Reason Magazine – a print magazine – was one of the very first subscription periodicals to sell itself on Kindle, and it’s still one of the top 20 bestsellers in the Kindle Magazine Store. Discover how the process works operationally, and how Amazon Kindle sales stack up against electronic edition sales of the same title.
Reason Magazine’s 50,000 print edition subscribers are well educated, moderately wealthy, independent thinkers. “They like gadgets and are early adopters,” said Alissi. That’s why he suspected the brand would be a good match for Kindle.
The magazine had already published two free-access websites, Reason.com and Reason.TV, featuring text articles from 30+ day old magazine editions and video-blogs respectively. At 10-15% of total revenues, online ad sales were respectable, but not thrilling. Sales of a digital edition, priced the same as the print edition at $19.97 for 11 issues per year, also weren’t thrilling, even after four years of trying. However, when he heard Kindle was launching subscription offerings, Alissi immediately contacted Amazon to get involved from the get-go.
Operations and Kindle Publishing
Reason’s Kindle edition is published the same day as the new edition is published in print. It contains all of the text content from print edition, but few other images, and currently not the image-based ads. “If we had more staff resources, we could do more work on formatting and getting more images uploaded, but it’s very low maintenance on our end,” said Alissi.
“It wasn’t too difficult getting set up. It took a couple of month to get the feed working right, but once it was done, it is very little effort to maintain the feed. The digital publishing platform at Amazon has some Q&As and technical guidance, but we mostly worked directly by email with their tech people. They were responsive and helpful.” Other publishers may have an even easier time because some of the kinks have been worked out since Reason launched on Kindle.
“When the issue publishes to Kindle each month, we activate a special feed that takes information from the central management system. We have the data structured by headlines, sub-headlines, bylines, dates, print categories, etc, but we don’t have all the same images. We’re feeding the cover and some others, but not a complete facsimile at this point.”
Other independent periodical publishers have reported to us that it’s currently close to impossible to get attention from Kindle’s staff. We suspect the team didn’t realize how many periodicals exist, much less would be interested, and they weren’t good at coping with the deluge of publisher requests. Amazon’s email for periodical publishers ([email protected]) is reportedly rarely answered, and the information page they posted online last year no longer exists.
Alissi told us he didn’t do anything special, beyond being patient, to get on Kindle. “We applied over a year ago and followed-up. We went through the normal process. We didn’t have a special connection on the inside. As we moved forward with them, it was about working with their technical side to get the feed through; they were responsive and continue to be engaged with us. Once we got that going, it took a bit of time to get the feed working.”
The Kindle edition is priced at $1.25 for a month-to-month automatically renewed subscription (equaling $15 year, but there is no annual Kindle term available) or $1.99 for just the current issue. Every Kindle subscription starts with a 14-day free trial.
Reason promoted its Kindle edition via house ads on its sites and in its email newsletters. “Also, we ran a contest to get people to join our email list which included a drawing for Kindle device and a subscription to the magazine.”
Reason has been one of the most popular periodicals sold in Amazon’s Kindle Magazine store since it launched, ranking anywhere from #1 to #15. However, it’s worth noting there are currently only 29 titles in the entire category, and as the titles increase, more famous brands such as BusinessWeek and the New Yorker tend to rank better. As Kindle expands, if Reason wants to maintain its page one presence, it will someday have to do more marketing on that front.
Results (so far)
We’ve gotten in the low thousands of subscribers within a couple of months and the percent of our overall circulation is impressive. It’s not insignificant revenue, but it’s all still being developed. If Kindle becomes more widely adopted, it would be more significant, in our experience, than other digital editions.”
“The number of print subscriptions sold directly from our website is about equal to the number of Kindle subscriptions sold now. We’re happy with it and excited by it.” To put this in perspective, Alissi noted that the company site is the second largest source of new print subscriptions, behind only direct postal mail.
However Kindle’s popularity could cannibalize print sales. “We get a lot of anecdotal feedback from readers and subscribers, including requests from print subscribers to stop the print edition, which is fine. It saves us not by packing up and mailing a physical magazine.” This can pose an operational problem. Alissi explained, “Print to Kindle switch requests are a logistical challenge. You have to cancel print subscription, then ask people to go through their own Kindle account to sign up for the magazine. It’s handled through the reader’s Amazon/Kindle account, there’s no way the magazine can do it for them ”
Unfortunately Amazon does not provide publishers with any tracking reports or metrics aside from the number of sales per month. It may in future. Publishers who promote Kindle products on their own sites can use Amazon’s affiliate marketing platform to get clickthrough and conversion data – and we strongly recommend this.
Technology & Vendors Used
NewsStand, Inc: Digital edition
Burr Media Group: Print edition and website ad sales
Subscription Site Insider’s Analysis
On the bad side
Publishers are often initially dazzled by Amazon’s possibilities — all of those millions of consumers, many with one-click ordering accounts, who may see your publication and buy it there! However, Amazon is not, in and of itself, a promotional tool. You have to work hard to stand out, not only by polishing your listing but by actively promoting your product on the site and elsewhere. We suspect Reason has benefited greatly by being one of the few, early magazines at Kindle. When, someday, it’s one of the hundreds, or even thousands, of periodicals, any Kindle sales not driven by their own external promotions may falter.
As a Kindle publisher you do not get the opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell buyers to your other products, unless these are also in the Amazon system, and you know how to tweak that system to make sure your related offerings are cross-promoted properly.
Unfortunately, Amazon’s on-site search is not searching Kindle for magazines yet, either. If you search Amazon now for Reason Magazine, you’ll arrive at a page for the magazine’s print subscriptions with no hint of availability of a Kindle version. We suspect that snafu will be fixed shortly. Lastly, to Alissi’s knowledge, Amazon does not hand over Kindle subscriber lists to publishers. (We contacted Amazon but they did not answer.) That means you can’t build your house list for cross-selling opportunities to these names at all.
On the good side Future editions of Kindle will also certainly be better at dealing with the images, and possibly other interactive media (hotlinks, videos, etc.) that a subscription periodical could contain. And we doubt Amazon will limit subscriptions to print periodicals only, certainly some subscription sites or email newsletters will be able to seal and fulfill via Kindle in future. So, we have a lot to look forward to.
Currently, a Kindle reader holds a maximum of seven past issues of the periodical, but them wipes older issues as new ones are added. So publishers might be able to generate additional revenues with Kindle ebooks of archives, especially searchable archived collections.
Lastly, Amazon buyers are more likely to keep an updated credit card on file with the store than they are to update a card they’ve given a publisher for automated billing. After all, they probably purchase several things from their Amazon account, not just your subscription, and need the card to work. So, we bet that the multitudinous problems with recurring billing are somewhat mitigated and you might get a slightly longer average subscription lifetime because of it.
Amazon page: Reason