Can Amazon re-kindle magazine sales?

GamesTM recently celebrated its anniversary of 15 years in print. This achievement would have completely passed me by, were it not for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, as would the 12 month magazine subscription I signed up for once I’d finished reading my ‘borrowed’ issue.

A fillip for magazine publishers?

It was then that I found myself wondering whether I was looking at one possible answer to the dwindling fortunes of the magazine industry.

As one might expect, Kindle Unlimited offers users access to a large selection of books for a monthly fee – Netflix for bookworms if you will.  The number of available titles has almost doubled since the service launched in July 2014, rising from around 640,000 titles, to well over 1m.  What is perhaps less well known, yet of more significance to the magazine publishing industry, is the service also includes a rotating selection of popular magazines for users to borrow.  The key differentiator between the books and magazines is that these are the latest issues of the magazines.

Despite reports of the decline of ebook sales – including our own blog from last year – Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Nook sold 600m titles between them in English-speaking markets in 2016.  Amazon accounts for 82% of those sales, and Kindle software is available on most major operating systems.  With Kindle Unlimited, Amazon pays authors between $0.004 and $0.005 per page read, a page defined by 187 words.  Just looking at these statistics alone, it’s logical that Kindle will be seen as an attractive monetisation platform to magazine publishers facing an increasingly difficult market.

So how does giving away free copies within Kindle Unlimited benefit publishers?  The service acts as a form of bait, with titles rotating, meaning the next issue of a magazine may not become available on the service.  This means should a consumer read and enjoy a publication enough to want to read the next issue, they have to buy it.  Better still, as I did, if they liked the publication enough, they can purchase a year’s subscription, securing 12 paid issues for the publisher.

In an age where we seldom venture into the newsagents to peruse the magazine shelves, Kindle Unlimited’s virtual shelves possess the ability to introduce customers to publications which are new to them, or re-kindle interest in lapsed titles. In April 2017, The Passive Voice estimated there are “at least 3 million readers” in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, each reading “an average of 5 books per month”.  That’s a lot of potential customers.

The UI and model also make the process really simple.  I’ve used several other apps to trial magazines in the past.  Each brought with them the pressure of recurring subscriptions on individual publications, which needed to be cancelled before the trial was complete, which in many cases put me off trialling a copy for fear of forgetting to cancel at the end.  With Kindle Unlimited, that concern is completely removed.

Of course, this is unlikely to be a panacea for a challenged industry, but may be another example of routes to market that publishers could consider. It’s certainly a model which proved successful on me.


James Dodd

j[email protected]


Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work in the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) space, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.