your website.

Take the money yourself, send them to Apple for fulfillment, and you don’t owe Apple a dime. Why? Because Apple’s primary interest is selling iPads, and as long as your subscription website isn’t a competitor retail site, the company is happy. Bonus: You get to gather the customer’s data, which Apple doesn’t willingly share and is a sore point for many publishers.

How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 3 

01-digital-magazine-publishing-software-is-important-which-option-are-you-usingLeverage your back issues: There’s gold in them thar archives! One of the product bundles offered by Scientific American includes print, digital and the incredible archive that SA fully digitized – a couple hundred thousand articles, dating back to the magazine’s first issue in August 1845 and including contributors such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.

And while few publishers have an archive as old and rich as SA’s, most legacy publishers have older content that their subscribers would love to access. For instance, Mequoda Gold Member Biblical Archaeology Society has digitized back issues of its current magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review, along with its retired titles. Bundling that archive with the digital magazine (and leveraging decoy pricing) consistently delivers more sales and revenue than the digital magazine or the library alone.

BAS, by the way, combines Best Practice 2 with Best Practice 3 for a profitable two-fer!

How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 4

Sell on Apple: Having discussed selling digital magazines on your own subscription website, we certainly don’t mean to imply that you should bypass Apple altogether. It’s still by far the best deal you’ll ever get in an app store, brick-and-mortar or virtual: Every sale Apple makes for you means 70% of that price in your pocket.

Remember, in the old days, the average remit from a newsstand for your print sales was 18-40%. And this is beside the fact that Apple is one of the most beloved brands of all time, resides on the bestselling tablet of all, and has far more magazines available, making it the most widely-shopped digital newsstand available to you.



Consumers are telling us loud and clear what they want—are you listening? How much would you pay for that information? Download a copy of What Consumers Want from Digital Magazines and How to Meet Their Needs for FREE instead, to find out how you can improve your digital magazine rapport with subscribers. Download now.


How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 5


Get noticed: While it’s unclear anymore how much influence smaller niche publishers can have on getting themselves featured on the mighty Apple app store, there’s still hope for standing out on newsstands like Kindle or Google Play. Google Play, for instance, enhances its customer experience by providing free content supplied by publishers. In this way, I discovered in the Health category, a modest little blog I’d never heard of, but which is right there surrounded by big players such as Self, Shape and Women’s Health. 

It might not be as big as Apple in scale, and for that reason you might make this lower priority, but Google Play continues to grow, perhaps because of the lower cost of Android devices.

How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 6

Sample issue: As I’ve mentioned before, some publishers give away sample issues in their app to entice customers to buy something. Some might offer an actual archive issue; Consumer Reports offers what looks like an old issue, but could be an issue compiled specifically for the purpose. A case study noted that for Popular Science, when they tested a specifically-designed sample issue against a free trial, the sample issue, showing off the best of the digital edition, easily bested the free trial offer. (Don’t hesitate to run your own similar test, though. Free trials are classic marketing techniques for a reason!) 

How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 7 

02-digital-magazine-publishing-software-is-important-which-option-are-you-usingLow-tech paper: There’s no excuse not to market to your existing print subscribers. Include a special offer for them when you have to send a renewal or billing notice anyway, and the cost is minimal.

How to sell digital magazines, Best Practice 8

Promote them: This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s shocking to us how many publishers (and we’re talking big players) have elaborate websites hosting subscription pages to build print circulation … but their digital products go unmentioned. On the platform where they’re most likely to find their tech-savvy readers! For heaven’ sake, sell your digital magazine on your website! Don’t hide your digital editions under a barrel!

What about you? Got any tips or tricks we should include in this list? Selling digital magazines is an area where we could all use new ideas, and one that’s changing daily.

This post was originally published in 2013 and is regularly updated.

Posted in Digital Magazine Publishing

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10 thoughts on “8 Ways to Sell Digital Magazine Subscriptions

  1. Marv says:

    I appreciate your reference to working with Apple/Newsstand.

    I need more clarity as to how to structure that deal…Would also want to publish to other platforms, Nook, Kindle, etc.
    I’ve build my Premiere issue, not released yet, in Apple’s iBook Author… (not optimum, but a familiar environment)

    Magazine is: YourEARTH—YourFUTURE. (Covering everything we need to consider to survive as a species)
    Do I still need to pay the $575 publishing fee and the $99 developer fee?

    Abundant thanks,
    Marv Lyons
    Founder, Publisher, etc. etc.

  2. Ed says:

    Thank you Marv. Given your size you’re unlikely to have to worry much about “structuring” a deal with Apple. The whole process is pretty well defined, from contrast terms to what you need to do. As we note in other posts on this site, Apple is the big player in digital newsstands, Kindle is a distant second, and Google Play an even more distant third. So, generally we recommend starting with Apple, adding Amazon Kindle, and then adding Google Play. There are others but those three are accounting for the vast majority of magazine app buyers.

  3. I write and edit a vintage magazine – digital of course, although prints can be ordered via our current only publisher, Joomag. Desperate to reach a wider audience and have looked at Apple and really want to make them the next big platform for us. However, a small company, it is a bit daunting, and none of us here are tech savvy. We are only a small magazine and wondered if Apple are basically going to laugh… help?

  4. Ed says:

    Michelle — The Apple newsstand will certainly enable you to reach a wider audience — they won’t laugh at you — but you had better count on doing the marketing because you’re going not going to have Apple driving a lot of traffic to your magazine.

  5. dorian says:

    Wait, how can you use Apple for fulfillment for a subscription website that’s not an app?

  6. dorian says:

    Let me add to that question: … and even if it’s not an app, it can be gated behind registration (e.g., if you feed to the Apple News feed)? How does that work?

  7. Ed says:

    Hi Dorian — Selling on a digital newsstand, whether Apple, Google or others, is selling an app, not a website. A gated website cannot be distributed through a newsstand and doesn’t need to be. Any device with a browser can get you to it.

  8. Emmanuel says:

    I still don’t understand. How do i make my company’s magazine available on Apple newsstand?

    1. Amanda says:

      Hi Emmanuel,

      Apple doesn’t have a newsstand anymore, so you’ll need to create an app and submit it for approval to Apple. Here is Apple’s page on how to do that:

      Amanda MacArthur
      Managing Editor

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