Comparing The Major Magazine Publishers’ App Portfolios

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.