Rogers Media is taking a lesson from its parent company's cable division, as it bundles all of its magazines into a single digital monthly subscription package that will also include dozens of American titles such as Rolling Stone and The New Yorker.
More than 100 magazines will be available to monthly subscribers through the Next Issue Canada app, a modified version of tablet software that has been available to U.S. subscribers for about 18 months. Publishers are looking to the app to help stabilize an industry that has been reeling from declining advertising revenue.
"Through the last 100 years we've done everything we could as an industry to keep competition out," said Kenneth Whyte, who will leave his post as president of Rogers Publishing to run affiliated Next Issue Canada. "Public attitudes have changed; there's a different cultural outlook in Canada and the digital world has broken down a lot of barriers. I think consumers want to see our magazines stand beside the best magazines in the world and compete."
The publishers hope to create a model that eliminates many of the costs associated with printing and distributing weekly and monthly magazines, while at the same time increasing readership. Paper magazines aren't going away just yet, but publishers are excited by the prospect of digital editions because they can gather more information about their readers and use that information to entice advertisers.
"Publishing has changed dramatically," Rogers Media president Keith Pelley said. "It went from a concern to an area of potential growth with the creation of the tablet. We're now looking at the migration to digital as an incredible opportunity for subscription-based products."
The service will appeal to heavier readers – at $9.99 a month for access to monthly magazines, and $14.99 a month for a subscription that includes weekly magazines, the service costs as much annually as about six traditional print subscriptions.
Next Issue is a joint venture between publishing titans Condé Nast Publications Inc., Hearst Corp., Meredith Corp., Newscorp and Time Inc., which means some of the most respected magazines in the world will be offered alongside Canadian mainstays such as Chatelaine and Maclean's. Rogers is an equal partner in the venture, and will take a seat on its board after making what Mr. Whyte described as an "eight-digit investment."
The app is often referred to as a sort of Netflix for magazines, and the publishers hope the appeal of a bundle can draw more readers back as they flip through a wider range of publications than they would otherwise be able to afford. The average American user has 30 digital titles in their monthly library, and spends up to five hours a month reading them.
"We aren't competing with other digital magazines," Morgan Guenther, chief executive officer of Palo Alto-based Next Issue Media, said in an interview. "We are competing for a share of leisure time against Netflix, against Google, against Amazon. We are competing for the last $10 of wallet share that is out there."
The move comes as the broader Canadian magazine industry struggles with several structural issues. Paid circulation fell 7 per cent in the first half of the year, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, and single copy sales were off 5.5 per cent. And like other media, printed magazines have taken a hit as advertisers find other ways to reach their target markets.
Rogers doesn't break out its magazine revenue in its quarterly report, but has brought in outside consultants to help find ways to cut costs in the division as it adjusts to an increasingly digital world.
Digital editions are likely to play a key role in any transformation, but they are yet to be widely adopted by Canadian readers. Maclean's has the third-largest digital edition subscription rate with 5,600 subscribers compared to a print circulation of 313,007 (Canadian House and Home leads the industry with 11,000 followed by Readers Digest at 6,700).
"Audiences are accessing magazine content in more than one way," the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism wrote in its 2013 review of the American magazine industry. "All of the publishers say that large numbers of their print subscribers now access mobile versions for at least some of their magazine reading. A slow transition is under way."
The Canadian app should help accelerate that transition. Publications that will be available include Maclean's, Chatelaine, Flare, Today's Parent, Sportsnet, Canadian Business, Loulou, MoneySense, Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, Fortune, Glamour, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Time.
Next Issue Canada will be available to Rogers wireless and cable customers Oct. 15 on iPads, Android tablets and Windows 8 devices, and then offered to the broader population a month later.