Digital editions emerged at a time when the Internet had already made a sufficient dent in the print industry’s funds, but a little too late to stem the flow of free information from new entirely web-based sources. This very website is a prime example, providing daily tips, reviews and articles that print magazines used to rely on to sell copies.
As the print industry continues to decline, more of us are buying tablets like the iPad and the recently announced iPad Mini. Last year Apple threw the print industry a bone in the form of Newsstand, a digital distribution platform for magazines built right into iOS. Unfortunately for publishers, more and more of this content is now also being made available for free.
So if you’ve just bought an iPad and are eager to put those pixels to use on some quality free content, let’s take a look at your options.
The Digital Edition
When Apple launched its own app-based magazine reader as a feature in iOS 5, it wasn’t particularly big news but a “nice feature” that many people buried on their third or fourth home screen. It’s not that Newsstand is particularly bad, in fact the presentation as a stylised shelf that sits nicely alongside the rest of your iDevice’s icons is very well implemented. What Newsstand lacked was a good range of magazines, even if they did cost real money.
The cost issue still persists and it probably always will; if you’ve got a large Internet-enabled touch-screen device like the iPad in your hands then why wouldn’t you just use a free app or the Internet for reading materials? To make matters worse, many publishers simply took the price of their physical made-from-trees copy and slapped it on the digital edition. While there is a certain cost involved in producing a magazine, paying writers a decent fee and making some profit at the end of the day, charging like-for-like in this manner doesn’t work. The manufacturing costs simply aren’t there for starters, and even Apple are happy to host your content so bandwidth costs are non-existent.
Digital editions needed to be competitive in a digital age where hours of fun can be had for less than a dollar in the form of an app download. Angry Birds isn’t going to stimulate the grey matter quite in the same way a copy of the Economist would, but mass-appeal and assumed value for money makes the game far more profitable. So, what would happen if you slashed prices or even made your content available for free?
Free Newsstand Publications
I’m happy to report that the range of magazines using Newsstand for distribution has improved massively over the last 12 months. There are also signs of more sensible pricing, and even some completely free publications to sink your teeth into. Perhaps the most high-profile example of this happening came last year when The Huffington Post dropped its 99¢ cost per issue and instead offered long-form features, reviews, snippets of news and some interactive gubbins to the masses for free. You can download it here and enjoy, if HuffPo is your kind of thing.
As it turns out there are a large range of free magazines, and to talk about each one would take way too long and your time would be better spent actually reading the magazines themselves, so here’s a list for the cash-strapped consumer of words:
The following are available for free on the US App Store, simply by searching as you would any normal app or by clicking on the link provided. Some appear to work globally, others are restricted to the US-only:
Cineworld – The cinema chain’s own publication, in digital form.
Co-Op Food Mag – The UK supermarket’s free in-store printed magazine in digital form.
If your favourite coffee-table dwelling glossy is absent from the list, there is another fairly cheap option that might please you.
Somewhat of a Spotify for magazines, Next Issue is a joint effort between Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp, and Time Inc to bring together a slew of popular glossy magazines and make them all available for a set price. The all-you-can-eat approach has served other content vendors like Netflix and the aforementioned Spotify well enough, and Next Issue hopes to recreate that for the ailing print industry.
Popular titles include Wired, Time, Better Homes and GQ to name but a few. Prices start at $9.99 monthly for access to the month’s top releases with a $14.99 subscription including all weekly magazines too. There is a 30-day trial period, so if you’re interested you can try without the need to buy making Next Issue a sensibly priced service that’s full of quality content.
If you’re truly sick of everything else on offer you can of course make your own magazine using an app like Flipboard, which I recently raved about for iPhone. Flipboard connects to the accounts you use daily and pulls in content, arranging it in a magazine-style view. It used to be iPad-only, but now it’s iPhone-optimized too.
Let us know if you have any favourite free Newsstand or other digital editions, and what you think of the iPad as a distribution platform for once-print publications in the comments below this article.