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Earlier this month, the Audit Bureau of Circulations released a report showing that consumer magazine newsstand sales fell 9.2 percent in the first half of 2011. But decreasing print sales isn’t news in the publishing world.

Since the birth of the Internet, magazines and newspapers alike have made many attempts to make up for lagging print sales by going digital. Now, as iPads and other tablets grow in popularity, magazines are increasingly putting money and time into the app market.

A growing number of app-only subscriptions and individual digital copies of magazines are now being sold on platforms like Apple’s Newsstand. The platform gives iPad users access to a digital library of magazines and newspapers, and exists in a medium where consumers are used to paying to play. “It’s not that far-fetched to imagine 20 to 25 percent of magazines’ readership existing in a digital platform three to four years from now,” Scott Dadich, vice president of digital magazine development for Condé Nast, told the Nieman Journalism Lab.

There is certainly evidence of a trend leading that way. According to a June report from, Condé Nast offers 37 apps; Hearst offers 100; Meredith offers 13; and Times Inc. offers 39. While most of those were special edition or utility apps, Condé Nast offered nine digital editions of magazines, Meredith offered three and Time Inc. offered five. And those numbers are only increasing.

Earlier this month, Time Inc. became the first magazine publisher to announce that all of its U.S. titles will be available as apps on the major tablet platforms by the end of 2011. Poynter reported that readers will be able to purchase “all access” subscriptions that include the print editions of the magazines and the digital apps, digital-only subscriptions or single copies of each magazine.

Meanwhile, Condé Nast’s Bon Appetit launched its first app this month, featuring recipes and cooking tips. While this app is supplemental to the print edition of the magazine, a full digital magazine replica is due out early next year, Bon Appetit special projects editor Scott DeSimon, said in an email.

According to Hearst executive Chris Wilkes in an interview with, while consumers often expect the Internet to remain free, the tablet market could allow magazines to earn actual profit from digital content and subscriptions. The New York Times reported that the New Yorker made an additional $1.2 million in revenue thanks to the iPad app released this spring, which sounds like a great success in the battle to make a profit from digital magazine sales.

However, when it comes to apps and digital editions, the numbers are still unclear. For example, the New York Times reported that while the New Yorker has approximately 100,000 iPad readers overall, only about 20,000 of those are digital-only subscribers who pay $59.99 per year for the app. The remaining 80,000 get free access to the app with their print subscriptions.

Following the same trend is Condé Nast, which has attracted about 242,000 digital readers. However, about 136,000 of those are print subscribers who did not have to pay extra for the digital editions, reported Adweek. At this point, Condé Nast is the only publisher that has even released numbers about digital-only readership. According to the Time Inc. marketing department, digital-only statistics for the magazines haven’t officially been recorded at all.

This lack of data makes selling ad space on apps an unknown territory, which might hold magazines back from really turning a profit from digital editions. But it is possible that selling ad space for apps and other digital platforms could become a real form of revenue for magazines in the future.

Hearst and Bonnier have both promised audience, demographic and engagement data from digital editions to the marketing and media specialist company MediaVest, according to Adweek. In exchange, the company will encourage its clients to buy ads that will run in the publishers’ digital editions. And since a lack of consumer data has played a large part in the skepticism of advertisers when it comes to digital platforms, Hearst and Bonnier are taking a step in the right direction by reporting their numbers.

Like Hearst and Bonnier, Time Inc. is moving on track. According to Poynter, ads will appear on Time Inc.’s tablet editions of the magazines that will be released at the end of the year, and digital sales and subscriber information will be reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations starting in 2012.

“Now is the time for us to make this bold commitment. In the coming year, there will clearly be many more consumers using tablets, accelerating demand for content and driving advertiser interest. We are putting ourselves in a great position to take advantage of these opportunities,” Maurice Edelson, executive vice president and a member of Time Inc.’s interim management committee, told Poynter. “Having our entire portfolio available on tablets will create a significant new digital reach for our advertisers.”

–Julia Russell

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