Apple’s newspaper subscription plan may be a half-measure

San Jose Mercury News
John Boudreau reports that Apple is close to enabling publishers to offer subscriptions for their mobile content apps. Boudreau quotes longtime tablet evangelist Roger Fidler of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, who predicts the deal would provide customer information to publishers, with Apple retaining 30 percent of subscription revenues.

If true, the arrangement would be only a partial victory for publishers. Leading media organizations — including The New York Times, Conde Nast and Time Warner — have been lobbying for a subscription mechanism in the iTunes store since the iPad was unveiled in January. Their goal has been to offer not only digital-only subscription options, but also hybrid, print-digital packages.

Boudreau reported that Apple declined to comment for his story, but Fidler’s comments seem to indicate that the subscription mechanism being considered is less than newspaper and magazine publishers had hoped for:

“Publishers wanted to pay Apple a fee rather than a cut of subscription and advertising revenue and are not happy with Apple’s terms, [Fidler] said. They had hoped to offer app editions as part of subscription bundles that include print versions of the paper. Instead, they must use Apple as an intermediary with subscribers.

However, last month People magazine showed how a publisher can develop its own solution for a print-digital package. The magazine launched its iPad app with a $3.99 cover price, with free access to current print subscribers.

Perhaps in the near future, publishers will be able to use iTunes for their digital-only subscribers and go outside iTunes to enable free access to their print subscribers. That could be done by authenticating tablet users against their print subscriber databases, as People apparently is doing. All that, of course, would be dependent on Apple’s rules and regulations surrounding the subscription program.

> Will Apple Tablet disconnect publishers from readers and revenue? (Poynter Online Mobile Media)
> Five Mobile Media Issues that Will Define the Future (Poynter Online Mobile Media)

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