Next Big Thing?: Next Issue and the Future of Magazines

Over 83% of Canada’s population is active online. According to Maclean’s Magazine, along with this, as of November 2013 a strong majority of Canadians use the internet for more than just browsing Facebook or checking the weather—they use it to spend money.

Even though huge amounts of money are being poured into the online marketplace, publishers are still struggling with how to monetize their content online. There does not yet seem to be a best practice for this, thus there is an opening for innovation as publishers struggle to keep up with changing technologies and declining subscription and revenue.

In 2012, Statistics Canada reported that $18.9 million were spent on internet purchases. This shows that consumers are increasingly shopping, browsing, and consuming from the comfort of their homes (Morris, 2013), something publishers want to be a part of.

As a result of an influx of consumer turning to the web for their shopping experiences, web is becoming increasingly “Netflixified” (Houpt, 2014). This means that sectors, from movies to music, are finding ways to bundle content and goods and provide them to users for one all-inclusive fee where the user gets a carefully curated experience, rather than being overwhelmed by choice. Individuals want to consume online, and various companies are providing them with the ability to do so in a highly controlled environment. Netflix, is the obvious example, providing seemingly unlimited television shows and movies for $7.99 a month—an all-you-can-eat entertainment buffet. But is this bundling effective in all areas?

There are other companies, besides Netflix, hoping to bring the best of ‘x’ industry to customers, of which, publishing is one. Examples include Oyster for books, Epic! for childrens books, PressReader for newspapers and Spotify and Rdio for music. These endeavours allude to the fact that consumers are largely overwhelmed by the choice provided by such a vast marketplace (Houpt, 2014). They curate choices, which seemingly lessens the inherent abundance of the ever-growing web.

One market that was seemingly untapped by this Netflix-esque approach until 2009, was the magazine industry (McCracken, 2012). Though magazines were offering digital subscriptions, digital editions, and even apps, a service bundling magazines from a publisher or publishers wasn’t yet available. Enter Next Issue Media.

Next Issue is a service that started as an Android app, that bundles publications from five of America’s biggest publishers: Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp and Time Inc. (McCracken, 2012). Providing one interface for readers to browse hundreds of magazines, Next Issue provides user ease and the app itself for an all-inclusive price.

Next Issue launched first in the American market, then expanded to include an iPad app in 2012, and subsequently, moved into the Canadian market late last year through a partnership with Rogers Media Inc. (Nowak, 2013). The service offers two subscription plans, operating on a negative subscription model: one featuring basic publications for $9.99 per month, the including the addition of weeklies for $14.99.

With these options, Next Issue does seem to be growing likely due to users either wanting to try something new, or existing subscribers bundling their favourites reads to save money (Nowak, 2013). Though statistics to support the growth aren’t accessible due to Next Issue Inc. being a private company, it is claimed that there were about 75,000 paid users as of 2013 yielding the company a revenue of $12 million (Rondon, 2013). This is a huge leap from 15,000 active users in 2012 (Indvik, 2012).

But can they keep growing? At first, there were issues with both quality and quantity. Though it’s often said you have to choose one or the other, Next Issue users demand both.

In the beginning, the app only featured 39 titles. Though this still provided value (over subscribing to all 39 titles separately), users still wanted a greater variety and more “nicheification.” Along with this, key players, such as Businessweek, The Economist and National Geographic were not on the app (McCracken, 2012), likely dissuading some users from subscribing if their favourite reads weren’t available. Next Issue was quick to remedy this problem by adding more titles to a total of 100 (including Canadian titles like Chatelaine that would now be available to American readers) in October of 2013 and 126 in 2014 (Dirom, 2014).

In terms of quality, users were disappointed in the lack of Next Issue’s features in it’s early stages. For example, retina support was not enabled, there was no text-view mode or bookmarking, and users weren’t able to share articles they liked or able to print them (Broida, 2013). Not being able to share articles does not allow for users to communicate their positive experience with the app to their networks, potentially inhibiting growth. There were also issues with the smartphone versions in terms of having a phone-friendly format with limited zooming and scrolling (Broida, 2013). Next Issue heard these concerns and revamped the interfaces, though fuzzy text due to lack of retina display seems to be an ongoing issue (Dirom, 2014).

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An example of fuzzy text in Next Issue compared to Wired’s own app and Zinio, another online magazine app based on individual subscriptions.

The examples of quantity and quality show Next Issue is able to adapt, which is key in the publishing landscape.

Even with some quality problems, Next Issue optimizes content for the device, something many digital magazines fail to do. This means that there are actual tablet and smartphone editions of the magazine that utilize device functionality, adapt to screen size, include embedded content like video, allow for social media integration, and can even use geo-sensitivity (King, 2011). Though Next Issue may not be the answer to the digitization and monetization of magazine content, it is definitely progressing the industry.

These examples show that Next Issue is responding to customer needs, but ultimately, can they ever provide what the customer wants? To me, it seems like the days of cable packages. In order to get the three channels you wanted, you had to order a huge package. Though this could be deemed as added value, it was viewed as paying for things you didn’t need. Next Issue may allow readers to discover new magazines, but ultimately, I think the idea of bundling has a negative connotation for readers. The bundles provide variety, but in terms of magazines which are generally chosen based on specific interests, this variety may not be enticing if certain magazines aren’t offered. Along with this, it’s less likely that a reader will randomly choose a magazine to read, whereas it’s more likely Netflix user may choose a random movie to watch due to the way the content is perceived, especially in terms of time commitment. This leads me to believe Next Issue can provide value and service to certain users, but not to the wider reading public.

Even though they may be falling short, Next Issue now has many more titles and is constantly improving the reading experience. It still provides users with a library experience that single subscriptions, or even digital subscription services like Zinio, aren’t able to. Along with this, Next Issue provides publishers with the opportunity to gather data from its readers through the use of the app. Much like the Kobo or Kindle, Next Issue can see how readers are using the app, what they’re reading, what features they’re using, and more (King, 2011). These analytics will not only allow the app to become more effective, but will also allow publishers to actually see what content is sticky allowing them the opportunity to adapt before it’s too late.

These examples show that publishing giants, while putting aside their differences and working together, can achieve a better product. They are able to use technology to their advantage, bolster eachothers readership, and bring forward an app that people seem to be using. But how popular is it exactly? Will it remain popular long-term?

Matthew Ingram, a media expert, thinks that though Next Issue is providing a service, it doesn’t fit how readers are consuming content (Nowak, 2013). Next Issue isn’t allowing readers to tell them what they want to read, rather, it’s just bringing the content the publishers have to readers in the best way possible. According to Ingram, this model won’t save the magazine business, though it may “slow the decline a little bit.”

Ingram likens the service to newspaper paywalls—some people may pay for the service, but more people won’t (Nowak, 2013). Paywalls have only proven to be marginally successful, with only a fraction of readers actually paying for content (Ingram, 2013). For example, the Gannett Newspaper chain, the largest chain in the US as measured by circulation, is trying paywalls as a way to drive additional revenue at its 80 plus papers. Having done this for two years, Gannett has found that only 2% of readers have signed up for this service (Ingram. 2013).

Ingram notes that this is because users are willing to pay for entertainment, not news. This is perfectly illustrated in the graphic below. News is inherently not entertainment, and generally, is only consumed once, whereas a television show or movie can be watched again and again. Along with this, reading, unlike watching or listening, requires a users full undivided attention—they need to engage actively—whereas a movie or music can be enjoyed passively. This likely inhibits users from using Next Issue or even reading magazines at all.

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A graph showing digital subscriptions to entertainment services versus news services.

Magazines also walk a fine line, in terms of content, between entertainment and news. With less than 15% of individuals saying that they would pay for news content online in a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism survey, it’s hard to say how magazines can make their content increasingly entertaining while still adhering to the longform journalism that is still found in many publications.

Harry McCracken of TIME Magazine notes that Next Issue is, “more likely to fill a niche than change the game,” which seems to be true as readers may still not be getting what they want from the service. Though it provides a more curated magazine experience, there are still certain niches missing in the lineup of magazines. As we seem to be in the midst of a magazine Renaissance that focuses on hyper-niche topics and communities, Next Issue seems to be doing the opposite, trying to reach as many readers as possible with as many magazines as possible.

As publishers, especially those of magazines, struggle to adequately monetize their online content, Next Issue is definitely a starting point.  Still, I don’t think it’s quite there yet as there continue to be issues with the services and aversions to bundled packages, even with the popularity of Netflix. Magazines might be the one form of entertainment that doesn’t work within this model, as readers choose magazines very specifically according to interest, whereas books can be more based on recommendations. It has achieved a Netflix-like quality in terms of service, but does not have the popularity or, in my opinion, content and allure to become the best model for magazines going digital. Ultimately, it seems that Next Issue is a platform that will work for current magazine readers who will be able to find increased value in the app but fails to reach new audiences. It seems like a good use of pooling resources, but rather than putting the focus on reader experience, Next Issue seems to be benefiting publishers before users, allowing them access to data, more readers, and more funds and support to achieve their company objectives.

Sources

Broida, R. (2013, October 31). Next Issue brings unlimited magazines to your iPhone. CNET. Retrieved from: http://www.cnet.com/news/next-issue-brings-unlimited-magazines-to-your-iphone/.

Dirom, J. (2014, January 13). How does the ‘Netflix for Magazines’ stack up? The Calgary Herald. Retrieved from: http://blogs.calgaryherald.com/2014/01/13/how-does-the-netflix-for-magazines-stack-up/.

macleans.ca. (2013, November 29). From the editors: Next Issue Canada is the next chapter of the digital revolution. Maclean’s. Retrieved from: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/time-for-the-next-chapter-of-the-digital-revolution/.

Houpt, S. (2014, March 21). The Netflix effect: Why distracted consumers are bundling up. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-netflix-effect-why-distracted-consumers-are-bundling-up/article17612299/.

Indvik, L. (2012, July 9). Subscription App Launches on iPad. Mashable. Retrieved from: http://mashable.com/2012/07/10/next-issue-ipad/.

Ingram, M. (2013, September 26). Yes, some people will pay you for your news—a really, really small number of people. paidContent. Retrieved from: http://paidcontent.org/2013/09/26/yes-some-people-will-pay-you-for-your-news-a-really-really-small-number-of-people/.

King, R. (2011, September 30). Digital publishing growing by combining print content, interactive features. ZD Net. Retrieved from: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/digital-publishing-growing-by-combining-print-content-interactive-features/59391.

McCracken, H. (2012, July 10). Next Issue’s ‘Hulu for Magazines’ Hits the iPad. TIME Magazine. Retrieved from: http://techland.time.com/2012/07/10/next-issues-hulu-for-magazines-hits-the-ipad/.

Morris, B. (2013, June 2). More Consumers Prefer Online Shopping. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324063304578523112193480212.

Nowak, P. (2013, September 27). The next steps for Next Issue. Macleans.ca. Retrieved from: http://www.macleans.ca/authors/peter-nowak/the-next-steps-for-next-issue/.

Rondon, M. (2013, September 27). Next Issue Media Expands into Canada. Folio Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.foliomag.com/2013/next-issue-media-partners-rogers-communications#.UzH7ma1dU9V.

Wolfe, B. (2012, August 2). Is Next Issue Magazine App for iPad Worth It? appadvice.com. Retrieved from: http://appadvice.com/appnn/2012/08/is-next-issue-magazine-app-for-ipad-worth-it.