Report by Tim Dawson.
Global shipments of tablet computers reached 26.8 million units during the fourth quarter of 2011 – 150 per cent up on the same quarter the preceding year. And according to one survey, 71% of tablet owners are interested in using their devices to consume magazines, so it is easy to see why publishers are racing into the digital market place.
Some, such as largest, Zinio, deal mainly with major publishing houses. Others, like London-based Exact Editions, have made a virtue of bringing independently published magazines to the digital marketplace, as well as allowing them to be consumed on multiple platforms.
Launched in 2006, the company now sells digital editions of more than 120 magazines – mostly in English and originating in the UK, although it has an expanding stable of titles in French and from Australia and Ireland. There are many household names in their stable, such as The Spectator, Le Monde Diplomatique, FourFourTwo and Burke’s Peerage, as well a fair number of more niche titles.
“Publishers give us an unvectorised pdf and we do the rest”, explains managing director Daryl Rayner. “Subscribers can then access a publication to which they subscribe either online – although it still feels like a magazine, or via an iTunes subscription, or via a branded iPad/iPhone app”. It is also possible to download pdfs of magazines, and for academic institutions to take out site licences that allow publications to be read throughout their libraries.
The end product looks and feels like a magazine, with flippable pages.
In most cases, publishers offer digital subscribers access to all or part of their back catalogue which, because of the way that Exact Editions digitise their content, is searchable. For those who subscribe to multiple titles though Exact Editions, it is even possible to apply search queries to more than one magazine catalogue at a time.
Subscription pricing is left to publishers, although Rayner advise is that they should charge around 20 per cent less than a traditional print sub. Of the receipts, Exact Editions take 20 per cent commission, and on subscriptions sold within the EU, VAT is generally chargeable. Subscriptions taken out though the iStore come to Exact Editions less the 30 per cent commission taken by Apple.
Apple now allows those taking out subscriptions to voluntarily share their personal details with publishers, and Rayner says that a significant number are now doing so. In the case of subscriptions taken out directly with Exact Editions, they are owned by the original publishers, who receive the full details of all subscribers.
Publishers also have access to a portal that gives them real-time, downloadable data relating to subscription activity.
To date, all but one of Exact Editions’ titles are print magazines that wish to create a digital edition. Rayner does not rule out publishing digital-only magazines.
She won’t be drawn on specific metrics either for the scale of her company or sales units, save to say that app subscriptions have ‘taken off dramatically’ during the last quarter. The level of most digital subscriptions is in proportion with the size of the print magazine, she says, although one or two, such at Arsenal magazine The Gooner, have reached new international audiences that they had hitherto failed to penetrate.
The editor of one niche interest magazine that publishes through Exact Editions sells around one fifth of his subscriptions digitally, after several years with Exact Editions – for whom he is full of praise. But the rise in digital subs has largely been matched by a fall in paper subs, he points out.
“I suspect that our paper product will disappear altogether in a year or so and we will go 100 per cent digital. Whether that will be on the Exact Editions model, however, I don’t know. I am considering turning our product into a free-to-download pdf that pays for itself through advertising – particularly as our advertising revenue and our international copying royalties have done will in recent years.”
Clearly, Exact Editions has made a good fist of riding out the last five years, and as the digital subscriptions market continues to grow exponentially, well-placed and innovative providers of this kind seem set to thrive. As the editor above comments suggest, second-guessing which digital publishing model will survive and thrive is not easy. And what shape the industry will be in by the time that this market starts to consolidate, of course, is impossible to tell.