Amazon Sells What Sells: Magazines and Newspapers Apparently Do Not Sell Well

March 17, 2023

I read “Amazon Will Discontinue Newspaper and Magazine Subscriptions in September.” The write up reports that Amazon is “abandoning the Kindle for Periodicals … [a] the Kindle Newsstand.” But that’s not all:

Amazon is trying to convince publishers to submit their newspapers and magazines to Prime Reading or Kindle Unlimited, but it remains to be seen if this will happen.

My understanding is that publishers have to give up more content and get less money. The idea is not particularly new. In the early days of the full text online commercial databases, money went into a pool and the money was distributed based on the full text online prints. If a publisher’s content attracted no online prints of the full text, zero money for that publisher.

Also, the early days of selling subscriptions online experienced some user pushback. The reason was that magazine readers wanted a fungible copy. Times change. Now no one wants fragments of dead trees in their in box. (Remember the good old days when publishers of some magazines would give away current copies of their publications to those boarding the Eastern Airlines shuttles from New York to Boston and New to DC and the reverse trips.)

Magazines were a good business once. Now magazines and newspapers are a tough sell. Even new angles like the Monocle outfit are into conferences, swag, and audio programs in an effort to woo subscribers and keep the 20,000 or so the company has amassed.

What’s the Amazon decision suggest to me? Here are my reactions this rainy morning in rural Kentucky:

  1. How are the other magazine and newspaper resellers doing? Apple, Scribd, Zinio, and a few others are in the game and provide some options, maybe not attractive, but options nevertheless.
  2. Will the Monocle model or variations of it become the model for revenue best practices? The New York Times dabbles in swag, podcasts, and moving beyond news into what I call MBA type reports. I used to subscribe to the dead tree edition, but the home delivery was so terrible I cancelled. The online version stories in which I am interested is endlessly recycled in blogs and Twitter statements, I am okay with the crazy Lady ruining my breakfast with non-delivery.
  3. With many people struggling to figure out what information online is accurate and what is quasi-accurate, or what is weaponized, I think some knowledge problems await. Newspapers, like the one for which I worked, were organizations which had editorial policies, some guidelines, quite a few people who tried to deliver timely, accurate, informative news and reports.

Net net: Amazon can sell cheap stuff like The company does not seem to have the magic touch when it comes to magazines and newspapers. Remarkable but not surprising. The cloud of unknowing is expanding.

Stephen E Arnold, March 17. 2023


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