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Subscriptions: Kindle vs Digital vs Print
July 24, 2012
There is a lot of confusion about the subscription benefits between the Kindle vs Digital vs Print offerings that need some serious clarification. The Economist is a fantastic publication so I'm writing this to make sure people aren't giving the magazine undeserved flak, and that people here understand what's going on behind the scenes...
Here is the issue: The Economist, like most other major publications, provides lots of value-added features to subscribers but make limited access to their website free for SEO and ad revenue generating purposes. These subscriber features include: full audio podcasts, full access to apps and commentary, and of course full digital access to the printed content. The digital subscriptions and authentication to access this content happens directly on the Economist's servers, so features served from the Economist's servers are easily matched and delivered to subscribers. AMAZON'S KINDLE DELIVERY INFRASTRUCTURE has a separate user database, separate servers, and a separate transfer protocol that is 100% independent of the Economist.
This wouldn't be a problem, except that AMAZON DOES NOT ALLOW PUBLICATIONS TO AUTHENTICATE AGAINST AMAZON USERS SUBSCRIBING TO THE PUBLICATIONS' OWN PRODUCT! This is technically easy to do by implementing an API for publishers. But without it The Economist has no way of knowing who is subscribing through Amazon, so they cannot offer the digital features to kindle subscribers.
This is how it SHOULD work (listen up Amazon):
1) You pay for the Kindle subscription
2) You then sign up with a free account at Economist.com that doesn't have any subscription rights to it (yet)
3) You add your amazon info to your Economist user account
4) The Economist's server pings the Amazon server, and the Amazon server says "Yup, this guy is definitely a paying subscriber, and he is paid up through XX/XX/XXXX"
5)You get the Kindle subscription every week, plus the ability to log in to the Economist.com with a newly subscriber-enhanced user account.
This doesn't work because Amazon does not allow step 4 in the above example. The Economist would LOVE to give Kindle subscribers digital access, but there's no practical way to do this because Amazon refuses to implement APIs to make Step 4 possible. The lack of digital subscriber features here is 100% AMAZON'S FAULT!
Why the same price? When you sign up as a digital subscriber directly at Economist.com, they get 100% of the $120, but from a Kindle subscription they only receive $84 out of $120 retail price on Amazon (bummer). If they charged less, they'd get only $70 or $60... and last I checked the newspaper industry isn't profitable enough to take deeper and deeper cuts into it's retail price. However, they are economists over there (just a hunch) and as a result I think they chose the CORRECT pricing strategy of $120 for the Kindle edition. Here's why: The Economist takes a 30% haircut and delivers a sub-par product via Amazon (because it doesn't include extra features), so they're subtly encouraging a reasonable person to just subscribe directly with Economist.com to receive the superior product. They make a subscription on kindle available simply to appease those few subscribers who must have a whispersynced copy formatted like the print edition on their Kindle and wouldn't subscribe under any other arrangement. In effect, kindlers are paying the "Amazon's Infrastructure Sucks For Publishers" tax by paying the same but getting less.
Unfortunately, most people's negative reviews blame the publisher for not getting the extra digital features, and interested parties are looking at these comments and writing off The Economist completely, instead of taking exception specifically to the service Amazon pigeon-holes publishers into. Of course The Economist can't really say this on Amazon, but I have no problem laying it down for them. So for my fellow Amazoners, don't just choose between subscribing or passing on the Economist, consider the kindle or (direct) digital option as well, and vote this comment up so others can see it.