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Ads in digital magazines: double dipping or lifeblood of the industry?
October 29, 2011 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Marco Arment, creator of successful link-saving, ad-stripping service Instapaper, takes aim at web and iPad magazines for "double dipping": charging customers and still displaying ads. Magazine industry insiders and supporters respond that ads are vital to keeping magazines affordable and are easy to skip in digital form anyway. With Apple's recent launch of Newsstand already looking like it could revolutionise the magazine industry, should ad-allergic users accept them in digital magazines as a necessary evil? Or could publishers feasibly figure out a new business model that doesn't require ads?
posted by scrm (70 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
If this somehow helps my beloved science fiction magazines survive, then I'm cool with advertisements on every page.

Really, it depends on the magazine. Something small press with razor thin profit margins is different from Sports Illustrated or Maxim.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:37 PM on October 29, 2011


Ads in digital magazines are a swipe to shift away.
and they are also very easy to hit.
posted by episodic at 2:37 PM on October 29, 2011


People don't seem to have any problem with seeing ads in a paper magazine they're paying for, but those ones don't interrupt your train of thought by automatically flipping the page to an ad without your consent. I'm willing to pay for the New York Times app, and would even learn to live with a small unobtrusive ad, but when the app I pay for behaves like the chintzy Movies app and displays a full screen ad, I have to admit I feel a little bit cheated. Most egregious were the ones that forced me to tacitly admit that I don't like cupcakes in order to find a showtime.

Nobody should have to make that choice.
posted by Awakened at 2:39 PM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Or could publishers feasibly figure out a new business model that doesn't require ads?

Like getting readers to pony up and actually pay for online content?
posted by wensink at 2:41 PM on October 29, 2011


It also depends on the ad. I don't mind a lot of ads, but when I have to sit through shit I can never afford or would never ever ever buy I hate those.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:49 PM on October 29, 2011


This "double dipping" is also why I am hugely on the fence about hulu+. We currently subscribe, but I resent every single commercial with a burning passion. I don't think that's what advertisers are wanting to engender with their ads, but who knows?
posted by cjorgensen at 2:51 PM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


cjorgensen

If there weren't so very many other reasons I never watch golf on television, that would be the reason I never watch golf on television.
posted by The Confessor at 2:53 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think part of the issue is that digital price points, in general, are higher. I'm particularly offended that Kindle editions of books are generally more expensive than paperbacks, despite being less capable products. I can't lend or re-sell a Kindle ebook; shouldn't it be cheaper?

BTW, when it comes to TV, it's quite easy to find illegal digital copies that are 100% stripped of ads and cost nothing to download. It's bad for an industry when the stolen copies are higher quality than the legitimate distribution.
posted by Nelson at 2:53 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The New Yorker iPad app has ads in it... they're just single pages which then take another finger swipe (exactly like the one used to move to a new page) to move past. There's no video, there's no "you can't click past for a certain length of time"...

I don't see what the big deal is. Dead Tree Magazines have had advertising above and beyond the newsstand or subscription price forever. As long as the companies make sure you aren't trapped by the advertising, consumers won't care.
posted by hippybear at 2:53 PM on October 29, 2011


wensink: "Like getting readers to pony up and actually pay for online content?"

In the linked post, Marco Arment is talking about seeing ads in an electronic version of the New Yorker that he paid $4.99 for. He paid for online content and he got the ads. That's what we're talking about here.
posted by adamrice at 2:56 PM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Or could publishers feasibly figure out a new business model that doesn't require ads? Like getting readers to pony up and actually pay for online content? -posted by wensink at 2:41 PM on October 29 [+] [!]"

That's the point. Someone has to pay for this stuff, and if you want quality editorial content, that someone is either the advertisers, the readers or a some combination of the two.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:56 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apple has revolutionized another industry?

(yawns...)
posted by Trurl at 2:58 PM on October 29, 2011


"In the linked post, Marco Arment is talking about seeing ads in an electronic version of the New Yorker that he paid $4.99 for. He paid for online content and he got the ads. That's what we're talking about here. -posted by adamrice at 2:56 PM on October 29 [+] [!]"

But if the readers alone had to bear that cost, he'd have to pay a great deal more than $4.99. Is that really so difficult to grasp?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:59 PM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


FWIW, subscriber-based cable tv was originally touted as heralding tv without commercials. YOu see how that worked out.

See also: ATMs introduced as a way to eliminate bank fees and cut costs to consumers.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:09 PM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


subscriber-based cable tv was originally touted as heralding tv without commercials

Well, yes... And there's still a great amount of commercial free programming available, with original series and no censorship and everything. See: HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc.

(That's also why you won't find HBO etc shows available on Hulu and other such services. Their model depends on having subscribers to their service, not on giving away their content for free.)
posted by hippybear at 3:12 PM on October 29, 2011


Metafilter double-dips, but at least they're good enough to let you hide it.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:36 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyway, let's examine Marco's assertion that the digital edition of The New Yorker is "full of ads".

Last week's issue (which I just flipped through for this comment) contained 16 full-page ads, out of easily well over a hundred pages of content. That's one per longer article, many shorter articles or reviews contain no ads. Most of the ads are for museum exhibits or other cultural offerings in NYC. After the final page of the issue are an additional few pages of ads, which in the print edition appear as margin ads running on pages with content and thus are complete unavoidable. In the digital edition, once you get to the cartoon contest page, you don't have to look any further and would miss those entirely.

So he's complaining about, say, 10% of the full-screen pages of the iPad app being devoted to image-and-text only advertisements, none of which require a time limit to flip past and all of which can be moved beyond with the exact same finger gesture which was used to move to them while reading the article in which they are contained.

He paid $4.99 for the app.

The same dead tree edition of The New Yorker (which I have right here, since the digital edition is bundled in with my print subscription) cost $5.99 at the newsstand.

It has 91 pages, if I include the outsides of the cover. It has 13 full page advertisements in it. It also has non-full-page advertisements on 15 pages, which if I add up the columns into full pages comes to another 5 pages of ads.

None of the digital edition pages have content and advertising on the same page.

Either this guy has never encountered The New Yorker in its print version, or else he's picking a nit as a no-advertising crank. Either way, he comes across as uninformed and lacking experience with publishing in any form outside of his own Instapaper app.
posted by hippybear at 3:40 PM on October 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


The New Yorker iPad app has ads in it... they're just single pages which then take another finger swipe (exactly like the one used to move to a new page) to move past. There's no video, there's no "you can't click past for a certain length of time"...

Meanwhile the Kindle edition of the New Yorker has no ads, and is $2.99 a four issues a month month (while single issles cost $3.99). Unfortunately, Kindle magazine subscriptions are portable device only, and are even lock to a specific device.

I don't see what the big deal is.

I wouldn't have either 15 years ago. Then I went through a large portion of my life without television. Now, every ad galls me. I can accept them in print because they can be ignored, but they're a lot more obtrusive in digital publications. It is not simply a matter of the amount of time it takes to dismiss it, a single-screen full-page add in a digital publication is equal to a two-page spread in a print magazine -- and you can put me down to thinking those are obnoxious, too.
posted by JHarris at 3:42 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


("$2.99 a four issues a month month." Wow. Time to step away from the keyboard I think.)
posted by JHarris at 3:44 PM on October 29, 2011


Eh, the way I figure it, once you've got enough sets of eyes on your product, sooner or later you're going to have advertising as well. It's insidious as hell, but pretty much everybody knuckles under eventually.

It'd be interesting to know if there's ever been a moderately popular publication that didn't have advertising; the tinfoil haberdasher in me wonders if the other kids on the playground wouldn't have gotten together and knocked off such a busybody for the insolence.
posted by Mooski at 3:45 PM on October 29, 2011


Does the Kindle edition of the New Yorker include audio of the poets reading the published poems, additional full-color photo and video features above and beyond the print edition, and links to extended features online related to the magazine content? Because the iPad digital edition includes all those things.
posted by hippybear at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2011


But if the readers alone had to bear that cost, he'd have to pay a great deal more than $4.99. Is that really so difficult to grasp?

It really is. Because I can't believe a digital edition has anything like the overheads of a print edition. Buying rolls of paper and barrels of ink, running them through a huge noisy machine, loading the results in trucks and driving them to buildings all over the world, where they may or may not sell. Compared to serving out exactly as many copies as needed around the world for minimal bandwidth costs. Ads no longer need to subsidise so much of the printing, so why are they still there?

Bah, I'm going to go reread No Logo and deface some billboards.

It'd be interesting to know if there's ever been a moderately popular publication that didn't have advertising

Mad Magazine did, for the longest time.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


It'd be interesting to know if there's ever been a moderately popular publication that didn't have advertising

I can think of two off the top of my head: Consumer Reports and Adbusters. I can't remember if The Funny Times has advertising or not -- I haven't bought a copy in ages.
posted by hippybear at 3:49 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can think of two off the top of my head: Consumer Reports and Adbusters.

Ah, that's true. Of course, those are ringers, wouldn't you say? Not having advertising is sort of their schtick.
posted by Mooski at 4:06 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ads no longer need to subsidise so much of the printing, so why are they still there?

The ads didn't pay for the printing, except in free publications. Usually the cover price pays for the printing and distribution, and the ads pay for everything else.

Talking about this business model is a little difficult, because it's a) broken and b) has been shamefully subverted by asset-stripping corporations like Gannett, but even at that, ads in publications are generally a benefit to readers.

Why? Because advertising revenues insulate publications from market demands. If publications had to pay for everything out of reader charging, they'd be at the mercy of those readers. Yes, that's generally a desirable thing in markets, but in the case of good journalism, you're prey to the problem that while everybody wants good journalism and to live in a world with a strong, independent press, hardly anybody wants to pay for it. Aside for that, there are plenty of areas of interest where the market simply isn't big enough to support an editorial staff on its own.

Thankfully, advertisers do want access to those readers, and will pay on the readers' behalf. Their subsidy gets the publication's readers something they couldn't afford on their own.

Marco seems happily and wilfully ignorant of this economic reality. He confesses as much in his awful follow-up piece, which has the scoundrel's refuge of "but it's just my feelings" with its unspoken rider "feelings can't be wrong". Maybe not wrong, but they are desperately uninformed, just like the app reviewers who say "1* would be 5* should be 99¢ not this $10 ripoff".

When he trots out the "maybe the industry should change so I get what my entitlement tells me I deserve for my $5", we're straight back into the land of "music should be free; bands should money from T-shirts; the industry needs to change" delusions.

Sure, you can have a world where there are no advertisements in magazines and all music and apps are free. But quality will suffer. You want good things, somebody ultimately has to pay for their creation. Why not let advertisers help pay on your behalf?
posted by fightorflight at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


They could offer with-ads and without-ads versions at different prices without hardly any trouble at all.
posted by rhizome at 4:13 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


They could offer with-ads and without-ads versions at different prices without hardly any trouble at all.

It'd be at least $40 a copy, if not more allowing for the sales drop. Perhaps they should offer it, but I don't see anybody buying it. Not even Marco.
posted by fightorflight at 4:22 PM on October 29, 2011


The digital edition of The Atlantic Monthly also has ads, and is much more a strict reflection of the print magazine in all respects than the New Yorker digital edition.

It also has a lot more extras bundled in, including easy access to blog posts and such. It's also much MUCH more dependent on having internet access, as opposed to the New Yorker edition which downloads and then is 100% offline once it's in your device.
posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder why digital books, and print books for that matter, can be sold without ads and still make a profit. Sure they sell for about double the cost of a magazine, but also have a lot more content.
posted by meta87 at 4:29 PM on October 29, 2011


It'd be at least $40 a copy, if not more allowing for the sales drop.

Would it, though?
posted by rhizome at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2011


I wonder why digital books, and print books for that matter, can be sold without ads and still make a profit.

Magazines have to be reset at the publishers once a month or once a week. Books are set at the publishers for a mammoth printing, and then generally not reset until the next printing, often using the same plates as were used for the first printing.

The actual printing costs of a book are much much smaller because the content doesn't change across time. Try publishing a magazine which has the same content all the time. It won't get you very far.
posted by hippybear at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, Marco's Instapaper service exists, in part, to enable its users to read "magazine content" in a way that avoids the publisher's own ad-filled designs.

As someone who LOVES his service and his corresponding apps, I hope he knows what he's doing with his commentary. Personally, I wouldn't toss too many rocks at the publishing houses if my service depended on third-party storage of their content.
posted by foggy out there now at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2011


But if the readers alone had to bear that cost, he'd have to pay a great deal more than $4.99.

Do you have evidence to support that claim?

posted by mhoye at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2011


Does anyone have a breakdown of how much it costs to print and distribute a book/magazine compared to how much it costs to pay everyone _else_ involved in its production? Editors, writers, photographers, etc? My suspicion is that printing is not the most expensive part of the process, but I'd love to see some numbers explaining how it works.
posted by hades at 4:42 PM on October 29, 2011


Would it, though?
Usual formula is that sales will be 10-20% of revenue. (Though the industry's still in a deep ad slump and the web is killing it anyway, so "usual" is soon to be historic anyway). But, yes, allow for a big drop in circulation because the price has shot up, and yeah, an issue without ads would be dramatically more expensive, if the publication was to make the same revenue.

Do you have evidence to support that claim?
Do you need it? This boils down to Magazine Income = Cover Price Sales + Ad Sales + Subscription Revenue - Costs. Change one factor in that equation, and the other numbers are going to have to change as well. Change ad sales, which is the largest one, and the other numbers will change an awful lot.

Marco's argument seems to be "yes, income should be the one that changes, because I don't like ads". But for a lot of magazines, the income is not exactly all that to begin with.

My suspicion is that printing is not the most expensive part of the process, but I'd love to see some numbers explaining how it works.
I'm sure there's a really good Mefi comment somewhere explaining just that, but I can't seem to find it right now. It says that essentially, yes, eBooks aren't that much cheaper because compared to the cost of everything else that goes in to book publishing, the actual paper and presses aren't that terribly much.
posted by fightorflight at 4:55 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


It'd be interesting to know if there's ever been a moderately popular publication that didn't have advertising...

Cook's Illustrated has never had advertising, and their little empire seems to be growing steadily.
posted by werkzeuger at 5:19 PM on October 29, 2011


One thing to keep in mind is that paywalls, in addition to their function as a revenue source, also are a built-in segmentation mechanism ("segmentation" is marketing-speak for dividing the customer base up by demographics, income, interest, or whatever - I work in the field, so not sure how well-known that is).

Not only do you have to give demographic information to join the site, the very act of paying for a status digital good (like an edition of the New Yorker) indicates that you're a certain kind of consumer.

Asking publications to a) sell digital editions for a fee and b) not serve ads to buyers of those digital editions is like asking a kid with a sweet tooth not to raid the cookie jar. Digital subscribers represent a significant pool of revenue, and it'd be silly to ask publications not to monetize that pool for all it's worth.
posted by downing street memo at 5:52 PM on October 29, 2011


It'd be interesting to know if there's ever been a moderately popular publication that didn't have advertising

Define "moderately popular".

Because I can't believe a digital edition has anything like the overheads of a print edition. Buying rolls of paper and barrels of ink, running them through a huge noisy machine, loading the results in trucks and driving them to buildings all over the world, where they may or may not sell. Compared to serving out exactly as many copies as needed around the world for minimal bandwidth costs. Ads no longer need to subsidise so much of the printing, so why are they still there?

A small, free weekly pub I worked for back in 2,000 aimed for 15K in sales in order to cover expenses and make a small profit (about $500). It was 40-48 pages on a typical week. Printing cost about $2,000-2,500 out of that $15k. The rest was salaries (1 publisher, 1 office manager, 3 in house writers and various freelancers, both editorial, photographer and syndicated stuff like astrology and puzzles, 4-6 sales reps, 2 designers and 1 person in classifieds and 3-5 distributors) rent, health insurance and benefits, utilities, office supplies and equipment, (you don't want the office to run out of toiler paper, do you?) and taxes.

What sort of numbers do you have to show that the lack of a print product should lessen the need for ads and a cover cost?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:07 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The New Yorker has a pretty good operation behind its digital edition. When I upgraded to iOS5, it broke my digital edition subscription. For a week, I regularly exchanged emails with at least 3 (I think more) people who are employed by The New Yorker as part of their digital edition staff trying to troubleshoot why it was no longer working for me. They finally got it working again, and the digital New Yorker is truly one of my favorite things on my iPad.

I say this to point out -- running a digital edition of a magazine which is something more than just a bunch of static pages (the NY digital edition on the iPad has elegant navigation and a lot of extras) isn't a cheap proposition. I'm sure that paying 3 and more people New York salaries which are competitive in the market isn't a cheap thing. As Brandon Blatcher points out, there are a lot of costs which are involved with putting out a magazine which go far beyond paper and ink.
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on October 29, 2011


Does the Kindle edition of the New Yorker include audio of the poets reading the published poems, additional full-color photo and video features above and beyond the print edition, and links to extended features online related to the magazine content? Because the iPad digital edition includes all those things.

It does not. Also, it's on a black-and-white screen, has slower page-turns, and is only vaguely internet-capable. It is, however, the New Yorker. Which was my point.
posted by JHarris at 7:30 PM on October 29, 2011


The iPad economist app has ads. They are generally just the same companies as the print version, although the ads have some (optional) interactivity.

It's free with the paper subscription, which is about a hundred dollars a year, although I wish I could pay a little less and get it online only.
posted by winna at 10:55 PM on October 29, 2011


The Economist just had a Groupon deal where you could get a yearly digital subscription for fifty dollars. I expect they'll have another sometime soon.

The Economist and the New Yorker clearly have the best magazine apps (Nat Geographic is good too), but I give the edge to The Economist. It's cleaner, and being able to download an audio edition of the entire magazine is just fantastic. The New Yorker has more neat bells and whistles though.
posted by painquale at 11:22 PM on October 29, 2011


Usually the cover price pays for the printing and distribution, and the ads pay for everything else.

So if your printing and distribution costs are negligible, you have no reason to have a $5 cover price on your digital edition? But yeah, it does sound healthy to have ads as a locked-in independent revenue stream. And if they're putting in more value on the digital copy, as Hippybear points out, that can be worth the money charged.

What sort of numbers do you have to show that the lack of a print product should lessen the need for ads and a cover cost?

Why are you yelling? Your own numbers show printing as being more than 15% of the budget. All things being the same, if you lower your costs, you don't need to bring in as much revenue from ads or sales to stay at the same profit level.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:59 AM on October 30, 2011


It says that essentially, yes, eBooks aren't that much cheaper because compared to the cost of everything else that goes in to book publishing, the actual paper and presses aren't that terribly much.

It was by cstross IIRC, in one of the main ebook threads, but I can't find it either.

I'm happy to accept that the editing and formatting of the book eats up the vast lion share of the cost of a book; that much of that cost is covered out of 'early adopters' paying high prices for hardbacks, while paperbacks are mostly gravy for the publisher, and popular books help pay for the losses incurred with the large percentage of books that barely or don't make back the cost of the advance. I can even accept that kindle books require additional costs due to formatting for a new layout. And that printing costs are only a small part of the price of a book.

What I do object to is kindle books being largely priced at hardback pricing long after the paper copy has switched to paperback.

When a 5 or 10 year old book costs twice as much for the kindle edition as a new paperback, and 'as new' 2nd-hand copy can be had for less than a 10th the cost; that feels like gouging. Especially when digital distribution often isn't part of the royalties for older book contracts, so all the profit goes to the publisher.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:40 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Main problem is that iPad magazines are trying to sell at the $5 newsstand price point, which I am shocked that anyone even pays at the newsstand.
posted by smackfu at 4:40 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone claiming that that a lack of ad income prevents good work from being done doesn't understand what motivates good work. (Hint: it isn't ad income.)
posted by DU at 4:56 AM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Main problem is that iPad magazines are trying to sell at the $5 newsstand price point

While I see your point, you should know that the newsstand price for The New Yorker is $6.
posted by hippybear at 7:36 AM on October 30, 2011


Why are you yelling?

Because you're trying to determine how much a business should or should not charge, yet it doesn't sound like you know anything about running a publication. I could be wrong, but I haven't heard anything from you indicate otherwise.

Your own numbers show printing as being more than 15% of the budget. All things being the same, if you lower your costs, you don't need to bring in as much revenue from ads or sales to stay at the same profit level.

1. Those were numbers from 2000, when healthcare was cheaper in the US and didn't include any expenses for the web.

2. Putting up and maintaining a website and/or an App (With video or interactivity) isn't cheap.

3. I waiting for your breakdown of numbers on how eliminating the print product, which the New York Times has not done, should make a companion digital product cheaper.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2011


we're straight back into the land of "music should be free; bands should money from T-shirts; the industry needs to change" delusions.

Exactly. It's all part of the pervasive internet-enabled thinking that people should be able to get high-quality [whatever] without having to meaningfully pay for it -- and in the case of magazines, this includes "paying" by being exposed to advertising -- and that the creators and distributors of the content should be content to make do with an increasingly smaller slice of the pie, or make their real money selling bullshit side-items marginally related to the actual product, which is perforce given away for free.

For fuck's sake, it's not like the magazine and newspaper industries aren't in financial free-fall. Are we really suggesting that they should make less money on their digitally distributed product simply because it's not printed on paper? Does anyone seriously think publishers haven't done the math to figure out whether it would be viable to charge a higher price and distribute the product ad-free? Oh wait, I know: it's all a plot by the newspaper and magazine publishers to fleece subscribers and rake in gigantic profits because, yanno, they're all doing so well on the balance sheet.

I wonder how much of this comes down to newspapers and magazines (etc.) making a huge strategic mistake in the early years of the web by offering their content for free (and later as free-with-ads). It's clearly created a huge sense of entitlement.
posted by slkinsey at 8:18 AM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


But if the readers alone had to bear that cost, he'd have to pay a great deal more than $4.99. Is that really so difficult to grasp?

Well yeah. And yes, I want to pay more for a service with no ads. (see again: Hulu)
posted by Evilspork at 8:38 AM on October 30, 2011


But if the readers alone had to bear that cost, he'd have to pay a great deal more than $4.99. Is that really so difficult to grasp?

Well yeah. And yes, I want to pay more for a service with no ads.



This raises three questions:

(a) How much more? $20 an issue instead of $4.99? Would you happily pay that for no ads?

(b) Assuming that the answer to the above question is "yes," are there enough people like you to make this a viable all-in model?

(c) Would there be enough people willing to pay the higher price for ad-free content to justify the work and expense of creating a two-tiered price model?

I'm guessing that the answer to these questions is, "no."
posted by slkinsey at 8:55 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, just to be a bit more clear about the actual price of The New Yorker Digital Edition...

It's $4.99 for a single issue.

It's $5.99 for a month or four issues (they publish 5 double issues a year, so I think if you buy a month and it happens to contain a double issue you still get four issues, but I'm not sure).

It's $59.99 for a full year, which is 47 issues.

Print subscriptions cost $69.99 for a year, and include the digital edition as part of the subscription.

The digital subscription also includes full access to every issue of The New Yorker ever published. I don't know if this is available as part of the monthly subscription or only with the full year.

Obviously the worst way to purchase is by the single issue.
posted by hippybear at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2011


If this example digital publication would cost $5 per issue with ads and $20-40+ per issue without ads, as is being said here, then we are saying that me glancing at the ads is worth $15-35 per issue. If that's the case, then please stop bothering with content and just publish the ads, and pay me $15-35 to flip through them. If not, then maybe some more realistic numbers would help.
posted by churl at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2011


Anyone claiming that that a lack of ad income prevents good work from being done doesn't understand what motivates good work. (Hint: it isn't ad income.)

Actually, in one very important way it is. If newspapers and magazines are to maintain investigative reporting teams and give them the time they need to research stories properly, they have to pay those reporters a decent wage, fund the necessary travel and maintain these resources even when the final story takes many months to come together.

Even at the mundane level of a local council meeting, a paid reporter has to be funded to attend if the council's going to be held accountable to those it serves. Already, much of this function has been allowed to fall away, and is replaced only by free propaganda sheets from the council itself.

Eliminate a major source of revenue for publications, and much of their most vital work will no longer be possible. Increasing the cover price or subscription price to a level which made up for the lost advertising revenue would cost the publication so many readers that it would effectively be committing suicide.

Citizen reporters, I'm afraid, are no substitute. Most have a full-time living of their own to earn, and tend to pay attention only to their own particular hobby horse. Even where you're lucky enough to have a concerned citizen who wants to make a particular issue public - and do you really want to leave that to pure chance? - he's unlikely to have the skills or journalistic training to present that information in a digestible manner.

Wikipedia recognised this when they filtered their recent massive info-dump through a partner newspaper in each country. The papers they used were crucial in foregrounding the most important parts of Wikipedia's raw data, giving it some context and making it comprehensible to the general reader. The reporters, sub-editors and production staff who did that work have to be paid too.

Any twit can fire off a few glib opinions on a free blog, but real factual reporting and proper in-depth research is a different matter - and it's bloody expensive for the publication to do. It's also very, very valuable to society, so please think carefully before you suggest we starve it of what resources remain.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:34 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia Wikileaks recognised this when they filtered their recent massive info-dump through a partner newspaper in each country.

I think my correction is what you meant.
posted by hippybear at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2011


I wonder why digital books, and print books for that matter, can be sold without ads and still make a profit. Sure they sell for about double the cost of a magazine, but also have a lot more content. posted by meta87 at 4:29 PM on 10/29

Single author, and generally not on staff.

So if your printing and distribution costs are negligible, you have no reason to have a $5 cover price on your digital edition?
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:59 AM on 10/30


30% minimum of the cover is negligible? That's assuming no costs apart from the app store charges.
posted by MattWPBS at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2011


I wonder why digital books, and print books for that matter, can be sold without ads and still make a profit. Sure they sell for about double the cost of a magazine, but also have a lot more content. posted by meta87 at 4:29 PM on 10/29

People are still buying books written hundreds of years ago. Magazines over a month old can barely be given away, so they have a shorter time to make back their costs and turn a profit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:17 AM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm always a little startled when I hear complaints about ads in magazines. Do people not realize how badly the publishing industry is doing? It's like standing beside someone's deathbed and complaining about the poor quality of their manicure.

The amazing thing is that we still have magazines at all.

Just to put things in perspective, the New Yorker's annual income from its 20,000 print subscribers is roughly equivalent to what Jon Cryer earns for filming two and a half episodes of "Two and a Half Men."

The amount of money that magazines make compared to other industries is infinitesimal.
posted by ErikaB at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2011


the New Yorker's annual income from its 20,000 print subscribers

Wait what?

No, that's not at all what that article is saying.

They have 20,000 print-only subscribers. Plus another 75,000 who (like me) have the print subscription and are taking advantage of the bundled Digital Edition. That's nearly 100,000 print subscribers, plus another 100,000 who are iPad-only subscribers.

Still, I'm shocked (not shocked-shocked!) that the numbers are so low. I had assumed The New Yorker had a greater world-wide penetration than a mere 200,000 subscribers. That's kind of appalling.

I wonder what the numbers are for people who are paying for digital access who aren't iPad subscribers (there's a whole 'nother way to get The New Yorker, which is to pay for online access which isn't downloadable via their website).
posted by hippybear at 12:00 PM on October 30, 2011


Oh wait.

That 200,000 figure is ONLY for people who are using the iPad digital subscription, either as a standalone or bundled with their print subscriptions.

The actual number of circulation, according to Wikipedia, is over a million per issue.

That undoubtedly includes newsstand copies in circulations as well as print-only subscribers.

That makes more sense to me.
posted by hippybear at 12:51 PM on October 30, 2011


It'd be interesting to know if there's ever been a moderately popular publication that didn't have advertising

Ms. Magazine, for a while.
posted by box at 1:07 PM on October 30, 2011


Hmmm... maybe I don't mind digital advertisements so much after all. I just realized I don't seem to mind them in free publication apps like Editions. Maybe I'm guilty of having a double standard in this area. Evidently this is a more complicated issue with me than I had previously suspected.
posted by JHarris at 3:20 PM on October 30, 2011


it doesn't sound like you know anything about running a publication. I could be wrong, but I haven't heard anything from you indicate otherwise.

No, I only know about selling them from a stint working at a bookstore in 2001, taking delivery of heavy boxes of fresh new glossy photo-filled magazines magazines and a month later ripping the covers off and throwing them in a bin.

2. Putting up and maintaining a website and/or an App (With video or interactivity) isn't cheap.

Sure it can be, if you leave out the video and interactivity.

3. I waiting for your breakdown of numbers on how eliminating the print product, which the New York Times has not done, should make a companion digital product cheaper.

You're not going to get one, because I didn't say that. If you put them side by side, a plain digital edition should have lower costs than a printed edition. Customers can see this, and would expect to pay less. And apparently that's what happens with the New Yorker Kindle edition, being a dollar cheaper.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 12:13 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you put them side by side, a plain digital edition should have lower costs than a printed edition.

Why? Printing just isn't that expensive. Writing software isn't that cheap.

Just get over this pretend delusion that there's a huge pot of consumer surplus coming to you from decommissioned printing presses. The real numbers never back this up but we still get comments about ink and bandwidth etc etc.

All of those books with covers torn off? Sure, you don't sell what's not on the shelf but the disposable nature of the business should have been a clue to anyone paying attention that printing and shipping are not the issue and haven't been for a while.

If printing was expensive you would see MORE sold out books and magazines and FEWER boxes of unsold material with the covers torn off. (You would also see fewer stacks of free papers, just sitting there for your packing needs on the street.)

Anyway, I'm not saying printing is free but it's "not free" like the new stuff in the digital edition that also wasn't a $35 exercise in having someone's kid scan the magazine and email it to Apple.
posted by Wood at 11:13 PM on October 31, 2011


Why? Printing just isn't that expensive. Writing software isn't that cheap.

False analogy. Writing software is expensive once, then remains fairly cheap until it has to be rewritten. The same goes for building or buying printing presses. Further, Apple contributes a lot to the process with their standardized libraries; content display controls, scroll bars, resizing, multimedia features, the standard libraries supply all of this. Content creation for digital devices IS arguably cheaper than printing, because it does without the substantial material costs.
posted by JHarris at 12:54 AM on November 1, 2011


(I feel like the Grand High Explainer of Obvious Things when I make comments like that, but it does look like they need explaining.)
posted by JHarris at 12:55 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Writing software is expensive once, then remains fairly cheap until it has to be rewritten. The same goes for building or buying printing presses. Further, Apple contributes a lot to the process with their standardized libraries; content display controls, scroll bars, resizing, multimedia features, the standard libraries supply all of this. Content creation for digital devices IS arguably cheaper than printing, because it does without the substantial material costs.

Well, I can't say how much The New Yorker App uses Apple's native iOS libraries for what it does. I do know that they've duplicated the font used in the magazine for the digital edition (probably trivial, but I don't know), and that they have issued regular updates to the App, including what appears to be a full rewrite/adaptation for iOS 5.

Plus customer service for the digital edition is apparently handled by a completely different team from the regular customer service division within Condé Nast. At least, that was what I gleaned from my week-long email exchange with at least three different people during the time a couple of weeks ago when I upgraded to iOS 5 and The New Yorker App stopped working for me entirely.

(They were surprisingly responsive and solved my problem before the next issue was published. So while it was a week of annoying customer service interactions, they WERE interactive and solved the problem. I give them kudos for that.)
posted by hippybear at 1:03 PM on November 1, 2011


It's bizarre to talk about "writing software once" in this context. Do you think there is a single major periodical being published on the ipad or the kindle or any tablet using software that is not under current development and maintenance?

Software is an ongoing cost.

Amazon just announced a new format, Apple just released newsstand like two weeks ago, etc etc.

What's obvious about this?
posted by Wood at 10:26 PM on November 1, 2011


hippybear, those digital magazines are so common in the App Store, and they are all enough alike in capability, that I can only assume that some common code is powering most of them. Under the hood iOS uses the same fonts to reproduce text on-screen, likely, that the computer programs that arrange and layout the print New Yorker does.

In any case, it takes a far smaller team to make a program like that than to make a full-on print magazine, even when starting up a new edition.

Wood: Software is an ongoing cost.

I'm not disputing that (although it varies greatly according to situation -- there are video games made in the 80s that are still excellent when played in their original forms). It's a matter of scale, though; the team that makes the digital version is certainy dwarfed by the one that generates the content.
posted by JHarris at 11:41 AM on November 2, 2011


In any case, it takes a far smaller team to make a program like that than to make a full-on print magazine, even when starting up a new edition.

Except in this case, the smaller team which is doing the programming is on top of the staff required to make the full-on print magazine. Because 1) the print magazine is still being published, and 2) the digital edition uses what the print team has created as the basis for what ends up in the iPad app.

Anyway, the New Yorker apparently sets the body text in Adobe Caslon, and the headings and such are set in a custom font created for The New Yorker by one of its founders, Rea Irvin, now known as Irvin Type. So it's a combination of common and specialty fonts used.
posted by hippybear at 12:40 PM on November 2, 2011


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