When you dive into the way the digital edition and app economy works for publishers, you can’t avoid the irony of the big digital newsstand and storefronts of Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Zinio, Next Issue Media, et al. The brand power of those operations is simply too good to refuse, and for many publishers, digital single-copy sales from these sources has been a boon. Yet, we all know about the data and revenue sharing frustrations that come along with some of those partnerships and in the meantime, publishers continue to look for ways to take their digital wares direct to the customer. Here’s where the fulfillment companies have been stepping into the void.

The challenge here is not so much the technology—the bureaus are cracking that code—but turning around the battleship of consumer habits and Apple brand power.

On the tech side, for example, fulfillment providers like Hallmark, ESP, Cambey & West, Palm Coast Data, CDS Global and others are all building APIs and dedicated platforms to collect customer data and organize it, no matter the source or whether it’s directly fulfilled by the bureau or not.

CDS Global, for example, is getting ready to launch what it’s calling eEditions—a reporting platform that aims to collect and standardize customer and order information from a variety of digital storefronts.

Changing Habits Is Difficult

At Palm Coast Data, its partnership with Bonnier and the Mag+ platform has created an entitlements system that’s designed to address print and digital bundling models.

And, as in many instances when new technology meets consumer culture, the results so far are good on the tech side, but not so great on the business side. “The only big disappointment has been the volume has not been as large as we anticipated,” says Bob Cohn, Bonnier Corp.’s consumer marketing director.

Cohn says the four brands that are currently on PCD’s entitlement platform are still selling 95 percent of their volume through the App Store and the rest through PCD.

The lesson here is customers have had a couple years’ head start on buying digital magazines on other ecommerce platforms. Publishers have to wean them off of that and onto a platform where the revenue isn’t compromised, and, importantly, they can capture data that allows more flexibility to promote to customers, see where they came from and how they got onto the file.