Osprey Publishing’s new Digital Magazine

Osprey are one of British publishings steady success stories. They are a middle-sized publisher with a world-wide reputation for publishing illustrated military history books. Osprey has spread its wings and now does other things, but it is the military history books for which they are most famous. They also steadily win awards for innovation and digital publishing initiatives.

In the early days of the iOS app store, Exact Editions worked with Osprey to bring a handful of their titles to iTunes as apps, with all the illustrations, maps and diagrams in place. It was a small experiment with half a dozen titles, which did well and were remarkably trouble free in the sense that they kept on selling, steadily. Then Apple changed their rules and decreed that digital books could only be published in the iBooks store.

Osprey have now come up with an interesting magazine concept which will showcase their illustrated titles in a new way. The World War II Military History Magazine is initially available only in iTunes and will bring its subscribers a battle, campaign or weapon from the war, each month. The very first issue features the Battle of the Bulge.

Battle for the Twin Villages

Battle for the Twin Villages

Publishers used to issue big books in serial form, before they were released in volume form. This was done with fiction, notably Dickens in the 19th century. More recently, throughout the 20th century, reference publishers would often publish major reference works in part-work form, through newsagents before releasing a complete book: a children’s encyclopedia or a do-it-yourself manual.

The contemporary reasons for considering serial publication of book-type material have nothing to do with these 19th century constraints. The Osprey innovation is notable because it may be a responsible and attractive way of aggregating content in a way which creates value for consumers and for the publisher. For it is a striking feature of most our current digital distribution channels that they provide book publishers with zero potential to creatively aggregate content. Apple and Amazon, neither allow publishers to deploy subscription book collections not provide any interesting ways for publishers to group books in the distribution channels. The cynic would suspect that the app-store rules are so tight, and needlessly restrictive in these ways, because these two meta-publishing titans want to maintain close control of the way in which books, and indeed magazines can be sold.

Why might a book publisher wish to establish an aggregated audience for a specific series of book-like products?

  • Selling a subscription service is a way of selling a relatively high-priced offering at relatively low-priced slices. This works for magazines as apps, which are both cheaper than most e-books on a month at a time basis and more costly/valuable than most e-books on an annual basis, and so it should work for a series of book-derived magazine issues
  • Selling a subscription service which customers tend to auto-renew through the iTunes subscription mechanism is a way of building a large audience which can grow, and grow. Strong digital magazines are on a steady escalator to higher subscription numbers.
  • The content aggregation can re-inforce the attractiveness of the subscription offering. When this World War II Military Magazine has 2 years of back issues, it will be a real mine of information from 24 books, and highly attractive to anyone with an interest in that period
  • Apple and Amazon tend to ‘disintermediate’ a publisher from her audience. Publishers have got used to this (big chain booksellers and supermarkets also do it) but establishing an audience that is strongly focussed on the publisher brand because the content is delivered serially, and to a degree exclusively is a way for publishers to reclaim their direct audience and emphasise the quality of their brand.

We have no privileged insight into Osprey’s publishing plans, but it will be really interesting if they can find ways in which their periodical venture starts to tell a story in its own distinct style. Through the sequence and order in which the books appear. This first issue already has a ‘taster’ for what I take to be a forthcoming issue on the Battle for Dieppe.

Network Subscriptions and Lufthansa

Daryl Rayner, founder and Managing Director of Exact Editions is convinced that network subscriptions are the real deal for magazine publishers. She has a vision in which major airlines, train companies, hotel chains, and global events (think Cannes Film Festival, Glastonbury and the Frankfurt motor show) all offer their customers collections of beautiful digital magazines, each collection being appropriate and pitched at their audience. At the moment the clearest example of institutions that manage to show collections or magazines/periodicals are universities, and some in-house corporate networks.

The Exact Editions platform is now positioned to open up a new vista for digital magazines with network based subscriptions so  that customers or clients can obtain full but temporary access to a digital magazine app whilst they are in the wifi zone of the institution concerned. The Exactly app which now allows users to enjoy digital magazines on iPad/iPhone via a network subscription opens up this potential. The business model for network subscriptions can adapt to the requirements of the commercial sponsor. Lets take a look at how it might work in three hypothetical cases: Lufthansa, Starbucks and Glastonbury.

Lufthansa is one of the first major airlines to deliver a big push into internet access on board the plane. The FlyNet® Service is a paid extra €19.95 and works over 90% of the Lufthansa routemap

You can enjoy the full communications freedom of the Internet on almost the entire Lufthansa global long-haul network. The sole exceptions are flights over China — the system automatically switches off on entering Chinese airspace and switches on again when leaving it….  Lufthansa web site

Its a pity about the China blip, but Lufthansa is already allowing customers to use their own iPads in flight with broadband connectivity over most of the globe. Other airlines are following. As it happens Lufthansa still buys a lot of print magazines (one of our publishers sells 3000 copies a month to the airline). Most of these printed copies are going into the 300 wide-body jets with a business class. The fuel costs of onboard magazines are not negligible, and if airlines are considering hiring female crew because they are lighter than men, we can be sure that digital magazines start with a big advantage.. A library of digital magazines offers much more choice, with minimal maintenance and no contention between passengers. Ryanair or Easyjet will want to sell these digital magazines and newspapers to their passengers, but Lufthansa and Emirates will give free access to their passengers and they will offer a premium selection in the premium class (perhaps a dozen titles to economy passengers, a choice of 60 for business passengers on a long haul route). The magazine publishers will also like this business, because the best and most exclusive magazines will be paid in good money for their presence, and the promotional opportunity is also good. A digital magazine which can be read for free on board the plane, becomes a potential subscription once the customer has left the airline’s wifi zone. Why will Lufthansa and Emirates wish to give customers access to a limited range of magazines (say 20 or 100), rather than provide unrestricted access to the largest possible library? The simple answer to this question is that a collection of magazines that provides access to ‘everything’ is an illusion. It would also be a customer confusion as there would be far too much dross in a heap of everything. But it is above all an illusion, since the best magazines (Vogue, The Economist, The New York Review of Books) will not join in a collection of everything. So the slightly more complex answer is that for airlines (Lufthansa, Emirates, Air France) brand matters, and each airline will wish to cater to its own audience, by making the appropriate brand selection.

If we think of digital  magazines as providing entertainment spaces for a transient audience its clear that the customer ‘journey’ has a lot to do with the optimal reading matter. Its not just that the brand of the digital magazine needs to gel with the brand of the host provider, we should recognise that the reading style of the magazine may work better in one network niche than in another. The Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy will work better in Lufthansa business class (deep reading for long haul flights) than in Starbucks or McDonalds, Starbucks may prefer short and crisp reading through The Onion, Private Eye and The Week which will provide prompt entertainment without blocking bar stools for hours  as customers read 15,000 word essays. The promotional potential of magazine distribution via coffee houses may be very high. Starbucks should be able to tell how many customers come into their shops because they have a Country Life subscription on the premises, and they have already discovered the advantages of requiring the customer to get their music or app in-store.

The world event gig? Here, Daryl’s idea is that a set of digital magazines could offer an audience an opportunity to sample and enjoy a set of titles that would be particularly appropriate to the specific event where a large crowd is gathered together with wifi access: Glastonbury, SXSW, the Brazil World Cup, the Cannes Film Festival or the Frankfurt Motor Show. A large and valuable audience spending several days (but not too long) in one spot with a wifi network, needs a selection of elite and appropriate magazines. Obviously auto magazines would feature strongly at Frankfurt, and music titles at Glastonbury, however there is scope for fashion and travel titles with the right resonance, as well, at both events. Being in the showcase of a global event will be a great exposure for the magazines and providing those titles gives the event’s organisers valuable consumer data and promotional leverage. The publishers also get the opportunity to upsell a direct subscription to anyone who has seen the digital edition on a temporary basis.

Exact Editions is hot on the trail of institutions that want to provide syndicated access to quality magazines. We welcome inquiries from organisers of grand events and from transport companies that want to provide travellers with great wifi content. We also want to talk to publishers about the ways in which they can sell digital subscriptions direct and support network access to their magazine apps. Any big brand magazine with a burning conviction that their magazine should be syndicated, not just article by article, but entirely as one super delightful fully illustrated, rich subscription, should email support@exacteditions.com or direct to daryl.rayner@exacteditions.com

Network Subscriptions to Digital Magazines

Exact Editions has a generic app, Exactly, for reading magazine subscriptions. The app is available both for iOS, for Android and for Amazon Kindle Fire and it will work with any subscriptions hosted by Exact Editions. Exactly has had several important uses for us and our customers. It is an app that we can use to provide confidential trials to publishers who may be planning to join the Exact Editions platform. It has also been useful for those small circulation magazines that use the Exact Editions platform but for some reason are unwilling to commit to an iOS branded app, their subscribers can then use Exactly on the iPad to get a reading experience which is essentially the same as they would get with a branded app. The Exactly app, also has one hitherto marginal advantage, it is the best choice for a customer who wants to subscribe to several digital magazines and use her collection as a searchable magazine library. Exactly will happily search complete archives for as many magazines as the customer cares to put in the subscription. So for those customers who buy a clutch of magazines from Exact Editions and want to consult them all on the iPad, the Exactly app is a great ‘aggregator’.

Last week we released a version of Exactly for iOS (7.1.0) which has some important new features. One addition may be very important and seems to be a clear ‘first’. In the words of the Whats New note:

Added support for institutional access — if your institution has a magazine subscription, you can access it from within your registered IP range (from iTunes catalogue page for Exactly)

For libraries and universities this is a big deal. Exact Editions is  the only digital magazine platform that specifically caters for institutional subscriptions for consumer magazines, and until now, our institutional subscribers have only been able to access their magazine resources through the web, their readers have had to use the browser interface which Exact Editions has always supported. Great, but not ideal when universities, colleges and schools are rapidly moving to iPads and tablets. There has to be a strong case for providing access to digital magazine subscriptions through the magazine apps. iPads are gaining rapid acceptance in educational institutions (portability, ease of use, beautiful apps, consistent behaviour) and getting magazine apps, reading apps and creativity solutions to work across campus is a major goal for Apple and educational publishers.

Network-based subscriptions to digital magazine apps, is an improvement in the service Exact Editions can offer to our institutional subscribers. So we will be telling librarians all about it. But the innovation is already in place. The switch has been flipped with Exactly 7.1.0, the Android Exactly is likely to follow suit. Any university or institution that has an IP-authenticated subscription to Exact Editions periodicals is all ready to go (IP-authenticated means the sub is validated by the IP address of the network, not by username/passwords). The magazine subscriptions can be read, browsed and searched through the iPad from the Exactly app. The process is simple. Go on to the campus, download the Exactly app on your iPad (its free and a one step process). Open the app on the iPad. The app will recognise that there is a network subscription available to you, provided that you are within the IP range of the network license. The app will show your subscriptions in the Titles menu, and at once start to sync the latest available issue(s). The app will register the source of your subscription in the Settings menu. For example, here is my access to Gramophone via the World Music Library:

World Music Library subscription to Gramophone

World Music Library subscription to Gramophone


A final note. The World Music Library does not yet exist. It is a hypothetical IP-based subscription service to a wonderful collection of music magazines (the periodical collection that every music library wants). In our next blog we will investigate why such IP-based network subscriptions to collections of magazines will be a great thing and not just for educational institutions.

Searching Magazine Apps

Exact Editions apps are all searchable. Individual issues can be searched; years, decades and all the available archive can be searched from within the magazine app. We have recently introduced a new search engine and an improved interface for browsing magazine archives and selecting the focus for a search.



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Over-delivering the Archive

Publishers are having a problem with ebooks. The problem is that the new tablet readers are working and ebooks are selling, but there are worrying signs that prices are falling, competition is increasing, and there is a race to the bottom. Best-selling print books used to cost $24.99 $19.99 or $14.99. Now there is an increasing tendency for best sellers to be priced low, low, and lower.

It is partly because of Amazon and Apple’s success at controlling the users and their increasing dominance over pricing and discounts that is leading big publishers to consolidate. The book publisher’s nightmare is that they become irrelevant as the book that customers buy is an increasingly trivial electronic object. Apple and especially Amazon disintermediate the publisher, traditionally placed between the author and the reader, by directly connecting the two parties. It doesnt help that the simplicity and ease of producing an ebook mean that the publication process appears to bring nothing to the party. Anybody can now produce an ebook from a book-sized Word file. Since the book publishers are so uneasy about their precarious postion in the tablet publishing process, it is perhaps strange that many magazine publishers have decided that digital magazines should be treated in much the same way as ebooks. Many of our best magazines, to pick two standout examples: The Week and The Economist have taken the view that their iPad apps should work in pretty much the same way as an ebook. Reduce the design element, lose much of the structure of the print publication with its careful layout, drop some of the illustrations: skip some of the links and cross references and standardise the typography. All in the aim or producing a simplified and easily reflowed reader experience for a range of tablets.

While simplicity and ease of use are strong qualities, there are signs that the goal of producing consumer oriented magazine apps that you can sell per issue at a price of say $4.99 an issue or for an annual sub at $150 is not going to work out too well. The Economist has been getting some flack on this score on its iTunes page.

Part of the difficulty that all these ebook style magazine apps face is that it is hard to deliver an app that feels like real value for $150 when it also feels and reads much like an app made from a web site, or an ebook app which will be much cheaper than an annual sub. The fact that you get a new one each week does not necessarily increase the perception of value.The customer experiences a series of weekly app episodes which do not connect and each feel rather thin and insubstantial and the whole subscription really does not amount to more than a collection of dislocated issues. The collection probably cannot be searched and once you have them on your device the issues hard to keep track of. The iPad has just replicated the problem that we know we have with printed back issues: they are hard to access and probably impossible to search. They don’t in their virtual form ‘feel’ more valuable than a pile of yellowing print issues on a bookshelf.

One of the problems with this ‘issue-based’ way of thinking about magazine apps is that these app designers have lost the value of the archive in the proposition that is being built. It is as though they have been designing magazines that could be read on a collapsible stool or a shooting stick, whereas for many consumers the experience of reading a magazine should be like sinking back into a hammock or a plush leather chair with all the richness of the magazines cultural heritage at one’s side. At Exact Editions we have always regarded the back issues and the archive for a magazine as an essential part of the value proposition in its digital form.

Exact Editions has been working with Gramophone over the summer months on its 90 year archive which has just gone on release and all 1000 issues can be easily browsed from within the app. Robert Andrews in PaidContent had this comment:

If publishers can achieve similar value in the bottomless digital realm, they could end up accomplishing the notion of magazine-as-service – a massive archive of content that is not just a historical curiosity but which has everlasting relevance, and an ongoing reader payment relationship like cable TV enjoys.

The economic pay-offs are also attractive, flipping the production cost base from one in which so much hard work and cash is spent on producing content that will soon be stale to one in which costs are considered an investment in a future-proof content repository that can keep on giving. Paid Content

Many subscribers will have very little prior idea of the richness and extraordinary variety of the Gramophone archive. They will be surprised and delighted when they dabble in it and sample it through browsing and searching. But I do not think that many new subscribers will be buying the magazine simply because of its archive. Most magazine customers do buy magazines mainly for the interest they have in the current issue and the next few issues. That is not really the point of having the archive available to all subscribers. The point of having the archive is that the subscription will seem to be much more valuable to any subscriber, and the subscription is indeed a much more valuable and luxurious offering. The point is to dramatically over-provide because that way the subscription appears to be much more valuable than a collection of 6 or 12 one-off issues. And for that reason it is more valuable. Appearances count. When a year’s subscription gives you complete access to a magazine that covers the history of the recorded music industry, an annual subscription of $59.99 is going to seem more palatable.

Going back to the predicament of book publishers: $59.99 is a price  that no book publisher can seriously contemplate for an ebook. Very few punters will buy books at $59.99 — we are seeing that magazine subscribers think about digital things differently. To many magazine publishers it is not immediately obvious that their archive is an important and valuable asset. The early signs are that the Gramophone subscribers love it. If magazine publishers can turn their excellent brands into ‘future-proof content repositories’ they are sitting in a good place.

Browsing back issues from the 20th century