Tablets lure media owners

10 May 2011

NEW YORK: Media owners including Time Inc, Condé Nast and Hearst Magazines are seeking to exploit the opportunities presented by tablets like the iPad.

Hearst Magazines will begin selling paid-for versions of Esquire, O, the Oprah Magazine, and Popular Mechanics via this device in July, doing so through Apple's subscription system.

David Carey, president of the company, told the New York Times all the statistics gathered thus far have proved extremely promising.

"While it's still early days on distribution models, our research has shown that reader engagement levels for digital subscriptions are terrific, with time spent reading at very high levels," he said.

Jessica Kleiman, vice president, public relations, at Hearst Magazines, equally proposed demand for such tools is growing.

"The feedback we heard from consumers over and over was that they wanted to be able to subscribe on the iPad," she said. "So we do feel like it's an important part of the mix."

"We want them to be multiple revenue streams. At this point we're not bundling."

One possible drawback for content producers is that Apple officially takes 30% of subscriptions completed using the App Store, although Kleiman stated Hearst had struck a mutually favourable bargain.

"It's an equitable and fair deal for both sides," she said. "There was a lot of back and forth and we feel it's a fair agreement in terms of sharing the data and owning the customers together."

Time Inc has established a more limited offering than Hearst, enabling iPad users holding Fortune, Sports Illustrated or Time subscriptions to access material for free.

Jeffrey Bewkes, Time Warner's chief executive, was positive about the future of its print arm, despite suggestions this category may witness continuing profit pressure.

"We don't feel the need, absolutely not the need to change any of the asset mixes," he said.

"We feel that publishing is a very strong performer, relative to its competitive set and it's undergoing a pretty interesting upside with the tablets coming along."

Fortune ran a feature on Apple in its print title and iPad variants last week, but did not post it online in the usual manner, partly as a means of potentially identifying viable strategies going forward.

"This is an entirely new experiment," Dan Roth, managing editor of Fortune Digital, said. "We're trying to figure out the best way of releasing journalism online."

"None of us have any idea what works and what doesn't work anymore."

Similar concerns were recently aired by Robin Steinberg, MediaVest's director of publishing investment and activation, and a board member at measurement body the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

In a letter sent to many publishers last month, Steinberg argued brands should be allowed to choose whether digital editions were incorporated into readership and other figures.

She also said it was "critical" to determine just this kind of information, alongside creating highly rigorous monitoring more broadly.

"Publishers are most comfortable with traditional metrics because their business models have been structured around these data points for years," she said.

"There is an increasing need to evolve and reinvent archaic practices into modern approaches, delivering and reporting audience- and engagement-based measurement."

Robert Sauerberg Jr, president of Condé Nast, the owner of magazines such as Vogue and Wired, believes improvements are already being made in this area.

"We all want to be transparent with our advertising partners but our systems must be in place and tested to ensure we are telling the right story," he said.

"We will have more information soon, and we feel really good about the emerging picture."

Data sourced from New York Times, Financial Times, AllThingsD; additional content by Warc staff