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Apple's Newsstand Boosting Mag Sales, but Will It Last?

Publishers reporting big spikes in first week
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Finally, publishers have a reason to cheer Apple. In the 10 days since Apple launched its Newsstand for the iPad and iPhone, many are reporting big spikes in sales of their digital editions.

Ease of discovery is a big reason for the sales increase; titles are now collected in one place rather than being scattered all over the iTunes store as they were in the past.

Meredith’s combined subscription sales of Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, and Fitness, the three titles it's selling through the Newsstand, more than doubled since the launch, with over half the increase coming from paid subscriptions, said Liz Schimel, executive vice president of consumer relationship management and digital media for Meredith.

“It’s still early days, but we’ve seen a big lift since the launch,” she said. “The great news is that when you make brands easier for consumers to find, they engage, and the demand is there.”

Rodale also has had strong response to its health and fitness magazines, said Matt Bean, associate vice president of mobile, social, and emerging media there. As of Oct. 21, Men’s Health had jumped to No. 1 among free apps, with Runner’s World and Women’s Health at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.

“We’re killing it,” he said. “Obviously, this bodes well for the interactive edition.”

National Geographic reported a fivefold increase in paid subs since the Newsstand launched, with sales nearing 100,000.

And Popular Science averaged 650 iPad subscription sales per day in the first six days, up from about 75 per day on average, according to parent Bonnier Corp.

Newspapers also are enjoying a lift. The New York Times’ e-edition had 189,000 new downloads in the Newsstand's first week, seven times what it was the week before. Downloads of its iPhone app, meanwhile, soared 85 times to 1.8 million that week, according to a Times rep.

Publishers had high hopes for the Newsstand, since their tablet edition sales have represented a relatively tiny part of their circulation to date.

The Newsstand's importance is not just in its sales volume but in its ability to attract younger readers to newspapers and magazines, Outsell analyst Ken Doctor said. "That is the sampling mechanism to get new customers," he said.

The question is how long will the spikes last. As time goes on, the newness will wear off, and there could be a dilutive effect as more titles crowd the Newsstand. At the same time, the overall tablet user base is still growing, so new potential customers are being added daily.

Publishers will be able to gauge how the iPad compares with the Nook and Kindle Fire as a source of digital edition sales—and adjust their strategy based on which devices yield the most sales. But with the tablet market still developing, they're doing well to distribute their content on as many devices as possible.