Want another example of how Apple’s masterful use of design fuels sales? Like the empty iPod that just screams out for you to buy music, the empty shelves of recently-unveiled iOS 5 Newstand begs to be filled with magazine and newspaper subscriptions. When Newsstand first appears on your iPhone or iPad, the app displays empty shelves. The empty shelf is a powerful enticement – just look at your own home. When you see an empty shelf, there is an almost biological urge drawing you to put something there. Apple understand this instinct as well, putting a “Store” button close at hand. And iOS users have been pressing that button, by the millions. For publishers, what began as a concern that Newstand could steal away subscribers instead has become a windfall, with Newsstand magazine and newspaper apps ranking among the top overall free apps. The New York Times iPad app was downloaded 189,000 times during the first week Newsstand was available. By comparison, the app was downloaded just 27,000 the week before, according to publishing news organization Poynter. Even more mind-blowing: the newspaper’s iPhone app was downloaded 1.8 million times after Newsstand arrived, 85 times the downloads the previous week. Downloading a free magazine or newspaper is one thing, but turning downloaders into subscribers is another matter. National Geographic found Newsstand hiked their subscription rate five-fold. Not only that, the magazine found its free app ranked in the No. 18 spot for all apps. Other aspects of Newsstand are also being credited with fueling the publishing boom. Instead of having numerous individual magazine and newspaper apps spread over multiple home screens, the Apple app collects them all neatly in one easy-to-located spot. In addition, the newspapers and magazines “magically” stay fresh, updating their content while you’re busy playing Angry Birds. Although incredibly cool, the “empty shelf” sales tactic isn’t new for Apple. Remember when e-books meant thousands of individual files you laboriously had to track? The tech giant did away with all that with iBooks, the iPhone and iPad app that created a book shelf and a “Library” button where you could easily purchase your reading material. What next media could be tamed via the shelf metaphor?

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