Condé Nast Brings Titles to iPhone, Keeps Eyes On the iTablet

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Newspapers and magazines — the entire news print industry to be honest — have been suffering a long and torturous decline for much of the last decade as more of us turn to the Internet and electronic devices to get (increasingly personalized) news and other content. While publishers have generally been slow to adapt to shifting delivery platforms, change is — finally — afoot. Publishing supergiant Condé Nast is now taking its first tentative steps to embracing the digital realm with a series of iPhone apps designed to deliver its most popular titles electronically.

Adage reports that the first title will be GQ magazine, released this December in the app store and priced at $2.99 (the regular print edition of the magazine costs as much as $4.99).

Adage’s Nat Ives writes:

The new app platform could help the company squeeze circulation and real ad revenue from digital. Because the apps will include all the editorial and ads that the print editions do, the Audit Bureau of Circulations will consider the apps to be paid circulation just like newsstand sales and subscriber copies. That’s important because advertisers only want to pay for ad space in issues that the audit bureau defines as paid.

So the digital edition of GQ will be identical to its dead-tree counterpart, but cost appreciably less. It might also offer compelling extra content and rich media at (and this is so very important to publishers) little-to-no extra cost. After all, an embedded video is an impossibility in a printed magazine, and a digital edition offers unlimited virtual column-inches for expanded editorial.

Condé hasn’t completely abandoned its old methods for generating profits. Indeed, it’s relying on the fact its digital issues will be counted as paid editions because print ads command higher rates than online ads.

Size Matters

So, will you buy GQ on your iPhone? I suspect there won’t be too many people who do. Seasoned iPhone users are keenly aware that the device’s form factor makes for a dissatisfying reading experience of even modest duration. The iPhone is hardly the most comfortable platform for reading anything more than email. Sure, apps like Stanza and Instapaper make reading on the iPhone far more fluid and tolerable than, say, reading lengthy web pages in Safari. But they can’t change the fact that you’re still peering at tiny text on a 3.5 inch screen. Only the most dedicated of readers will suffer such eye-strain-inducing limitations, all the while dreaming of something just as light, just as thin, but much larger. Y’know… a tablet.

This is something Condé Nast understands very well. Its upcoming app isn’t about bringing its various print publications to the iPhone — it’s about the timely positioning of its product to take advantage of the upcoming tablet.

Says Sarah Chubb, President of Condé Nast Digital:

This iPhone is just one platform. We plan to be, and generally try to be, anywhere our consumers are.

We think that the minute Apple is ready, if they ever are, to announce that they’re going forward with a tablet, that we’ll be ahead of everybody.

I can’t say I’m a GQ reader, but that’s not meant as a judgement against that particular title. I just don’t buy newspapers or magazines. Practically no one I know my age (or younger) does. It’s not hard to see why; these days, most people enjoy regular, inexpensive access to the Internet. Services like Twitter and RSS feeds ensure we get only the news and content we want to read, when we want to read it — and what’s more, it’s usually free.

$2.99 is too much for a magazine that exists only as pixels on a (small) screen. 99 cents seems far more appealing and most likely would shift more (virtual) copies. It’s more appropriate, too, since the traditional resource, print and distribution costs associated with a dead-tree publication don’t apply in the digital realm. Perhaps when Condé Nast’s printed magazines have finally gone the way of the Dodo, its digital issues will hit that magic sub-dollar price.

In the meantime, I’m excited Condé is doing this. No, not because I’m about to start buying GQ. I’m excited because I know it’s only a matter of time before other big print titles start appearing on digital devices. (And not just watered-down content portals like the New York Times.) It’s already happening, albeit quietly, behind closed doors. A few months ago word got out that Time was in talks with other publishers, collaborating on e-reader standards. Around the same time, it was reported Apple was negotiating content deals with several media companies “rooted in print.” And while we’re still waiting for Apple’s tablet to arrive, e-readers are cropping up all over the place, jostling for a position in what is sure to become a massive new market.

Print is dead. But, at long last, Digital Print is here to replace it, and it’s just around the corner. That’s welcome news for an ailing publishing industry finally starting to take electronic platforms seriously.

Tell us in the comments if the new age of digital publishing is going to get you reading newspapers, and whether you think Apple’s gonna object to some of GQ’s more, um, “adult” front covers!

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