Desperately seeking subscribers: Tablet-only mags struggle to take hold

Without a physical presence, how do you know something exists?  And does it matter?

Don’t worry…we’re not starting some deep philosophical discussion here.  We’re still talking about magazines.

This week, digital magazine publisher Nomad Editions threw in the towel, closing the last three titles in its stable.

Former NEWSWEEK* president and CEO, Mark Edmiston, co-founded Nomad in 2010, starting with five weekly magazines: REAL EATS, BODYSMART, U + ME, WIDE SCREEN and UNCORKED.  Two more titles, GOOD DOG and SUSTAINABLE MONEY, were added last year, and Edmiston lured former BON APPETIT* Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild to edit Real Eats.  HEMMINGS CLASSIC WHEELS launched earlier this year, in partnership with the Hemmings classic car brand.

Nomad’s original iPad-only magazines struggled from the beginning, finding it difficult to attract new subscribers and, as a result, advertisers.

Tablet-only magazines as a group have had a rough genesis.  HUFFINGTON, from the Huffington Post, became a free publication after just five issues, and Virgin Publishing’s PROJECT magazine did not fare well.  With no print predecessors, and the established identity that comes with them, digital products lack the history or name recognition to build on.

Despite the fact that print has its own share of problems, print products often carry a cachet that digital ones can’t.  According to John Amato, chairman and CEO of BACKSTAGE*, “Print has a currency and relevancy that’s not replaceable.”  That kind of weight can transfer to the digital incarnation.

In an ADWEEK* interview in August, Edmiston spoke about the partnership with Hemmings, saying “We found it better to look for ways to reach out to a particular audience rather than going to America and saying, ‘Here we are! Please buy us!’”

But perhaps that’s exactly what the folks at Nomad needed to do.  The publisher relied heavily on Apple iTunes to get noticed, and publicity, it appeared, was not a priority.

By the time Nomad entered the partnership with Hemmings, their subscription levels were at just 20% of where they needed to be for profitability, and it was too late to gain any leverage from such a deal.

Any new venture needs to let people know they exist, and why it matters.  Especially when you have no physical presence.

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