Exact Editions has always worked to help publishers offer digital editions to existing print subscribers. Our first contract made provision for what we called ‘Combined Subscriptions’ a route whereby a publisher could add the digital sub for any of his print subscribers. In practice, this never worked too well (uptake was slight in most cases). For quite a few reasons:

  1. Our web service is designed to handle annual subs (ie 12 months) and it was very difficult to build in more flexible alternatives without confusing the customer experience in the e-store. Many consumer magazines rely on quarterly subscriptions that are renewed ‘automatically’ via direct debits from the customer’s bank.
  2. Most consumer magazine publishers (back in the day) felt that they ought to charge a premium for providing print+digital subscriptions. And this has NEVER worked — basically because consumers do not see why they should be paying a premium for buying the magazine twice …. To the consumer it seems obvious that the subscription is for ‘one thing’, the magazine in two different forms, no way would a rational agent pay twice for the same thing. To the publisher it seems obvious that the ‘consumer’ ought to be paying more for getting a better service. I do not know who is right, morally, in this dispute. In practice, however, the consumer is right. The consumer is always right, and purchasers will not pay for what we used to call ‘combined subscriptions’.
  3. We used to call them that, but we now call them ‘universal subscriptions’. This is a term that we picked up yesterday from Colin Crawford. And ‘universal’ is clearly a better term, because ‘combined subscriptions’ sounds ugly and complicated. ‘Universal subscription’ connotes a simpler, a more open-ended and a more comprehensive solution to which existing print subscribers, the lifeblood of most magazines, deserve full access. But the Exact Editions service is more universal than ‘combined’ because it allows a publisher to offer the print subscribers, access through the web, through the iPhone, and the iPad. One might expect also to add Android access to that range of universal access.
  4. The ‘universal subscription’ proposition is clearly better for the consumer than the prospect of paying extra for access to a digital or an iPad edition, but it is really much better also for the publisher, because the publisher or his distribution arm maintains control of the subscriber list. We can only guarantee to provide publishers with a reliable universal service if the Exact Editions platform can verify subscription status in real time. The big consumer publishers who have been nagging Apple with the demand that they have access to customer data have been pushing at the wrong door. Much better to retain control of the customer data on their own side, and then enable suitably qualified users of Apple iOS devices (ie existing subscribers) to access the accounts which are maintained at the publisher end. Some shrewd newspaper publishers are already using this approach (WSJ, Financial Times).

There is one odd thing about the evolution of the Exact Editions service towards supporting publishers with the provision of ‘universal subscriptions’: it was the arrival of the iPad which made this all seem like the right way to go. The advent of iPad apps and the need to provide existing subscribers with access to iPad apps for their own magazine subscriptions has been the catalyst which is encouraging many publishers also to provide access to web-based digital magazines. The iPad is in some ways a disruptive and innovative move towards a new idea of the digital magazine, but its introduction has helped publishers and consumers to realise that there is value in the simple proposition of a digital edition of the existing print publication.