The collection and management of the raw customer and sales data that comes out of the digital newsstand providers has been a huge pain point for publishers.
Simply put, digital edition and app sales data coming in from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Zinio and the rest is not standardized. It has to be manipulated by hand and is extremely labor intensive. Imagine an Excel spreadsheet hundreds or thousands of columns wide and you begin to get the picture. Even more importantly, tying revenue back to sold issues has been problematic at best.
And then you’ve got the finance, administration, consumer marketing and database marketing groups all needing their own versions of reports generated from that data.
"We’ve got this backdrop of digital editions as a magazine business extensively growing for us and selling through a half-dozen store fronts," says Chris Wilkes, vice president, digital editions, magazines and apps at Hearst Digital Media. "All these various companies are newly involved in magazines, at least with the back end of things. While it’s been exciting and an area of growth, the frustration has been mounting—not just with the marketing, but the back-office functions like accounting. It’s been a struggle to make accurate counts and forecasts, track renewals and new versus existing customers."
Fulfillment providers have been in the unique position of finding a solution to this issue and Hearst-owned CDS Global has just rolled out a platform it’s calling eEditions that aims to collect, filter and standardize sales data from all of the major digital newsstands.
The Web-based platform essentially sits between the digital newsstands and the publisher and collects sales data, standardizes it and makes it available in a variety of dashboards that allow publishers to automatically generate reports.
The platform currently supports data from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Zinio. Apple data, says the company, will be added in the next couple weeks.
For now, tying that data back to individual customers is still a challenge, but the capability is coming. “As of right now, eEditions does not tie the data it collects to individual customers," says a CDS spokesperson. "eEditions’ core functionality is set for the publisher and magazine levels. In the near future we’ll be able to tie this data to a marketing database feed that will tie individual customer records back to this data.”
In the meantime, however, sales data can now be consolidated across vendors and much more easily sorted. Historical data can be piped in as well. "We’ve had monthly subs for nearly two years now. To take that apart and create a baseline normalizes it all. We get the cumulative effect of many months of business in one report, which is incredibly helpful to create a report and gain some insight," says Wilkes.
CDS says a publisher does not have to be an existing fulfillment client to sign up for access to eEditions.
Dashboards show revenue and sales by vendor, issue and product types—monthly access, SIP, single copy and subscription, for example—and publishers can toggle between gross and net sales.
Reports range from sales to revenue recognition. For sales reports, publishers can specify by product, time frame, vendor and can roll up single copy sales. Publishers can also see if a sale is new or recurring/renewal.
Another report can track retention by issue. This report works well for the month-to-month customers and can track the retention rates across certain periods as each issue was served.
The issue revenue recognition report allows publishers to tie sales back to a specific issue and track deferred liability as well—this has been a particularly tough nut for publishers to crack.
“Sometimes the payment is not coupled with the correct reporting, which makes it a challenge to tie back to what was remitted, but also what we sold in a given month,” Elaine Spencer, director of consumer marketing for Harvard Business Review, told Folio: in an earlier report.
Revenue data includes sold copies, net sold revenue, sold average net revenue per copy, sold gross revenue, average gross revenue per copy, remit back to publisher, cancelled copies, cancelled net revenue, cancelled gross revenue, and issued net and gross revenue.