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Popular Science, Unpopular Math

In an interview with Ad Age this week, publisher Gregg Hano sounds optimistic about Popular Science’s iPad subscription service. Hano seems content with sales throughout the interview.

But should he be?

According to Hano, Popular Science currently has 16,000 subscribers. At the current subscription rate of $15 a year, that means Popular Science is only pulling in $240,000 per year in iPad subscriptions.

This number is extremely low for a magazine that tends to cover very high-tech subjects. Their writers and photographers often need to travel around the world to cover the stories Popular Science is known for. So how can a magazine survive with such a small subscription base?

Well, there is some good news. Hano has estimated based on email data that 95% of Popular Science’s iPad subscribers are new customers. This revelation is indicative of Popular Science actually growing its subscriber base online, as opposed to merely migrating it from print.

I think there are two factors at work here. The $15 a year subscription fee is relatively low. The savings versus the newstand price really stand out when customers are only paying roughly 20% of the newsstand price.

Secondly, I think Popular Science is a magazine that speaks to the type of person that owns an iPad. They’re techy, they’re smart, and they’re educated. They don’t mind paying a small fee for a publication that they enjoy. It’s a solid niche market, and Popular Science has been able to exploit it online.

The question that remains is whether or not Popular Science can raise its subscription base on the iPad to a high enough level to truly sustain their business. $240,000 a year is not going to go very far in supporting a large monthly publication.

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