I know that a lot of our readers are mobile app entrepreneurs, but I also know that a lot of you have tried building successful mobile apps and have not always been successful.
So I decided that it would be a good idea to research a few other ways entrepreneurs such as yourself could take advantage of the mobile ecosystem and build successful businesses.
I asked Damian Loth how he built this super successful newstand magazine app which has been a bestseller for over 2 years – ranking alongside mega brand, international men’s mags.
Becoming a Successful App Entrepreneur – An Alternative to Mobile Apps
3 years ago, Damian and his partner, Kevin R. Smith, were hooked by the ability to deliver a magazine on such an incredible media device as the iPad – that also allowed for monetization in ways that can’t be done with a print magazine.
With iTunes they knew the users were there in volume, but the Newsstand (the built-in app on every iOS device home screen devoted to magazines and news publications) was nowhere near as competitive as the regular App Store.
Biggest Challenge and Working Around It
Neither of them are designers, so their biggest challenge has been finding a designer who is a perfect fit with the magazine (Hint: they’re still looking!).
To address this, they’ve given several designers a chance to work on an issue of the magazine, pretty much “on spec”, to see if they’re a good fit with each other.
The designers have been happy to get a design credit on a nationally ranked magazine app, whether Damian decided to go any further together or not. They also do some syndicated news releases, announcing the design credit – so the designers end up with tear sheets from news stories about them on network media news sites, and some excellent positioning, from their contribution to the magazine.
Any Interesting Insights Over the Years?
When we asked Damian if he had any interesting insights based on his journey so far, he says
“We’re into our 3rd year publishing the app and we’re constantly making upgrades and experimenting with design and layout. About 40% of our new subscribers are from iPhones, so that is a design consideration also. Our original issues were designed specifically for the larger iPad screen – and now, we produce a different version of each issue for the iPhone, as well as the larger format.”
We would have never thought that the newstand magazines are popular on the iPhones and account for as much as 40% of the new subscribers!!
Competing with the Bigger and More Popular Magazines
Men’s Essentials competes with some of the really top magazines in the genre such as Esquire, Maxim etc. So we were obviously curious as to how they managed to hold their ground against such well known brands with a long history behind them.
Here is what Damian said in his usual confident and charming way.
“This has been fun. As a smaller publication we are so much more agile in what we can do with promotional partners – and much faster to execute. So, our primary focus to date has been joint venture promotions to other brands email lists, where we give away annual subscriptions to their members for a limited time.
This works for us in 2 ways – we can select partners where we know their readers are a good match with the magazine, editorially, so we get a good response to the offer. Secondly, by getting the response within a narrow window, we’re able to bump our listing up in the rankings within iTunes up – and in doing so, pick up more paid subscribers.
We could build an enormous subscriber base by just scaling this strategy alone, and it’s something we just don’t see the big publications doing. They are still very focused on their print business which is just fine with us!”
I guess one’s loss is another’s gain.
I think there is a very valuable lesson in this for all app entrepreneurs. If you are a startup or a small company, you can be really fast and take the kind of risks which others would hesitate to take.
Differentiating Your Business
One of the most important things when building a business is differentiating what you provide from your competitors, and Damian does this beautifully.
Hopefully their full title gives you a clue:
Men’s Essentials Magazine – The Thinking Man’s Guide To: Health. Fitness. Money. Women. Life.
They do 2 things differently than their competitors. First, they’re not afraid of long-form articles. I just saw the final version of a feature article they did on Intellectual Property, and it is 20 pages long, which you would never see in other men’s magazines. But to really dive into a topic such as IP you can’t be restrained by page count – and one of their differences is that they give readers the full story and all the information needed to take action.
Secondly, their editorial position is quite contrarian to mainstream thinking on many of the topics they cover – particularly in health, money and career. They believe that their audience doesn’t want to see them parroting the same old mumbo jumbo they can read anywhere.
Going Back to Competition – Getting Quality Content
All said and done Men’s Essentials is still a smaller magazine compared to some of the other competitors so the obvious question was, where do they get their content from and Damian shared a very impressive strategy which we are definitely going to try out very soon.
In Damian’s words:
“This has been one of the real benefits of producing the magazine. As publisher I’ve been able to connect with, interview or cross-promote with thought leaders from all kinds of places. New York Times best-selling authors etc.
The way we’re able to get a lot of our content for the magazine has been by providing a way more high-end showcase for contributor’s material than a blog can. Secondly, the contributor’s consider it a writing credit to have been published in a national magazine. And finally, we do additional things to commemorate the event – we have other staff writers create news releases about the featured writer’s contribution, and then we syndicate the stories and they appear on network news media sites.
Being able to deliver ABC, CBS, NBC etc syndicated media stories is worth thousands of dollars in PR to the contributors, and they use these network media appearances on their websites, so it’s very well received.”
Who Should Launch Newstand Magazine Apps?
Damian thinks that “Any serious blogger should either be attached to or publishing their own digital magazine – not an online magazine – a magazine app on iTunes Newsstand. Online magazines have been around for ages and by and large, nobody cares about them.
The iPad delivers a rich media magazine experience and readers spend hours at a time inside the apps. You can’t achieve that kind of environment on a website, and secondly, within the iTunes environment you able to focus on high-end readers.
And finally, the main reason bloggers should be publishing a magazine is for perception in the market. “Blogging” doesn’t exactly resonate with high-end or quality in most people’s minds, whereas, magazines are far less common – yet very familiar to people as “real” publications.
Trust me, very few outreach emails or calls go unanswered when you’re calling as the editor of a magazine.
There is some investment required to publish a magazine, but it is offset by the potential revenue to be earned from sponsorships, affiliate commissions and subscriptions. Here’s an interesting bit of ad trivia for you – magazines are the only media where readers say they buy them as much for the ads as for the editorial – think about it, that’s incredibly powerful.
On the flip-side, I can’t imagine many blog readers thinking “I wish this page had more animated banner ads and pop-ups!””
Getting Started with a Newstand Magazine App
If you have a popular blog you already have the building blocks, particularly if your blog content is evergreen (which I highly recommend you incorporate, if you don’t already). Getting your app built is getting cheaper all the time (just drop me an email at email@example.com if you are interested in getting a newstand magazine app).
You need to be the developer who registers the app, that way you are building an asset that can be sold one day, and you are in full control of your iTunes listings etc which, as your members know is very important.
How Successful Can You Get?
According to Damian “iTunes Newsstand magazines have an opportunity to carve out their own niche, with very limited number of competing titles, in a way that regular app entrepreneurs don’t have. Because the Newsstand is an isolated marketplace there are thousands of titles – verses the App Store with hundreds of thousands of titles.
You’re not as likely to hit an out of the park Angry Birds type of home run, but you have a real business by building a following of a thousand subscribers – who don’t churn every 2 weeks. We can count our subscriber cancellations and refunds over 2 years on one hand. That’s a tribe we continue to strengthen our relationship with and monetize by getting them exclusive deals on stuff they want, as an example.”
This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: How a Mobile Entrepreneur Competes with Maxim and Esquire to Build a Successful Newstand App Business
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