And this could get ugly.
Many articles keep delving into the same question: can digital save the magazine industry? Is there a chance that the magazine publishers who drastically cut their subscriptions prices to rates as low as $3/year can turn their ship around and find success in rates as high as $20/year through apps and other digital offerings?
After all, up to 85 percent of the new digital subscribers through apps have never had a print subscription before, so they don't know what a "deal" they could have gotten. But now that publishers are targeting current print subscribers, many people are asking for/expecting digital for free (forever), or at least at the low rates they have gotten their print for.
Recently I was interviewing a number of online/mobile acquisition vendors and deal bloggers. I was asking them what types of offers and incentives could drive mass volumes of sales for digital magazines. To my surprise I learned that my offers don't need to compete with other companies offering similar products; as much as they need to, I am battling their own print offers! This made me think.
If a "new to digital" consumer is surfing the Internet and comes across some great content about fixing up their home recommended from inside a magazine, they might be willing to buy that magazine. If they see that they can get one year of that home magazine for $5 (in print), and a few sites later they see the same magazine being offered for $19.99 (in digital) they will most likely opt for the print issue. At the very least they will look for a digital option that costs less.
This consumer perception issue is real; the consumer is always right. And, this could cause some larger issues in the future for anyone in the magazine industry. The industry needs to take positive steps to change this now. We can all move forward to drive more return for amazing product. We can't afford to enable brokers and agents on the print side to put digital profitability at risk. For volume digital sales, publishers should create some industry best practices around pricing to help protect their future profitability plans. This area should get no less attention than digital ad sales and tracking attention.
If we don't address this now, we will find ourselves commoditizing our digital business in order to compete with our own internal print products. And it won't be pretty.
Jeanniey Mullen is the vice president of marketing at NOOK by Barnes and Noble, focused on business growth and customer acquisition.
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