The New Yorker App Success

The New Yorker has succeeded where others have failed. The Atlantic Wire reports the journal has grossed one million dollars from the sale of its iPad app. An update on their subscription numbers:

75,000 of the subscriptions are print subscribers given the option of an iPad subscription. The other 20,000 are new subscribers who paid $59.99 for a subscription from the iTunes store. “Several thousand” people, on average, also buy the digital magazine for $4.99 a week.

While I’m sure tens of thousands of those 75,000 aren’t using the iPad app (I’m not, but only because I don’t have an iPad), those are still strong numbers coming from new subscribers. Where the brand-new The Daily has seemingly bombed, the venerable New Yorker has succeeded. Instead of heavy, cumbersome daily issues with a mess of graphic design, videos, photo galleries, and interactive content, the New Yorker has listened to sound reading advice:

“There are some bells and whistles, but we’re very careful about that. We think about whether or not they add any value. And if they don’t, out the window they go,” said deputy editor Pamela Maffei McCarthy.

As others have written extensively before, reading on the iPad is actually best when handled by a dedicated RSS feed or read-later app. Shawn Blanc’s Reading on the iPad covers the gamut of why this is important. Basically:

Instead of trying to find that spot between print and iOS, they should leave the historical traditions of print design altogether. Instead of leaning on the perceived value of a physical printed periodical they should look to the iPad’s new value of delight, ubiquity, and instantaneous digital access. Moreover, they need to find better ways to bring their articles to their iPad readership. Magazines need to cater their layout design and interaction design to the iPad rather than attempting to fit the iPad around their previous print-tested designs.

The New Yorker app has had criticisms in the past (notably by the New York Times’ ex editor and design expert, Khoi Vinh), most pointing to its overly complex Flash-descendant system of flicking through text “images.” It does seem like Conde Nast (New Yorker’s publisher) is moving in the right direction, though. Combining the print subscription with free access to the digital subscription is promising — if they have the option to turn off print subscriptions in the future, they’ve achieved a glorious thing: reducing the manufacturing and distribution costs of a print version while retaining digital subscribers at the same pricing.

If the New Yorker continues to refine its iPad app experience, ensuring that excessive features are removed to optimize the reading experience, they have a winning formula. Transitioning to a mobilized website, however, isn’t the answer — as Khoi Vinh has proposed in the past. The New Yorker has a lockdown on accessing content via its website; in fact, the journal may have the most successful implementation of a pay wall on the Internet. If it continues to present accessibility challenges to its content but offers flexible, attractively priced solutions as license to read, both its print and digital subscriptions will continue to sustain journalistic value into the future.