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Bauer tests bundled titles as a path to app profitability

Digital magazine apps have had a hard time over the past decade. Promises of rich multimedia iPad editions fell flat as the mobile revolution took over, and magazine apps struggled to adapt to the requirements for light, responsive downloads at an affordable production cost.

Bauer is one publisher who has steadfastly persisted with its app editions where many others have given up. Last October, they decided to try a new approach.

‘Bikes Unlimited’ is the result. It’s an app that includes all six of Bauer UK’s motorcycle titles: weekly issues of MCN, plus the monthly magazines of RiDE, Classic Bike, Practical Sportsbikes, Bike, and quarterly custom biking magazine Built. Motorcycle fans can get access to every issue of these titles when they come out, with both a PDF replica format and a mobile optimised text view for as long as they keep their subscription active.

The app is available on both iOS and Google Play stores for £7.99 a month, or an £89.99 annual fee.  

“Tremendous value” for subscribers

The publisher believes magazine content streaming is going to grow in popularity over the next few years, where magazine apps have more regular content fed into them than just monthly issues. 

“Bikes Unlimited is a way of giving fans of motorcycle magazine content a streaming-style app that really does represent tremendous value,” said  Jim Foster, Head of ePublishing at Bauer. “And because there isn’t a third party – other than Apple – to take a cut of the revenues, it delivers a higher average revenue per user than other streaming platforms do.”

The publisher has optimised its workflow and mobile optimisation processes to minimise the amount of work needed to get the magazines into a digital format. Bauer UK has worked with Sprylab’s digital publishing software platform for all of its digital and interactive editions since 2017

It’s early days for Bikes Unlimited, but Foster is happy with their progress so far. “As with any app, the key is organic acquisition together with building awareness outside the app store ecosystem to generate installs,” he explained. The app has had a soft launch, and a marketing campaign in the relevant titles to get it off the ground.

A winner with Android

One unexpected success for Bauer has been the Android downloads for this combined app. Android users have historically been very difficult to monetise through apps, and for many publishers, are only a tiny proportion of paid app downloads.

iOS is still the bigger platform for Bikes Unlimited, but compared to Bauer’s other brands, the Android version is doing “incredibly well.”

“We are seeing a far higher percentage adoption via Android users than we were expecting, and indeed get on other apps,” said Foster. “I think this is because it’s the first app we’ve launched from scratch where we’ve made a concerted investment into Android marketing, and Google Play App Store optimisation as well as iOS.”

Foster also speculated that the historic difficulty with getting Android users to part with their cash may have been overcome by the “bargain” offer of six titles within one app.

A concern for other publishers would be the risk of cannibalising subscribers to the individual titles. But Foster isn’t worried by this, and says that the risk is “very, very limited” from the data analysis and projections Bauer has done.

A bundled future

Bauer stands apart from many publishers when it comes to app investments, not only with people dedicated to making them work, but having persisted through some tough years for app uptake. Digital apps may not be making headlines, but they are a quiet success for the publisher.

“Our app business is highly profitable and growing,” Foster said, when asked why Bauer is investing in app innovations. “As a percentage of overall Bauer circulation revenue, [apps] remain small, but the curve is upward.”

So are bundled app subscriptions something other publishers could look at adopting? Foster believes it is still too early to tell, but asserts that Bauer is fortunate to have a group of subject-matter related titles where the model stands a chance of working.

For other publishers who have significant areas of overlap between their audiences, many have already experimented with cross-promotion. If these green shoots of success continue for Bauer, it will pave the way for a truly sustainable app publishing business for the future.

See also: As publishers return to apps, are audiences finally prepared to pay?