/ Technology

Apple squeezing too much out of magazines

Apple has launched a magazine subscription service that lets magazine and newspaper publishers deliver their products via its AppStore. But it says it’ll take a 30% cut. Will we ultimately pay the price?

As Which? Computing editor, nothing gives me more pleasure than knowing people read and enjoy the magazine. It’s great that they could, theoretically, now enjoy it on their iPad, too.

The iPad, and other tablets, present many exciting new opportunities – tailored content for your needs, stories updating as they change, embedded videos and all on a portable medium that’s easy to read.

And that’s something I believe people will want to pay for.

Money for nothing?

Arguably Apple’s driving this exciting publishing development forward by providing a one-stop-shop for people to satisfy their need for a good read. Google’s hoping to do the same with its One Pass digital subscription service, but we’ll come to that later.

But does Apple really deserve a 30% cut? In a word, ‘no’.

The other day I attended a conference where the speaker noted that the digital revolution was forcing newspapers to forget the paper and focus on the ‘news’. What she meant was that what differentiates publishing titles today is the quality of their editorial – I agree.

But producing good magazines, whether in a digital format or on paper takes a lot of people, effort and skill and that doesn’t come cheap. Apple’s greed will put the squeeze on a lot of quality, but smaller, publications who simply won’t be able to pay the price.

The danger is that, just as different retailers favour certain publications over others, so Apple will dictate what magazines are and aren’t available. Either that or publishers will be forced to pass the extra cost onto their readers. So it’s really a lose-lose situation, except for Apple.

Google has a better attitude

Google’s approach seems fairer for all. The company will allow publishers to keep 90 per cent of the magazine subscription price; 10% seems a fair fee for providing the delivery service. It will also let magazines retain control of their customer’s data.

Maybe it’s because Google’s business is information that it has a better understanding of its inherent value. Whatever the reason, I hope the competition, hot on the heels of Apple’s announcement, helps the software company see the error of its ways.


Apple has been very successful with iTunes despite a widespread view that their UK prices are too high. Publishers can decide whether to go with Apple or Google. Hopefully some smaller companies will be able to offer magazine subscriptions without being pushed out of the market by the big boys.

One of the great advantages of online subscriptions is access to archives, which are searchable and don’t take up storage space. It will be interesting to see what Apple, Google and others have to offer.

Damian says:
21 February 2011

Thirty percent is three times what the author earns for the same work. What has Apple done to deserve so much – what has it brought to the party? It is a flawed pricing model that will ron publishers and authors of the funds they need to support new artists and promote their product.

To be fair to Apple they are taking the publishing houses straight to their potential market: consumers on the go with all the convenience and rich media experience smartphones offer them. Publishers can only dream of such exposure so rightly Apple wants a, erm, slice. Apple has invested heavily in smartphone technology so why shouldn’t it recoup some of that investment?

Ultimately it’s the publisher’s choice: they can choose whether or not they want to join Apple or go to one of its rivals. And if they choose not to then Apple will need to adjust its business model. But if many two-bit application designers can now make a fortune selling their previously little-known, but well-designed, apps through iTunes to a potentially global market, how many publishers can afford not to use Apple as their core marketing channel?