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Note to Magazine Industry: Your iPad Apps Are Too Expensive

Since the Magazine Industry's Savior -- whoops, I meant Apple's iPad -- has been in the marketplace for four months now -- it's time to see how that savior thing is working out for it. While I'd be the first to tell you that being saved is always a work in progress, a look at the top grossing apps in the iPad app store -- and user comments -- yields two inescapable, and perhaps interrelated, truths:
  1. Based on the iTunes' stores list of top growing downloads, consumers see the iPad much more as a gaming and productivity tool than a way to consume magazines.
  2. Pricing for magazine apps is too high for many customers to stomach. Consumers seem keenly aware of how little they pay per issue if they subscribe to a print version of the magazine, and don't want to pay prices (which are usually per issue and not per app) that are the same as, or exceed, the newsstand price.
This is reflected in how the magazine apps rank, as of July 26. The cheapest paid magazine app -- Popular Mechanics -- is also the top grossing. Below is how they ranked -- along with a representative consumer comment about pricing. (In some cases the app itself is listed as free, but there's a per issue cost.):
  • No. 82: Popular Mechanics, $1.99 per issue.
    "The price is perfect. Everyone else is way to [sic] high, but this is worth the $1.99."
  • No. 113: TIME Magazine, $4.99 per issue -- for a weekly.
    "Only $260 a year to get content freely available on the Web or delivered to your door in print for a fifth of that. Idiots." (Note: TIME has recently moved to put much of its print edition behind a firewall.)
  • No. 116: Wired, $3.99 per issue.
    "As much as I like Wired $3.99 is too expensive. Sure it's a 20% discount off the newsstand price, but it's almost 500 percent more than the annual subscription rate."
  • No. 162: GQ, $2.99 per issue.
    "Love the application, but at $2.99 it's not cost effective when compared to annual cost of the paper version."
  • No. 184: Popular Science, $4.99 per issue.
    "I'm not sure what the incentive is to buy a $60/year paperless version when I can get a two-year subscription the normal way via snail mail for $18."
  • No. 192: Sports Illustrated, $4.99 per issue -- for a weekly.
    "Why should I pay almost 10x my yearly print subscription for the digital version."
  • No. 193: Maxim, $2.99 for the app; then $2.99 per issue.
    "Charges you to get the app so they can charge you to get the magizines [sic]. Absolutely terrible."
The data here isn't scientific, but it is compelling because the feelings of users are so clear: lower the price of magazine apps. Only then does it look like the iPad can save the day.