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Summary:

Magazine publishers are putting a lot of faith in apps, building development teams and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some ca…

Magazine publishers are putting a lot of faith in apps, building development teams and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some cases, much more) to launch them. Last week, Hearst unveiled its new app lab. Meanwhile, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) recently changed its terms to allow magazine publishers to experiment with in-app subscription pricing.

Still, publishers continue to take some heat for producing apps that are clunky, not social enough, and overpriced. And at least one magazine entrepreneur/executive argues that his peers are deluding themselves about the likelihood that apps are going to generate profits anytime soon.

So what do the big magazine publishers have to show for their efforts?

With virtually every magazine title now available (or soon-to-be available) in app form, publishers are moving into next flavor of apps: “service-oriented” apps that aren’t editorially based. Within the past couple of weeks, Hearst and Condé Nast unveiled two apps that showed off different approaches. Hearst’s House Beautiful’s 500+ Favorite Paint Colors, a $4.99 guide to home paint combinations from the editors of House Beautiful magazine, is designed to entice readers of the magazine to try the new service, while Condé Nast’s new Idea Flight, the publisher’s first foray into a non-editorial app, is essentially a meetings presentation tool for iPads. Condé Nast’s digital group expects to produce other related apps over the next few months.

So how do the big magazine publishers — Condé Nast, Hearst, Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) and Meredith (NYSE: MDP) — stack up when it comes to their app offerings? The publishers are secretive with some of the metrics. Take total downloads. Meredith, the smallest of the four publishers, was the only one to provide a current download total for its apps– 800,000. Back in April, Condé Nast told us its 22 apps (the number has since increased; see chart) had been downloaded 7 million times. Revenue, too, is something of a black hole, as publishers are happy to talk about the new bells and whistles in their apps, but grow silent when it comes to talking about the profit picture with their apps.

Here’s a snapshot of what the publishers are offering appwise.

  1. Not sure I would agree with the statement “every magazine title now available (or soon-to-be available) in app form” — smaller publishers especially have been very slow to roll out apps for their titles, due to the steep up-front investment cost in an unproven medium. Many major national titles are jumping in, with very questionable success to this point, but let’s not exaggerate the already overhyped app trend. Magazine apps are just barely getting off the ground, and the magazine app medium is clearly still in its infancy.

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    1. Thanks @Magazine_Designer:disqus , if you want to throw out a few smaller magazine publisher titles who’ve thought about apps or just done 1 or 2, I could do a post follow-up at some point.

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      1. Check out http://thedigitalamericana.com – we were created exclusively as a magazine-app made for the iPad (being the first tablet-literary-magazine ever) //even though we’re now available in print too…

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  2. Other magazines are successfully selling content through Facebook newsstands:

    http://www.facebook.com/sidelinesmagazine
    http://www.facebook.com/icarusgayspecficmag

    While others are producing multimedia lessons for their community

    http://www.facebook.com/AcousticGuitarMagazine

    Building strong relationships is about keeping in touch.  These magazines are doing so without iOS apps. 

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  3. That’s a good reference chart. I think it’s important to remember that the iPad is just over one year old. It’s a new device with a huge content/publishing potential and all of these apps are a great way to study the market, educate the publishers (and the public) about the various possibilities. There is no magic formula and sometimes just the fact the brand gets extend into this new digital medium is a good enough reason to do it, at least that’s how we see it.

    I know this chart is about the major magazine publishers but I would like to add that what is think is very exciting about the iPad and the app store is how democratic it is. We are a small design firm and we publish a quarterly iPad photography zine, using Adobe’s beta publishing tools, which are the same tools Condé Nast is using. View, our zine was downloaded over 6,000 times since March (it’s free) and it’s been a tremendous learning experience for us – we just published the second issue – this is something we weren’t able to even think about in the print-only world. 

    View zine: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/view-magazine/id422061173?mt=8

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  4. Hey guys, thanks for these suggestions. Feel free to send more my way — laura at paidcontent dot org

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