Is Magazine Binging a ‘Thing’ Yet?
Since the concept of digital magazines surfaced more than a decade ago, it has remained unclear when, where, how and even whether consumers really wanted a print-like experience on digital screens. Zinio, tablet editions and Apple Newsstand all have thrown various business and consumption models at this problem, but they were mired in legacy models of single issue sales or individual title subscriptions. The response has been tepid at best. In recent years, however, Netflix-style, all-you-can-read models from companies like international distributor Magzter and the U.S. magazine publisher joint venture Next Issue/Texture appear to be gaining traction. But are Netflix and Spotify binging behaviors, which are key to this model’s success, applicable to magazines?
While Texture has innovated in the space at a fast pace, it’s far from alone in the digi-mag race. Founded in 2009 as a joint venture among six major players (Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., Rogers, Inc. of Canada and Time Inc.), Next Issue was among the first to get publisher sign-on to a smorgasbord model for magazines. But it took years for its tech and model to find their footing. Zinio continues to lead on most of the App Store download charts, and rival Magzter boasts thousands of U.S. and international titles in its all-you-can-read model. Meanwhile, just this month, a formidable new opponent appeared in Amazon’s “Prime Read.” The goliath of e-retail is now extending to Prime members free access to a trove of digital mags, including current issues of Elle, The New Yorker, Real Simple and Better Homes & Gardens.
So This Is Where All The Print Fans Went
What habits, if any, are forming in these apps and digi-mags? John Loughlin, CEO of Next Issue, has some answers. “The average Texture reader spends 80 minutes a week in the app,” he says. Loughlin shared some of the first hard numbers I have seen regarding smorgasbord reading behaviors, and they are compelling. While the stat is self-reported, Loughlin says it’s affirmed by harder in-app metrics. The average new subscriber typically reads 4 to 6 of the 200 titles offered per month. But within six months, that number spikes to 8 to 12, and overall time spent in the app expands 60%.
This is good news for participating publishers, who share in the subscription revenue based on time spent with their titles. In the last 18 months, Next Issue has given more than $22 million in revenue to its magazine partners, Loughlin says. Perhaps the most interesting Texture stat is that fewer than 25% of app subscribers currently subscribe to magazines, while 40% are former print customers. It seems as if the Netflix model may be a way of recapturing lost print fans.
The apparently addictive nature of binge magazine reading may also open up new value propositions for Texture and its partners. Current and former magazine readers are among the most prized leads for Loughlin, who says that free trial conversions to paid subscription are 70% when the customer comes through organic channels such as magazine promotions. And because the lifetime value of a recurring, binging subscriber is so high, Next Issue is offering publishers $70 for every paid Texture subscriber that their promotions deliver. The company will soon unveil a model that lets media companies give current subscribers a “to-go” digital version of their print subscription via the Texture app.
Mobile Optimization a Top Priority
Mobile device use is growing fast, and it requires a different approach to content. Articles need to be converted from PDF to HTML for easier reading. Porting magazine content to mobile has always been a challenge for publishers. But Loughlin insists that Texture’s HTML conversion is resulting in “a very significant lift in mobile engagement with the app” and an increase in the amount of content consumed. At the same time, at least for now, the atomized content is not cannibalizing users who access the full digital editions. While Texture isn’t the only staple in a content-rich diet, the app’s success to date has proven there’s an appetite for magazine content—if served in a way that’s easily consumable.