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Small Niche Digital Magazine Sells Like Gangbusters … but Apple’s Newsstand isn’t the Main Source

Decoy pricing, website sales and a digital magazine that readers love drive sales for Biblical Archaeology Review

The “World’s Largest Circulation Biblical Archaeology Magazine,” as Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) bills itself, lives in a small niche, parented by a nonprofit organization. It’s dedicated to studying the oldest civilizations in the world.

Yet it’s had a digital magazine since September 2012, well before many other niche publishers, and it’s making this commitment 21st-century technology pay off in a big way.

BAR is the product of the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS), a legacy publisher with a robust archive of older magazines it no longer publishes, to sell along with subscriptions to its current one. And BAS leverages its library product to enhance digital subscription sales, as we’ve noted in the past.

In fact, as you’ll see, the BAS story is one of the best examples of decoy pricing we’ve seen in a long time.

There are three packages with the digital magazine you can buy at the BAS website:

  • $19.95: BAR digital magazine for $19.95
  • $29.95: The BAS digital library
    BAR archives plus 20 years’ worth of Bible Review and eight years of Archaeology Odyssey
  • $34.95: BAR digital + BAS library

According to BAR Online Editor Noah Weiner, 2013 saw 883 orders for the digital magazine alone, and 1,069 library sales, and 2,769 combo offers – sales of $97,000 for that offer alone.

Of course, BAR is also available in the Apple Newsstand, where sales of $635 represent about 150 single copies, and sales of $8,410 represent about 600 subscriptions.

Take a look at those numbers: $97,000 from one single combo offer, the most expensive option, made available only at the BAS website. Everything else combined – the Apple store plus the other two cheaper online offers, totaled $58,678: $38,322 less than sales from the expensive combo offer all by itself.

Clearly, decoy pricing helps drive digital BAR sales. But think of this story in another way, too: The society sold 4,721 subscriptions from its website. Apple helped it sell only 600 subscriptions, and 150 single copies. Oh, and naturally Apple took a 30% cut of those sales.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly the Mequoda belief that no digital magazine stands alone. Every publisher must have a website as an integral part of a successful multiplatform media business.

Sadly, and shocking as it may seem, some of the biggest publishing companies still aren’t selling their digital magazines on their websites. Imagine how much money they’re leaving on the table!

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the Digital Magazine That Could. It’s not even the fanciest or flashiest design out there … and still it’s a huge revenue stream for BAS.

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 our 2018 Mequoda Magazine Consumer Study for FREE instead, to find out how you can improve your digital magazine rapport with subscribers.

Mequoda Best Practices and BAR

BAR, without the vast resources of many of the digital magazines we profile here, and starting early before much of the technology we include in our best practices was developed, offers a less flashy digital experience than some other magazines.

Nevertheless, its subscribers adore it. It boasts four stars and rave reviews in the Apple store, and publisher Susan Laden notes that because the magazine is already rich with features such as sidebars, contests, and footnotes, she doesn’t want to clutter it up with more bells and whistles.

Here’s how BAR stacks up to Mequoda’s current best practice list:

Biblical Archaeology Review
Mequoda Best Practice Complies? Notes

Design

Features readable design, either vertical reflow or responsive. No* * Text-only version of articles available in larger size font
Easy to navigate Yes
Portrait OR landscape mode No Offers both

Content

Uses available technology to enhance reading experience Some Seamless link to website for additional content
Includes updated daily content No
Includes free content No

Functionality

Free from glitches, crashing, etc. Yes
Includes interactive advertising Yes
Stationary image with text scrolling No
Includes in-app purchases of books or special issues
Includes tool for saving content Yes Not obvious – instructions are in Help menu
Easy to find in newsstand Yes

Design

 

1. Magazine features readable design, either vertical reflow or responsive. NO

 

BAR is a simple replica, meaning that every page of the print edition is simply shrunk to the size of a tablet screen. This makes the type almost too small to read, especially for an older audience. However, BAR does offer the option to call up text-only versions of each article, without images and in a larger font, by tapping on the headline, which glows for a few seconds every time the reader arrives at a page.

2. Magazine is easy to navigate (instruction page, scrubber bar and instructional icons) YES

A toolbar accessed by tapping on the screen offers an instruction page plus thumbnails in a scrubber bar. There are no instructional icons, but then, they’re not really needed in this magazine because there isn’t much “technology” to access.

3. Magazine uses either portrait or landscape mode, preferably portrait. NO

Mequoda believes that spending money on both modes can be a waste of resources, but with a simple replica, BAS hasn’t exactly been spending frivolously elsewhere. Its pages can be viewed in either mode.

Content

 

1. Magazine uses available technology to enhance the reader experience. YES

While there are no embedded videos or fun photo galleries, as many larger publications offer, there is a seamless interface with the website available for additional content within many articles. In addition, BAR offers something that very few digital magazines do: Teasers on the cover and headlines in the table of contents are links that take the reader directly to the article.

2. Magazine includes updated daily content. NO

As important as we think this is, it’s just not on the radar yet for the vast majority of publishers. Because BAS has a robust daily blog on its website, we hope to see similar content, even repurposed from existing content, added to the magazine app in the future.

3. Magazine app includes free content. YES

Kudos – BAR has included a special double issue, its 200th, as free content in the app. Again, this is often overlooked by publishers, so we’re pleased to see BAR meeting this Mequoda standard.

Functionality

 

1. Magazine app is free from glitches, crashes or other technical problems. YES

As mentioned above, user reviews in the app store are raves, and I experienced not a single hitch or glitch. Images are not pixelated, but crystal clear in the iPad’s demanding Retina Display function.

2. Magazine includes interactive advertising. YES

No, you won’t see 3-D video ads here, like the digital pioneers at Popular Science have invented, but you will find links to buy products and visit the company’s website. A book review even includes a link to buy the book. In addition, BAR’s navigation bar offers a clickable list of all advertisers in the issue, something we rarely see, but which publishers who do offer it say their advertisers expect.

3. Magazine features images that remain stationary when text is scrolled. NO

This is another of those technological bells and whistles that hasn’t reached the mainstream yet.

 

4. Magazine offers in-app purchases of books and/or special reports. YES

BAR also aggressively sells its archaeological tours within the magazine.

5. Magazine has a tool for saving content. YES

You can save favorites by tapping on the top right corner of any page, though the only clue that you can do this is in the instruction page delivered when you open an issue, and there are no icons to remind the user how to do it on the pages themselves.

6. Magazine is easy to find in the Apple newsstand. YES

The ease with which we found BAR in the Apple Newsstand is a first for a niche magazine in our research. Type in a related word, in this case, “biblical,” and BAR is the first result. For “Bible archaeology?” First again. Type in “archaeology,” and Apple delivers a new list of more targeted phrases, for which BAR is first yet again if you select “archaeology Mediterranean” and “archaeology Near East.” I call that owning the Apple Newsstand in your niche.

Overall, BAR has done a remarkable job of meeting Mequoda best practices without spending the extra cash to go high tech, and it even out-performs many larger, for-profit publications in some areas. Our hats are off the BAS and the BAR team, and we wish them all continued success.

If you have thoughts about BAR, or other nonprofit publications, let us know in the comments. We’re always interested in the ways niche publishers find to stake out their claim in the digital world.

 

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