To The Shard! (I think it should always have an exclamation mark) on a crisp March morning for a presentation and a breakfast by Readly.
Readly are the new “all you can eat” subscription service for magazines. You pay a tenner a month and get to access to all the magazines – current issues and back issues – on their service. That’s currently 400 different magazines from across Sweden (where Readly launched), the US (now live) and the UK (which is launching in the next few days). There seem to be around 120 UK titles on the site at present, with IPC and Haymarket being the two larger publishers present. More publishers and titles will presumably be added over the next few weeks.
The editions are ‘just’ flat PDF versions rather than anything more sophisticated. I’ve always had reservations about this way of going digital (and I go back over ten years here, when the Telegraph were looking at producing page-turner editions using Olive software), but Per Hellberg, Readly’s CEO, made a strong case for this type of product as the best option for a “magazine buffet” service.
Primary among the reasons is to give the customers a standard experience – any title they read or browse on the service will have the same navigation and the same features; there’s no need to have to come to terms with different publishers’ preferred UX. Second is consumer conservatism – despite what us publishers might want, many readers like (or don’t actively dislike) the consistency of experience between print and digital.
A third reason is ease for publishers. A standard format from the press-ready print files means no extra work to get titles live and allows for back issues to be uploaded without any format conversion. The whole subject of back issues is important, and I’ll come back to this in a second.
Per’s overarching philosophy is this – there’s nothing wrong with the content that’s being produced, so why would Readly want to change that (“Netflix don’t re-edit movies they show”) – the challenge for the market is in distribution, accessibility and marketing. And on customer acquisition over the next three years Readly are planning to spend £100 million across the UK, US, Germany and other territories. (Bloody hell, that’s a marketing budget.)
The revenue model for publishers is based on usage. From the £9.99 a month, Readly take their cut and the rest is divvied up among publishers according to the amount of time a customer spends looking at a title. Three points here, the first being that in their first month subscribers browse around 40 titles on average (so each publisher gets buttons), after six months this drops to a customer opening around 20 titles a month and reading about 10 of them, and after a year they’re opening 10 or so and reading 5. The second point is that the Swedish experience is that 90% of reading is of back issues – which seems very high, but even if it were ‘only’ 50% it would be a fascinating stat – either readers are going back through old editions of favourite titles, or they’re searching by keyword or subject to find articles of specific interest. Either way it seems to reinforce Per Hallberg’s contention that the more product that is available, the more product will be consumed. The third point is that if the number of subscribers and the number of titles grows (which it has to for the business to be viable), publishers will need to think about how they promote their editions so that they are accessed more frequently and for longer.
Publishers get access to all the data on their magazines – articles read, demographics, time spent on page, devices, etc etc etc. And Readly claim that when they’ve matched publishers’ subscriber databases against Readly’s, the overlap has never been more than 2.5%, suggesting that these are all new readers that are finding the product on Readly. That seems a really very low percentage to me, and it will be interesting to see if the UK stats differ from the Swedish ones. From talking to a couple of publishers who have already committed to being on the platform, the main concern is whether the Readly service will cannibalise publishers’ own digital subscriptions. This again may be where the flat PDF version on Readly helps to settle publishers’ nerves – committed readers will buy the publisher’s own bells and whistles app, browsers will be happy with reading an article or two on Readly.
Will it work? There have been a couple of attempts before, the most recent being Le Kiosk‘s, but neither of them have taken off to any great extent. Success will be conditional on getting a lot more magazines (the service has been successful in Sweden because it has nearly every major title) so that subscribers feel they are getting a proper choice. The 120 UK magazines on the catalogue at present are fine, but they are not nearly enough and the market leaders in several categories don’t currently feature. The challenge for the UK arm will be to have 500+ magazines available in pretty short order.
And the second challenge is to get subscribers, which is partly down to how the £100 million is spent, but is equally about point one, giving customers the broadest possible choice. £9.99 a month to be able to read 100 mags is sort of okay, but £9.99 unlimited reading of 500 or 1,000 or 5,000 is a different order altogether.
And I’ve got all this way without calling it Spotify for magazines.