Time Inc. To Add Tablet Editions For All Mags; Strikes B&N Deal

A few weeks after extending its “all access” subscription plans to Time magazine, Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) is working on creating tablet editions for its entire roster of 21 titles by the end of 2011. In addition to Time, the publisher currently markets tablet versions of People, Sports Illustrated and Fortune. Of the 17 mags currently without a tablet edition, InStyle, Real Simple and Entertainment Weekly are likely to get the digital replica treatment first.

Separately, Time also said it has struck an agreement with Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) to sell digital subscriptions and single-copy issues of its four existing tablet editions on the NOOK Color starting later this month, with the rest of the portfolio to follow by year-end.

The B&N deal adds the Nook Color to a growing list of platforms where Time Inc. distributes its digital titles, including Apple’s iPad, Google’s Android Marketplace, HP (NYSE: HPQ) TouchPad and Next Issue Media’s store.

Nook Color users will be able to get them same “all access” deal that is available on those aforementioned platforms. However, if you’re an iPad owner as well, don’t expect do get it through the Nook for iPad app. One of the notable aspects of the B&N deal is that Time Inc. will be formatting its magazine titles for that device, as opposed to relying on what amounts to a PDF version of the magazines’ pages, something that other publishers still rely on.

So far, Time Inc.’s digital magazine and related content apps have been downloaded more than 11 million times, though the company didn’t offer a breakdown of how well individual brands have done. It also said that of its total 28 million print subscribers, “hundreds of thousands” have upgraded their subscriptions to include the four tablet editions at no extra cost. The publisher claims to be adding thousands of new subscribers every week.

Time Inc. did say that has sold more than 600,000 digital single copies among those four titles.

Earlier this week, Condé Nast said it had attracted 242,000 digital edition customers within a six-week period after introducing subscriptions on Apple’s App Store in May. That number includes digital subscriptions, digital single copies, and the 136,000 print subscribers who have opted to add digital editions at no extra cost to them. Looked at another way, the publisher drew 106,000-digital only sales not tied to existing print subscriptions.

“Now is the time for us to make this bold commitment,” said Maurice Edelson, EVP and a member of Time Inc.’s interim management committee, in a statement. “In the coming year, there will clearly be many more consumers using tablets, accelerating demand for content and driving advertiser interest. We are putting ourselves in a great position to take advantage of these opportunities. Having our entire portfolio available on tablets will create a significant new digital reach for our advertisers.”

Subscription revenue aside, advertising is a big part of why Time Inc. wanted to have all its titles available on the iPad. There’s an argument that major publishers’ focus on tablets comes at a time when the market is still relatively small versus print. For example, as Adweek pointed out with respect to Condé Nast’s digital subscription numbers, it only amounts to 1.3 percent the publisher’s total print circulation, which stood at 18.6 million at the end of 2010.

No one expects digital subscriptions to rise to the level of print any time soon. If anything, publishers regard tablet editions as a way of holding on to current print subs. According to a running panel of 2,000 iPad users that Time Inc. surveys, 75 percent of print subscribers say that the all-access offer makes them more likely to renew existing subscriptions.

In any case, the promise of cross-title, cross-device advertising is viewed as the real value to Time Inc. Interactive advertising is sold at a premium and at a time when print ad pages are trying to hold on to slim gains, any additional revenue is certainly welcome.

However, producing a main print product, on top of a website and creating digital versions for different platforms requires a tremendous investment of capital and staffing resources. And it will take a while until the revenues emerge to offset those costs. But at the end of the day, major publishers have little choice, since the point it to establish the e-editions early and hope that once these devices truly become mainstream, they’ll have the digital model for both readers and advertisers ready and set.