Empty Newstand Shelves Push Record iPad App Subscriptions [Report]



Want another example of how Apple’s masterful use of design fuels sales? Like the empty iPod that just screams out for you to buy music, the empty shelves of recently-unveiled iOS 5 Newstand begs to be filled with magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

When Newsstand first appears on your iPhone or iPad, the app displays empty shelves. The empty shelf is a powerful enticement – just look at your own home. When you see an empty shelf, there is an almost biological urge drawing you to put something there. Apple understand this instinct as well, putting a “Store” button close at hand.

And iOS users have been pressing that button, by the millions. For publishers, what began as a concern that Newstand could steal away subscribers instead has become a windfall, with Newsstand magazine and newspaper apps ranking among the top overall free apps.

The New York Times iPad app was downloaded 189,000 times during the first week Newsstand was available. By comparison, the app was downloaded just 27,000 the week before, according to publishing news organization Poynter. Even more mind-blowing: the newspaper’s iPhone app was downloaded 1.8 million times after Newsstand arrived, 85 times the downloads the previous week.

Downloading a free magazine or newspaper is one thing, but turning downloaders into subscribers is another matter. National Geographic found Newsstand hiked their subscription rate five-fold. Not only that, the magazine found its free app ranked in the No. 18 spot for all apps.

Other aspects of Newsstand are also being credited with fueling the publishing boom. Instead of having numerous individual magazine and newspaper apps spread over multiple home screens, the Apple app collects them all neatly in one easy-to-located spot. In addition, the newspapers and magazines “magically” stay fresh, updating their content while you’re busy playing Angry Birds.

Although incredibly cool, the “empty shelf” sales tactic isn’t new for Apple. Remember when e-books meant thousands of individual files you laboriously had to track? The tech giant did away with all that with iBooks, the iPhone and iPad app that created a book shelf and a “Library” button where you could easily purchase your reading material. What next media could be tamed via the shelf metaphor?

  • prof_peabody

    I find the app confusing and have yet to see any magazines worthy of downloading.  When you click the store button you generally are presented with a short list of five or six free magazines and a search field.  

    Using the search field is just like using the search field in iTunes and gets you results that are magazines but lots that are not as well.  In no time at all you are lost and have to go back and restart the app to start over.

    How is the user supposed to tell if a given magazine will even work with the app?  
    Also, subscription terms and prices are all over the map.  

    I think this app does a good job of mimicking a real magazine store in that it’s messy, ugly, confusing, and mostly just a way of enticing you to spend your money on flashy junk with almost no content.

  • Ed_Kel

    I believe you’re thinking of this too broadly. Some subscriptions cost more than others. Newstands tend to be messy because of the vast range of different types of magazines. Yet it seems to me like you think this is Apple’s fault for poor delivery.

    I have yet to see a magazine from Newstand, a book from iBooks, or a song from iTunes not work properly in their respective native app.Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  • gregbraddock

    don’t pay that guy any attention, he complains about EVERYTHING.

  • Ed_Kel


  • Al

    Dang this is so true… I downloaded the New York Times (free version) just coz I was sick of seeing those empty shelves.

    On the other hand I agree with Prof. Peabody, most magazines are content-free trash these days. Even the “science” magazines are pretty poor unless you have the IQ of a chimp.

  • aga

    How do you know it is a guy? Icon looks female to me, and I know many female professors as I work in academia.

    In my experience, the comments the prof makes are right on the button. But maybe that is because I have, and value, an education.

    I bet I get flamed for this comment!

  • MARTINE978687

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  • gregbraddock

    so because i think he complains a lot i don’t have an education? how idiotic and i won’t indulge. however, i must apologize, the photo to me looked like a man, after maximizing it’s clearly a woman. And please elaborate on “flamed?” 

  • Ed_Kel

    “what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

  • MacRat

    “the empty shelves of recently-unveiled iOS 5 Newstand begs to be filled with magazine and newspaper subscriptions.”

    The only thing this app begged me to do was to delete it.

  • aga

    1) Your comments above in response to my post are “flaming”.

    2) I was not commenting on your education gregbraddock but the prof. Generally, Prof Peabody makes informed and educated comments that I mostly agree with.

  • curtis jackson

    If you don’t like apple products or applications, goto the google site instead of trolling around here.


  • MacHead

    Newstand is a folder not an app so how exactly did you delete it?

  • MacHead

    Maybe Im wrong but it looks like all the Mags are mostly just crappy PDFs, requiring to zoom in on text and what-not. Seems to have no formatting for the iPhone. Kinda let down buy how cheap it comes across.

  • Ben

    Kind of reminds me of the old story between book publishers and home builders. How do we sell more books? Build more built in bookshelves in new homes.

    I’ve converted most of my subscriptions over to digital versions, most were through Zinio, but I do have a couple populating my newsstand. I don’t know why everyone is so down on them though, in some cases they are cheaper then the print versions but nearly all of them have the same content, if not more. To me, it’s at the very least an environmentally friendly option and for traveling, it decreases the weight substantially. The only thing I am not keen on however is that as stand alone apps, a lot of magazines have implemented their own navigation and usage features. It’s the one thing I’ve always enjoyed about Zinio – things are pretty standard from magazine to magazine.

  • djrobsd

    Selection sucks, but it will get better.  Prices are way too high…. They need to give us a financial incentive to go digital with our magazines.

  • Lawrence Levy Shamrakov

    Its great marketing… I felt the same urge when I first saw it – but I wasn’t all too tempted to pay any subscriptions just yet – the magazine choice just wasn’t that great.

    Notice you can’t hide the Newsstand into another folder? Apple don’t want their marketing ploy foiled by people hiding it away.

  • Sally Niblett Staab

    No one has explained how to delete the empty newstand?! That’s my question–how do you get rid of it if you don’t intend to fill it?!