The Atlantic is the latest to mine for gold in the iPad App Store with single issues for sale at $4.99 — but that’s just one part of a grander digital scheme. In coming weeks, the magazine publisher plans to convert single-issue app sales to an iPad digital newsstand app — and to launch Atlantic Premium, a daily bundle of everything the magazine produces online for a monthly access fee.
The digital edition launched softly last month with the July-August issue listed in the iTunes store under the name of developer RareWire and, according to M. Scott Havens, VP of digital strategy and operations, sold in the single-digit thousands in three weeks without any publicity. (At $4.99, each one thousand issues is worth close to $5,000 in revenue.) He wouldn’t provide specifics but said, “it was better than I expected. … Our goal is to get into the tens of thousands over the next six-to-twelve months.” The Atlantic usually sells 40,000 to 50,000 single copies per issue.
The September issue went live Thursday under Atlantic Media’s name. For now, each is a discreet issue and app with nothing connecting them but the title. Next step: a digital newsstand a la Time or Wired. The plan is to push through an update in the next couple of weeks to the existing apps that will give users access to the digital newsstand and access to earlier issues. The pricing hasn’t yet been decided. Havens explains: “We’re watching what other people are doing and the success of different pricing models. One thing we’re very keen to do is establish value for our content. Right now we’re experimenting at $4.99 for the issues, maybe we price some of the future issues lower, maybe higher.”
Three-prong approach: The digital edition is the second of a three-prong approach that started on iOS with plans to add Android and Window 7 versions eventually. The first prong started last year with the launch of free iPhone apps AtlanticWire, the mobile companion to opinion tracker TheAtlanticWire.com and TheAtlantic, the app version of Atlantic.com.
Atlantic Premium is the third prong. Developed with Portland-based Urban Airship, Atlantic Premium will deliver a constant flow of content daily. Havens compares it to an RSS reader and the free Mashable app. The pricing hasn’t been set yet and the company still has to decide exactly how the premium app will affect the content in the free apps. The free apps will continue to have some content but will become more like a “best of” than a complete set. “We want to funnel people to paid content,” Havens explained. They plan to submit it to the app store this month.
Why pay for content that’s free online? “We think the app experience is worth paying for. … We may not be allowing access to all our content going forwards; we may give you different options. We don’t want to cannibalize ourselves.”
Once the newsstand update and Atlantic Premium are underway, Havens said they will start to look at subscriptions. “Either Urban Airship or Steve Jobs will make it possible,” he said, adding that he’s optimistic Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) will provide a solution but that “we’re not in talks as a small publisher.” He’s also interested in opening access to print subs. “We watched what People is now doing allowing people who have print to access it for free. That’s something we definitely would consider. It’s a good retention tool.”
But the magazine isn’t set up yet for something along the lines of WSJ.com’s efforts to manage subscription access from its own site. “We have a task on the tech side to sync up all our databases. That’s a big fall project.”
About the iPad edition: The Atlantic provided a token for me to try out the iPad edition. I downloaded it right before heading into an area where I had to be offline — and into a mystery. I could find the share option, a small red bar at the top of each content that would allow me to send a link via Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Buzz, Twitter, Facebook or e-mail. I also could see the help tab explaining how to watch activate a slideshow, watch a video or click on an ad to see more and a quick links tab. What I couldn’t find was any of the multimedia content. Turns out none of the multimedia is included in the download. Offline, the iPad edition essentially is a digital version of the magazine. With a connection, it’s an iPad edition complete with videos like an interview with Christopher Hitchens or a slideshow of family photos from Jim Fallows’ days in Tokyo. Havens said they wanted to avoid a data-heavy download so made it all live stream but didn’t realize it might be confusing.