Female Magazine Fans Flock to Nook Color
By JEREMY W. PETERS
Even as the iPad remains the favorite son of the magazine business, publishers are discovering that the Barnes & Noble Nook Color is a very promising younger daughter.
The Nook Color has surprised publishers of women’s magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health by igniting strong sales that rival — and in some cases surpass — sales on the iPad.
The success was not so easily predictable for a device that has been on the market only since November and faces stiff competition from Apple, Amazon and the Android-based tablets.
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” said Liz Schimel, executive vice president for digital media for Meredith, publisher of Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens and other women’s magazines. “We regarded it as sort of a test. Would the Nook magazine experience resonate with consumers? We were extremely pleasantly surprised. I think Barnes & Noble has been very smart about creating a whole brand and a campaign that’s really targeted at their core mass audience which overlaps nicely with our audience.”
Recent best-seller lists for magazines on the Nook Color bear this out. Magazine top sellers include US Weekly, Shape, Women’s Health and Every Day with Rachael Ray. Men’s magazines like Maxim and Men’s Health rounded out the top 20 late last week, but they were the outliers.
On the surface, the reason for the strong performance of female-oriented publications on the Nook is relatively straightforward. Generically speaking, the iPad and other tablets are men’s toys, while the Nook Color and other e-readers are more popular with women. According to data from Forrester Research, 56 percent of tablet owners are male, while 55 percent of e-reader owners are female. Women also buy more books than men do — by a ratio of about 3 to 1, according to a survey last year by Bowker, a research firm for publishers — and are therefore more likely to buy devices that are made primarily for reading books.
But publishers also believe the resonance of the Nook Color among women highlights the vast difference in consumer markets. Some women, at least, seem to prefer their electronic reading devices to be simpler, something they can read on. Tablets with Rock Band, GT Racing and high-res cameras? That’s guy stuff.
And Barnes & Noble has marketed the $249 Nook Color toward females. Ads show women and girls reading it in various states of relaxation and repose: at the beach, in bed, on the couch. On Barnes & Noble’s Web site, a bubbly woman named Kate walks users through a guided tour on how to use the device.
The company has not said how many Nook Colors it has sold, beyond putting the figure in the millions and saying that it is the most successful product in Barnes & Noble’s history. But since November, the company said more than 1.5 million magazine subscriptions and copies of single issues had been sold on the Nook Color. This week, in an attempt to build on the success of its reading devices, Barnes &Noble is expected to debut a new e-reader.
Apple and Amazon do not release sales figures, and the data that publishers report about sales through the iPad and the Kindle are limited. But their top sellers include far more magazines with heavily male audiences, like Wired and Rolling Stone.
The Nook Color and its black-and-white counterpart were most likely part of what made Barnes & Noble so appealing to Liberty Media, which last week made a cash offer of $17 a share, around $1 billion, for the bookseller.
Meredith publishes two magazines, Family Circle and More, on the Nook Color and has plans to add more because the sales have been strong. Nook Color subscriptions are outselling the magazines Meredith publishes on the iPad, where only single-issue sales are available, by about 2 to 1. Hearst, which publishes O and Cosmopolitan, is selling tens of thousands of subscriptions on the device each month. Rodale Inc., which publishes Women’s Health, Runner’s World and Prevention on the Nook Color, is selling about five times as many subscriptions through Barnes & Noble as it is selling single issues on the iPad.
The bookseller offers 136 magazines in its digital newsstand — a range from The Economist to Country Living. Sales for most magazines now are small, around several thousand each.
“It really took off right away, which was tremendous for us,” said Gregg Michaelson, president and chief marketing officer of Rodale, which publishes a number of magazines on the Nook Color. “When we look at the numbers across our titles we’re seeing about five times the number of paid subscriptions on the Nook than we see in single-issue sales on the iPad. That’s pretty interesting to me.”
Publishers credit a longstanding and lucrative partnership with Barnes & Noble as a big part of the success — a far cry from the contentious relationship with Apple. The bookseller is the No. 2 seller of newsstand copies of magazines, behind only Wal-Mart. Subscriptions — a question publishers are still trying to resolve with Apple — were available immediately after the Nook Color went on sale, and readers are enticed to buy with free two-week trial periods. After that, publishers set the price of subscriptions at generally low rates. US Weekly is on the higher end at $5.99 a month; Woman’s Day is on the low end at 99 cents.
Despite being on the market with the iPad for more than a year, Apple cleared the way for magazines to begin selling subscriptions only in February. And even then the major magazine publishers balked because of the terms of Apple’s subscription policy, the main sticking point being that magazines were not given data about who their subscribers were. Barnes & Noble shares that data more readily.
Relations have warmed in recent weeks, with both Hearst and Condé Nast, the second and third largest American magazine publishers, reaching agreements to sell subscriptions. Time Inc., the industry leader, is still trying to reach a deal on the broad parameters of a subscription model.
Not only have the terms of selling magazines on the Nook Color been comparatively easy to negotiate, but the process of creating electronic versions of magazines is also far easier and less expensive than it is to create an iPad edition. Publishers need only send a PDF of their latest issue, and Barnes & Noble takes care of the rest.
“As soon as a magazine is ready to send its pages to the printer, they send them to us,” said Jonathan Shar, Barnes & Noble’s digital newsstand manager. “It’s very efficient, and that’s part of our strategy. We knew that was important to publishers.”
That makes magazines on the Nook much less of an app and more of a traditional reading experience.
So what about the small fortune that publishers have poured into developing tablet editions that dazzle the senses with sleekly produced animation, live video and audio? They’re fine for the men, but a lot of women think there is nothing wrong with plain old words and pictures.
“Nook Color really taught us an important lesson in that consumers in their interests are really diverse,” said David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines. “We have those that want a really enhanced edition with cinematic elements which you find in iTunes, and those who want a more straightforward version of their favorite magazine where the benefit is portability.”
Source: The New York Times