The transition from print to digital has been a rocky road for many old-school publishers, but as consumers have warmed up to tablets, the leading magazines have gradually shifted their strategies to accommodate readers. But a new deal between Hearst and Apple takes this emerging trend into new territory by offering iPad versions of the publisher’s titles on Apple’s App Store before they appear in print.
The Apple Newsstand feature is called “Read Them Here First,” and covers the entire stable of Hearst’s magazines, including Esquire, Popular Mechanics, Marie Claire, The Oprah Magazine, Road & Track, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and HGTV Magazine. First discovered by AllThingsD, the feature was quietly rolled out earlier this week, with Hearst only mentioning it
via Facebook and Twitter links to the story.
According to the report, Hearst, one of the largest magazine publishers on the planet, is the only publisher currently offering this option on Apple’s Newsstand. When contacted, a Hearst spokesperson told the site, “Apple suggested this initiative, and it’s a great offer they can provide to their newsstand users. We’re always working with our retail partners on unique ways to drive consumer sale and engagement.”
The first hints that Hearst might have something big in store for its digital operations came about three weeks ago in the company’s annual post-holiday memo to employees penned by its president, David Carey. As Folio Magazine revealed on Jan. 2, Carey told employees, “The company’s digital leadership team is working on plans to ‘future-proof’ our digital business models for a world where more than 50 percent of our traffic will be on small screens, and our readers will demand fresh, high-quality content from our brands around the clock.”
However, even before Hearst sealed this new Apple deal, the publisher’s digital business was booming. “By the end of the year, we counted nearly 800,000 monthly digital subscriptions in the U.S. across iPads, Nooks, Kindle Fires and Android devices—the highest in the industry,” Carey said in that memo. “Those subscriptions are now generating profits after 24 months of investment.”
But one line in publisher’s memo stands out above all else. “More than 80 percent of [Hearst’s] digital subscribers are new to our files, and their engagement levels meet or exceed the high levels we see from our print products,” Carey wrote. In the publishing business, engagement generally translates into advertising revenue. So, in the early stages, it appears that Apple’s digital Newsstand experiment is paying off for at least one major publisher, and may be the biggest sign that the traditional magazine business has finally turned the corner on digital versus print publishing once and for all.
By Adario Strange, PCMag