How Newsstand Changed the Game

I am, unabashedly, a fan of magazines. Not only do I enjoy picking them up on a monthly and/or weekly basis, but I also like spending time flipping through the pages and pouring through my favorite articles. And in the interest of fair disclosure, I also write for several currently as well.

But magazines aren’t doing so hot as a whole, and people have been calling for the death of print media for years. They’re considered by many to be “old media,” and websites such as this one are their worthy successors. It wasn’t until the iPad came along that they had hope to transfer for the digital era, but even that wasn’t enough to really turn the tide.

With iOS 5, there’s new hope. It’s called Newsstand, and it’s completely changed the game.

From the Print Perspective

We have an interview with a developer coming up next week, a man named Emmanuel Crouvisier that worked with me at one of my previous publications. I knew that he still worked for a media company, but I didn’t really to expect it to come up while we were talking about his new app. But it did, and what he said peaked my interest.

I asked Emmanuel about how iOS 5 and Newsstand has changed what he does, and this is what he said:

It’s been tremendous. Looking at the graphs, the difference in downloads right now is literally 100 times the downloads yesterday versus two weeks ago on the same day. Basically, that’s all due to Newsstand. We had a huge, huge spike on the day that iOS 5 was released, and that was across all of the applications. Right now we’ve got three apps in there that were all ready for Newsstand on launch day. Those were New Beauty magazineWorth magazine and Vegas/Rated magazine. One of those apps made it as a Top 5 Newsstand app for the iPhone. That just about doubled the huge spike of traffic after the initial Newsstand launch, so that has helped enormously as well.

Prior to iOS 5, if you wanted to buy a magazine for your iPad or iPhone you just downloaded an app. Every month, the app would either be refreshed and updated, or you would be able to make an in-app purchase to buy whatever new issue came out. It was a neat system, but it didn’t really work out all that well.

Newsstand for iOS 5 improved magazine distribution tremendously.

Newsstand for iOS 5 improved magazine distribution tremendously.

Not everybody updates their apps all the time, and even if they do, it’s easy to forget that they might have a new issue onboard. Out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes, so many times people would simply download the app, read through it once and discard it. It also meant that most publishers didn’t have a great handle on who was reading the magazine, and who had the current issue.

With Newsstand, updates are put front and center. Is a new issue available for your subscription? Well there it is on your home screen, just staring at you, ready to go. Now you know when it’s updated, no problem. And from what Emmanuel says, that’s increased readership substantially.

Potential Derivatives

Now that’s all well and good, but is that really a super exciting feature to tout to the world? If you’re a publisher sure, but not everyone is a fan of print publications and many iPad or iPhone users may be more inclined to go to the web for their content. But step back and look at the concept of Newsstand, and you get a different perspective.

John Gruber has an interesting theory about this, something I hadn’t considered until he wrote it. Apple has been toying with the television concept for a while now, but it wasn’t until Steve Jobs’ biography was published that we learned that he had “cracked” the code to make a good video product for the living room. We don’t know what that is yet, but John’s theory is interesting:

Whether Newsstand was Apple’s strategy all along, I don’t know, but I think it might have been. The app is the unit of distribution for newspapers and magazines, not the “issue” or the “article”. This puts more work on the publishers’ shoulders — they need to design, create, and maintain software, not merely publish content — but it gives them more control over the reader experience and more potential for creativity and differentiation.

Why not the same thing for TV channels?

Good question. The Newsstand concept is pretty simple: Deliver your content to you, without you having to go get it. There’s no reason that can’t be translated into other mediums, including television, so that everything comes to you without worry.

Does Newsstand have more potential applications in it?

Does Newsstand have more potential applications in it?

Now integrate iCloud into the equation and you’ve got even more to work with. Let’s say you have a season pass to The Family Guy and watch each new episode religiously. Imagine each new episode automatically coming to your iPhone or iPad and being displayed in a handy little app similar to Newsstand, but tailored just for your TV shows. You can watch it on any mobile device you own, or better yet, on an app on the Apple TV or any hypothetical Apple television that happens to exist at the time. It’s content on your terms, not theirs. Brilliant.

And we’re not that far from that concept as it stands. Today, I can go onto my iPhone or iPad and download that new episode to my device using iCloud, and watch it shortly thereafter. All that’s missing is a dedicated spot on your home screen to deliver that content automatically, and you’ve got Newsstand but for your TV shows. Call it something snappy and you’ve got a hell of a product.

Final Delivery

On the surface, Newsstand isn’t a revolutionary idea that could potentially change the way we consume media. But like many things that Apple does, it’s a foundation for what could be a much larger product. We could see Newsstand-esque apps in the App Store in the coming years, and maybe even on our TV screen if the rumors hold up. Who knows about what the future holds.

That said, it’s not a perfect system. Publishers can’t sell free subscriptions — something which makes a significant segment of the magazine and newspaper market — but this is a version 1.0 Apple app. There’s more to Newsstand than just slinging paper, it’s just not realized yet.

Well, it’s not realized for us, anyways. Who knows what they’ve got figured out in Cupertino. Whatever it is, I can’t wait to see it.