Subscriptions can be used to give a discount to longer commitments e.g. $12 for 12 issues over 12 months OR can be used to incentivise users on a short, low cost recurring subscription e.g. 99c a month. There are pros and cons to each approach - it's up to the publisher to decide which suits them best.
When a user subscribes, and if they do not download all issues available to them under their subscription within the time frame of that subscription, they will still be able to return to the app and download any issue that was available to them under the old subscription at a later date.
Like single in-app purchases of issues, with subscriptions a customer is always entitled to things they have already bought. Or, to put it another way, you are always entitled to all issues within your subscription period, no matter if you have a valid current subscription or if it has lapsed.
For example, if you bought a 12 month subscription from September 2011 to September 2012, in 2013 you will be able to re-download all issues within the subscription period for free. However, subscriptions do not apply to back issues if they fall outside your valid subscription periods, nor do they apply to historical issues only available as single issue purchases.
Subscription Durations & Issues
Customers expect access to the “current” issue of a publication when they buy a digital subscription on the iPad, even if it's availability date falls outside the subscription period, i.e. it is already available when the subscription starts. This is different to the way paper subscriptions typically work, where you buy a subscription and get access to the next issue, not the current issue. The paper model of subscriptions will not work in the iPad world where immediacy is expected.
However, due to the way Apple's auto-renewable subscriptions work, in most cases the customer will be given access to one extra issue of a publication when they initially take out a subscription. This lines up with customer expectations of how a subscription works, but can be counter-intuitive at first. For example, a monthly magazine offers a 6 months subscription, the user will be able to access seven issues. This only happens on the first subscription though, each renewal does not give another free issue; six months will give seven issues, 12 months will give 13 issues, 18 months will give 19 issues, 24 months will give 25 issues, etc.
Please ensure that you take this into account when you are creating your pricing matrix for subscriptions.
Free subscriptions are a way to put free subscription content in Newsstand. Once a user signs up for a free subscription, it will be available on all devices associated with the user’s Apple ID. Note that free subscriptions do not expire and can only be offered in Newsstand-enabled apps. For more information on how to set this up, see here.
To understand how this works in more depth, consider the following scenario.
Each issue comes out monthly on the 15th of each month.
The current issue is September, which came out on the 15th August 2011.
A reader buys a 6 month subscription on the 25th August 2011.
So the reader's subscription is valid from 25th August 2011 - 25th February 2012.
This reader gets access to the following issues: September (current), October, November, December, January, February & March.
After the first renewal occurs, they will have access to: September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August & September.
Here is a graphical overview of this.
The rules determining whether a reader has access to an issue are as follows:
If an issue became available (i.e. the availability date) within any of your subscriptions, you have access.
If an issue ceases to be available (i.e. next month's issue comes out) within any of your subscriptions, you have access.
If a subscription duration is wholly contained within an issue's availability period (start to end), you have access.
Note that for the last case above, it is not recommended to offer a subscription whose duration is smaller than normal frequency of magazine updates, e.g. don't offer a 1 month subscription on a magazine that comes out every 6 months.
Below are screens from a sample application that shows a user purchasing a subscription via a Newsstand enabled application. Click on an image to see the full size screen shot.
Generic App Icons on Empty Newsstand
Purchase & Download
Re-Purchasing A Subscription
iTunes Invoice Email
iTunes Subscription Reminder Email
Note: This is sample application running in the iTunes Store Sandbox, as such, some details including subscription durations & alert messages will differ from a live app.
Below are on device screens from the App Store app showing how to manage subscriptions including changing durations & cancelling auto-renewals. Similar screens are also available from iTunes on the desktop, within the iTunes Store → Account section.
For more information see How to change your subscription details and preferences.
Common questions about Subscriptions
Q: If I buy the current issue and then I buy a subscription will it begin with the next issue?
A: If you have bought the “current” issue as a single issue purchase, you will not be able to purchase a subscription until the next issue becomes available. This is due to the way subscriptions work internally on the App Store side and to line up with user expectations of subscription behaviour.
Q: Do I get access to the iPad one for free if I have a print sub?
A: No, bundling is not supported, however this may change in future.
Q: Can I cancel a subscription?
A: No, once you have purchased a subscription you can not cancel it without asking Apple for a refund (which they may not give). You can stop future subscription renewal in the Settings on your iPad. For more information on how a user can change their subscription details please read here.
Q: Can I access my subscription on another iPad?
A: Yes, once you enter the same credentials in the iPads you wish to use, all you need to do is tap on the restore button which will allow you to access the subscriptions bought under that account. This works the same way as regular single issue purchases.
Q: Can subscriptions work with free content?
A: Yes, free subscriptions can be offered, these do not have a duration and will never expire. A free subscription sets up Newsstand to automatically download free issues.
Q: Can a user have a free subscription & a paid subscription at the same time?
A: Yes. Though note that a user purchasing a paid subscription will automatically get access to free issues during their subscription period.
Q: Can I offer different subscriptions within the same application? e.g. A “library” style app that offers two different magazines in the one app with separate price points.
A: No, you cannot currently offer a set of different subscriptions within the one application. For example, you could not have a single “container” application that provided subscriptions to separate publications within the same application.
Q: Can I offer more than one subscription duration to customers? e.g. 1 month, 3 months, 6 months & 12 months.
Q: Can free content use automatic downloads?
A: Yes, there is no difference between free & paid content from a Newsstand point of view.
Q: What happens if a publisher wants to change the subscription offering? e.g. if it was $9.95 for 12 months for 12 issues, and they decide to move to bi-monthly instead of monthly and therefore drop the price e.g. $5.95 for 12 months for 6 issues?
A: It is possible to do this, but we strongly advise not to, as the users who purchased the more costly subscription will then only be getting half of the publications that they paid for. If at all possible it would be best to avoid this.
Q: Do background downloads work over 3G as well as wifi?
A: No, Newsstand background downloads only work when the iPad is plugged into a power source (power point or powered USB hub) & on a wifi network. You can still manually download on 3G though, using the regular Download button on the My Issues screen.
Q: When the subscriptions auto-renew will my credit card be automatically charged, or will I be prompted to allow it?
A: Paid Subscriptions will automatically renew for the applicable time period you have selected, and your Account will be charged no more than 24 hours prior to the expiration of the current Paid Subscription. You may cancel automatic renewal by selecting Manage and selecting the subscription you want to modify. The auto-renew feature of the subscription will be turned off if the Licensor increases the price of the subscription.
Q: Can a user purchase a subscription twice?
A: No, the iTunes Store APIs will warn the user that they have already purchased the subscription & offer to download it again for free.