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Pricing Digital Editions: Finding the Sweet Spot

How some publishers determine the price tag for their digital editions.



By Vanessa Voltolina
10/01/2009

“Experience shows that consumers expect to pay less for digital editions,” wrote LCM Digital Media director Matt Hunter on Folio:’s social network mediaPRO. “As far as they’re concerned, there’s no print cost, no distribution charges and no retail margins to cover, so it should be cheaper.”

This is clearly indicative that some publishers are finding that the right content mix is coaxing readers to purchase digital back issues, annual subscriptions or commemorative issues. But is it possible to ballpark a price tag that will bring in funds and be agreeable to readers?

Setting the Price Tag

An annual print subscription to Playboy costs $15.96  ($12 plus $3.96 delivery), and is $12 in its digital format.

To determine what digital readers should pay, Phyllis Rotunno, president of Rotunno Circulation Management LLC, who handles Playboy’s digital editions, “looks at how the overall men’s magazine category prices their digital editions and my goal is to stay competitive.” A single print issue of Playboy is $5.99, while a digital single copy is priced at $4.99.

To create an appealing digital newsstand, Playboy.com includes promotional banners and buttons throughout its site for both the digital subscriptions and single copies on the Zinio newsstand, she says. During the initial launch, 40 percent of Playboy’s sales came from this newsstand.

O’Reilly Media’s do-it-yourself craft title, Make, offers three delivery options to its subscribers: print-only, print and digital, and digital-only. The magazine offers print-only or print and digital subscriptions for $34.95. Readers who opt for digital-only can expect a $26.95 subscription price—around 25 percent less than print. “Pricing for every format is set based on what subscribers and advertisers want and are willing to support,” says Make circulation director Heather Harmon.

A Digital Edition Value-Add

The 350,000-circ. digital-only women’s title VIVmag charges for its annual subscription; however, it recently reconsidered this pricing model. While “it will remain at $36,” says CMO Jeanniey Mullen, the digital edition subscription will now include a membership package. “Given that digital reading is so new, we wanted to make sure that the value proposition wasn’t something readers had to figure out (‘If Elle is only $12 subscription and this is $36…’); we didn’t want cost to come up in people’s minds as a main consideration.” VIVmag’s membership model will include reader invitations to exclusive advertiser and partner events, as well as e-mail access to the magazine’s editors.

Back Issues and One-Offs

Music magazine Spin doesn’t charge for digital issues but it recently produced a digital one-off custom publishing project in conjunction with its July issue. The digital-only retrospective on singer Prince included all of the content that the magazine had published over the past 25 years, as well as access to a tribute album. “Since it was a special issue with a big interactive feature, we priced it slightly higher,” says Nick Pandolfi, Spin’s digital edition manager. The digital retrospective, listed at $4.99, was Spin’s “first go” at paid digital editions, says Pandolfi. Due to its lack of a digital edition customer base on the Web, “we gave a 20 percent discount incentive,” Pandolfi adds.

Make allows access to its entire digital archive to subscribers who sign up for the Premier Maker program, which includes auto-renewal. “Since a few of our hottest back issues are sold out in print, this helps drive sales and encourage renewals,” says Harmon.

Playboy is capitalizing on back issues, with single digital issues at $4.99, single digital special editions at $7.99, and digital special edition back issues $9.99 each. Many publishers have found value in upping the price of their digital edition. Several years ago, Rotunno priced Playboy’s 50th anniversary issue at $25.00, selling nearly 2,000 digital editions. “Digital editions have definitely added to the bottom line,” she says. “The manufacturing and postage cost savings are significant.”

By Vanessa Voltolina
10/01/2009







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