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USA Today iPad App Will Go Subscription Model This Summer

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USA Today’s free, solely ad-supported iPad app will switch to subscription in July when the app’s exclusive sponsorship deal with Courtyard by Marriott concludes, Gannett (NYSE: GCI) CEO Craig Dubow said during the company’s Q1 earnings call. The app, which hit Apple’s iTunes App Store just before the iPad launched nearly two weeks ago, has been downloaded 175,000 since then, Dubow said. It is currently number one among iPad news apps, while USAT’s iPhone app, which launched in December 2008, currently ranks the number four in the same category. The company is still in the process of determining the pricing structure for the iPad app subscription, such as whether existing print subs would get a discounted rate or have free access.

No word on whether the iPhone app would also become a subscription product. In addition to the USAT news app, the paper also has a free iPhone travel app called AutoPilot. A Gannett rep did say that USAT doesn’t expect the introduction of the paper’s iPad app to detract in any way from its iPhone version, which is nearing 3 million downloads. The company began charging for an e-paper version of USAT last August.

Later in the call, Dubow said that the subscription for the USAT iPad app would kick in after July 3rd or July 4th, when the Courtyard Marriott’s sponsorship ends. Asked what the expectations were for advertising and continued popularity of the iPad app, Dubow responded, “Keep in mind, we’re only in this two weeks. The download numbers are encouraging. But it’s hard to say what impact the subscription will have on growth of the app. We’re going to have to get a good read as to whether its replacing print subs or not. The more people see how beautiful it is, I expect we’re going to see continued growth for similar numbers. I believe Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is covering the [iPad] supply issue, but I wouldn’t comment regarding what this means for the Kindle version; the two are different. I don’t think the Kindle version has the traction that we have on the other side. We see where all this headed.”

As USAT’s iPad app goes subscription, Dubow believes that advertiser demand will still hold steady. As for the pricing, he and Gracia Martore, COO and president, said that they have yet to settle on a price structure for the app subscription. “We’ll be evaluating user data and other metrics going forward and we’ll figure out the pricing for the iPad app subscription.”

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