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If you’re a devoted subscriber to a print magazine, but you just got an iPad and want to read the digital edition instead, the only option to date has been paying full newsstand cover prices all over again for the same content. Now, though, Apple (s aapl) has relented, and free digital access for traditional subscribers should arrive for many in the near future.
Time Inc. (s tmx) is the publisher that finally convinced Apple to bypass the pay-per-issue model and allow existing subscribers to reap the benefits of their iPads. As of Thursday, People magazine allows existing subscribers to download and view current content on their iPads for free. Subscribers forced into paying twice for the same content had previously contributed to extremely negative reviews for apps like Sports Illustrated and others.
Apple’s reluctance is understandable. In allowing existing magazine subscribers to essentially bypass its own in-app purchasing system, it gives up a considerable share of revenue. Magazines and other publications now have a precedent for charging users outside of the App Store itself for content delivered within, which could pose a considerable threat to Apple’s bottom line.
On the other hand, Apple fought hard to win over the magazine publishers prior to the launch of the iPad, and it wasn’t exactly doing itself any favours in terms of fostering good will by alienating the magazines’ subscribers. Allowing for external subscriptions to apply within the App Store should pay off in that it will allow a pool of new users a way into the iPad through traditional media avenues.
Other Time Inc. properties like Sports Illustrated and Fortune are expected to follow suit with free content for subscribers in the near future. I’d expect other publishers to be shortly behind them. Even better for iPad users, this should prompt a number of fence-sitting magazines to jump on the iPad bandwagon, since it allows them to expand their customer base without requiring they buy into a revenue-sharing model.
Related GigaOM Pro Research: The iPad: Cable TV For Publishers?