To date, publishers have largely gone solo in their attempts to monetise their digital offerings, by either putting paywalls on their Web sites, or charging for a subscription to access the tablet version of their publications — with varying degrees of success.
So news of a March launch for Readly in the UK last week, following its launch in Sweden and the United States last year, piqued my interest.
The service takes the form of a digital app, offering an “all-you-can-read” magazine service for a monthly subscription fee. Consumers pay £9.99 per month for unlimited access to all the magazines in Readly’s portfolio, including back issues.
The Readly app can be installed on to up to five devices per subscriber, including iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Kindle Fire. The digital magazines are deconstructed from publisher PDF print files that are automatically re-constructed into an “advanced” PDF format.
Readly says this advanced format provides ultra-fast downloading and simple and consistent navigation across all the magazines, together with advanced zoom, bookmark, search, and sharing functions.
That said, it should be noted these are more akin to page-turner editions than mobile app versions. So, while they may be OK on a tablet (and the bigger the tablet the better), if my own experience is anything to go by, reading them on a phone — even a Sony Xperia Z with a large screen — is not going to be too much fun.
Downloads typically take 30 seconds on a fast Internet connection, or two minutes via 3G. Subscribers can start reading five seconds into the download. Users’ reading activity is tracked to distribute revenues to each publisher based on the number of pages read and the time spent on each page.
This analysis also provides publishers with insights into how their content is being consumed.
Readly says it has been designed to complement publishers’ existing digital channels. Since it uses the same files that are already prepared for print versions of magazines, it enables publishers to expand their reach, without any additional infrastructure burden. Issues can be updated at any time by the publisher, using Readly’s cloud-based, back-office system.
Readly denies that existing sales are in danger of being cannibalised, arguing that evidence from Sweden indicates only a 2% overlap between Readly and publishers’ own customer data, suggesting a vast opportunity for new customer acquisition.
Readly has been welcomed by the Periodical Publishers’ Association (PPA), whose CEO Barry McIlheney says: “Readly offers UK consumers a new proposition for magazines; one which has the potential to add real scale and presence to what publishers are already doing themselves. We are delighted that Readly has come to the UK.”
I guess the key issue, however, is evident when you look at things from the consumer’s perspective.
Readly currently deals with 80 publishers, promotes 300 magazine brands, and holds 3,000 issues of these magazines for consumers to buy in Sweden and the United States. These will all be available to UK consumers when the service launches in the spring.
Readly says it is in talks with several major UK publishers ahead of next month’s launch, but is not in a position to name these, owing to non-disclosure agreements in place.
The great thing about Spotify and other premium monthly subscription services is the vast array of music they offer, for which £9.99 sounds an absolute steal. Readly’s success in building an audience will depend on whether it can make its own £9.99 subscription feel like a no-brainer. With 300 titles across a range of different genres, it doesn’t feel like it’s there yet.
But come the UK launch next month, when Readly reveals who it has signed up over here, we might be in a better position to tell.