The New Yorker came out with their iPad app yesterday. It’s the only magazine I read religiously, and I’d love to get rid of the paper version and just read it electronically.

It currently has the very low score of 2 stars with 274 one star ratings out of 375 ratings overall. The one star ratings are pretty universally related to the pricing scheme and have little to do with the app itself.

I’ll break the issues down:

COST:

The paper magazine costs $5.99 an issue on the newsstand.

But let me quote from one of the subscription cards inside the paper magazine:

“ONLY $1 AN ISSUE
One year (47 issues) for $47”

Now for the iPad app version:
$4.99 and issue
That’s one year (47 issues) for $259.48.

So the Anonymous Internet Reviewers are upset. “Dear Internet: They want me to pay $259.48 instead of $47? For an electronic version that they don’t have to print and mail to me?” I happen to agree. But it’s hard to know who to blame.

Every review I read blamed the publisher, but according to publishers, this is Apple’s fault, not theirs.

Apparently this is the case because the magazines and Apple can’t come to terms on the financial end. I’m not privy to details, but making some educated guesses: if publishers sell an app, they keep 70% and Apple takes 30%. If they give away the app for free and sell in app purchases (as the New Yorker does for each issue) they take 70% and Apple takes 30%. The problem is apparently in subscriptions. Apparently Apple doesn’t allow this? They say Apple has rejected their apps with subscription models.

But it doesn’t make sense. If you can buy one issue on this model, why can’t they sell a subscription with the same cut of revenues? All the anonymous sources in the articles linked to above are from publishers, and Apple won’t give their side. Perhaps the publishers aren’t willing to give Apple their cut of the discounted subscription price? There has to be more to the story, because why would Apple not allow a subscription at all? It has to be something about the share of the revenue.

My guess is that the Publishers are saying, “Hey, we’ll give you a cut of single issues, just like we give the newsstand a cut of single issues they sell. But when customers buy a subscription, that is straight through us and has nothing to do with the newsstand. So we don’t want to pay Apple for subscriptions.”

Apple might say, “Hey, when you sell a subscription you have to print and mail the magazine and maintain a system for running subscriptions.  You don’t have to do that with the iPad. Also, all magazines –single issues or subscriptions– have to go through our infrastructure that we’ve built up for you.  The iPad is the newsstand whether or not it’s a single issue or subscription.”

Two other notes on subscriptions:

1. Amazon and Barnes and Noble have subscriptions and single issue pricing for their Kindle and Nook. The New Yorker costs 2.99 a month or $36 a year. 3.99 an issue. Not too bad.

2. There are other apps that do magazine purchases and subscriptions. Zinio is a nice one with a universal iPad/iPhone app. It doesn’t let you do in app purchases through Apple; you must go to their web site and put in your payment information to purchase issues and subscription. It is annoying, but I guess they get around giving Apple a cut. I’m actually surprised Apple allows this. I’m not sure why the publishers don’t do this. If Zinio can, why can’t Conde Nast send you to their web site where you buy a subscription and then issues automatically download to the app? I can’t give you a comparison for the New Yorker because Zinio doesn’t carry Conde Nast magazines.  But I’ve purchased a Rolling Stone subscription and it seemed reasonable.

Now there are reports that apple is working on some sort of newsstand app with would be like iBooks for magazines. Essentially Apple’s version of Zino. But apparently the same sticking point remains, how to share revenue on subscriptions as well as user data. I’m not quite sure why Apple and publishers can share 70/30 split on individual issues but not on subscriptions.

They are also probably fighting over user data: who gets it and what it can be used for.

BUT THIS IS NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM.

Does an app per magazine make sense? No iPhone apps. Access if you have a paper subscription.

PAPER SUBSCRIPTION ACCESS

Having a paper subscription doesn’t give you access to the app version. Some people are upset about this. People magazine does this, but even if the New Yorker did it wouldn’t help; as I’ve said I want to get rid of the paper subscription.

The New Yorker has an electronic version of the mag online (both computer and ipad compatible) that paper subscribers have access to for free. Three problems with this. You can only access it while you are connected to a network (doesn’t work offline), it’s a bit slow and clunky, and finally, this doesn’t help you if you want to get rid of your paper subscription in the first place.

NO IPHONE APP

My goal is to have the magazine available to me whenever I might want to read it. It’s great to read on the ipad, but (and this is key) I don’t always have my ipad with me. But I do always have my iphone with me. The magazine apps really need to be binary and sync across devices. Asking too much you say? But I’ve already gotten used to this with books. The Kindle app from Amazon, the Nook app from Barnes and Noble, and the iBooks app from Apple have iPhone and iPad versions and the books you buy sync across both. (And if you have a Kindle or Nook they sync there too of course).

This has become a really key feature for me. I read at night on my ipad, get up in the morning and pick up where I left off on my iphone on my subway ride to work. As long as I launch the app before I go down into the subway it will sync up and I can continue to read offline once I descend into the bowls of New York. Or any other time I am stuck somewhere with nothing on me except my phone.

THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE

I’m not quite sure I like the idea of every magazine being it’s own app. It would be much more convenient for the user if there were a ‘newsstand’ app where you could buy any magazine. You could buy a single issue for a ‘cover’ price, or get a yearly subscription.

Zinio is basically this. An app that sells magazines, single issue or subscriptions, and the app syncs from ipad to iphone. The magazines are essentially pdf versions of the print version. But it has some nice features like ‘text’ view which strips out the text for a text only view — like the ‘Reader’ view in Safari or Instapaper. It’s the best of both worlds because you see the exact layout of the printed magazine, with pictures and columns etc., but when you just want to read the article you can fill the screen with just the text. You can email articles, but you can’t email a link to the article which would be nice.

One thing you can’t do that would be on my list is search the text of the magazine. This should be an advantage of a digital copy.

The problem with Zinio? Selection. They have some nice magazines: Rolling Stone, the Economist, National Geographic. They have a lot of lesser titles I’d have no interest in. But nothing from TimeWarner, Conde Nast, etc. And also it’s missing some more obscure titles that I personally wish they had: Velo News, etc.

Others have argued that electronic magazines shouldn’t be slaves to the print version and should exist in their own form as apps. Conde Nast’s Wired app is an example of this. It is very flashy and has lots of audio visual flourishes jammed into it along with come confusing pagination conventions. Personally, I’m fine with designing a mag specifically for the iPad, but most of what I saw in the one and only wired app I purchased was useless. I want the content first and foremost. I’d love for it to be designed in a compelling way, but I don’t need 500MB (honestly!) of advertising video and other ‘supplemental’ materials stuffed into it along with a bunch of useless swiping and swishing features that serve no purpose. Especially since you can’t do anything that a digital edition should let you do like search text, email/share articles, and read on your phone.

SECRET TIP

There is one secret tip that gets you a little closer to getting the New Yorker as a subscription on your iPad.  As I mentioned, the Kindle device and Barnes and Noble Nook have New Yorker subscriptions.  I have a Kindle, and it would be oh so nice if the magazine subscription synched to the Ipad/iPhone Kindle app just as the books do. But alas on the Kindle they don’t.  On the Barnes and Noble site they say contradictory things about magazines working on portable devices. But for me, so far it does load into the iPad Nook app. At least it does for me and one other person I know who has tried it. It’s not quite as full featured as the actual New Yorker app, but at least the price is right. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on the iPhone.

The future’s so close, yet like flying cars, never quite arrives.

note:

When I say iPhone/iPad, please feel free to substitute android/webOS phone/tablet.

After having the iPhone 4 for a couple days it has made the pain points of the previous os abundantly clear. The two big ones: lack of unified inbox in mail and app folders. The addition of these 2 features (along with the massive speed bump from my 3G) make the phone a complete joy. But the lack of these features on the iPad make me want to groan each time I receive mail and even think about checking it or when I go in search of an app.

All this will be resolved in the next os update for the iPad, but it will be a long wait.