'Electricity in the newsroom': the rise and rise of the iPad

The iPad has brought the greatest excitement to the media industry since the dotcom boom. Alexandra Jardine reports how newspaper and magazine publishers are swelling audiences and ad revenue through launching apps on the revolutionary new platform

Vogue launched on the iPad on 6 November to put 'life, colour and movement' into the 94-year-old magazine
Vogue launched on the iPad on 6 November to put 'life, colour and movement' into the 94-year-old magazine

Since Rupert Murdoch proclaimed Apple’s iPad could be "the saving [sic] of the newspaper industry" in April, newspaper and magazine publishers have been scrambling to bring their apps for the device to market.

Conde Nast’s UK apps for Wired and Vogue, which launched this week, and Dennis Publishing’s Monkey are the latest iPad titles fuelling a level of excitement the industry hasn’t experienced for years.

"There is the same sense of passion as the early days of the dotcom boom," says Gord Ray, publisher of Wallpaper, which launched an iPad app in October. "Magazine publishers are setting up actual living rooms in their offices in order to understand how consumers are interacting with their iPads. There is huge debate around whether this is the time publishers start charging for online content."

Mark Challinor, director of mobile at the Telegraph, describes "constant meetings" on both the editorial and commercial side about how the newspaper’s app is evolving. Over at the Times, digital director Gurtej Sandhu, who recently announced his departure, says the device has generated "electricity in the newsroom".

Adding value to print

The approach to creating iPad apps has varied from publisher to publisher, with each taking a slightly different tack on content, pricing and advertising. However, all agree that using the iPad is very different from reading content online on a newspaper or magazine website.

Steve Pinches, lead product development manager at FT.com, says: "People read on the iPad in ‘browse’ mode. So we combined the immediacy of the web with the experience of reading an actual newspaper to ensure the app is more than a digital version of the daily edition." The FT kept navigation simple while providing readers with search tools so they can still "drill down" to specific stories.

Sandhu at The Times describes reading on the iPad as "a sit-back process, rather than a lean-forward one". The Times therefore tried to maintain the "integrity of the newspaper" within the app, opting for a left-to-right format and thinner columns and following the natural structure of a newspaper, with news first and sport later.

But where the iPad really adds value is its ability to embed other media in stories. For example, in a Times story about the mosque near Ground Zero in New York, the New York correspondent narrated a video walking through the area, while a fashion piece showed 360-degree modelling of the clothes alongside video of the journalist describing the outfit.

The iPad also allows advertisers to get creative by building ads specifically for the new platform, such as Chanel’s watch that ticks in real time in Vogue. Brand recall is significant for the more interactive ads - an IBM ad in The Times had 87% recall, says Sandhu, and the FT is introducing a rich media advertising solution in an attempt to persuade luxury goods clients to move onto digital.

Making the downloads pay

Pricing for newspapers ranges from free (The Telegraph) to fully paid-for (The Sun), with a middle ground of those who offer a free download but then encourage subscription (The Times and the FT).

But with the numbers of iPad owners still small - users are expected to reach 400,000 in the UK by Christmas - how promising are the download numbers and how does the cost/revenue equation stack up?

So far, the FT has been bullish about the iPad’s success. Since launch, the iPad edition has been downloaded more than 400,000 times globally - comprising 10% of all digital subscriptions - and it has generated advertising revenue of close to £1m.

Ads have so far been sold on a sponsorship basis in month-long blocks. In terms of cost versus revenue, Pinches says it makes sense for the FT to develop an iPad app because "the brand fit is so massive".

The Telegraph app, launched in September, has been downloaded more than 65,000 times and is "growing by the day", according to Challinor. The free launch app, sponsored by Audi, is set to run for an initial 12-week period while the Telegraph conducts research to determine the next step for the product.

In the longer term, the group may offer a range of apps at different price-points and with different opportunities for advertisers. "There is no reason why we couldn’t offer a mix of different versions," Challinor says. "For example, our Fantasy Football app is paid-for, because people are willing to pay for the convenience it offers."

The Times would not reveal download numbers for the iPad app, although last week News International estimated its total paid audience for its digital products - the Times and the Sunday Times websites and the Times iPad app and the Times Kindle edition - is almost 200,000 subscribers.

Little text, lots of images

Magazine apps vary from a straight PDF version of the publication on the iPad - often through the Apple digital newsstand Zinio - to bespoke products with enhanced content.

Dennis Publishing is offering three different models: online magazines such as MacUser through Zinio, free apps for its online men’s magazines Monkey and iGizmo, and paid-for apps - to be launched imminently - for magazines such as car title Evo and The Week.

The free apps have been highly successful. iGizmo shot to the top of the iTunes charts when it launched in September with 32,000 downloads, over 90% of which came from the UK. This potentially adds another 30% to its reader numbers, says Dennis chief executive James Tye. Monkey launched in mid-October and was fifth in the iTunes charts within days.

Tye maintains readers on the iPad want very little text, lots of images and a small amount of video. "So many publishers are getting it wrong; they think it’s just about making the format technically slick," he says, pointing out that apps that crash or are difficult to download immediately generate negative reviews on iTunes.

For Vogue and Wired (UK), Conde Nast decided to launch apps that contain the entire content of the magazines at prices similar to newsstand. Albert Read, general manager, says both apps offer readers augmented editorial content "where relevant". For example, Vogue features an exclusive film about photographer Mario Testino and video footage of cover-girl Emma Watson.

So how profitable will iPad apps be for magazines? Dennis’ Tye says the outlay for developing apps is "not huge", but has concerns about VAT. "Consumers expect digital editions to be cheaper than the print version, but you have to take into account 20% VAT plus a fee to Apple. Getting the price-point right is key."

Broadening brand reach

Conde Nast’s Read says that while creating the new apps has been costly and time-consuming, the company recognises that "over time, a meaningful chunk of readers will want to read our magazines in this way". Read adds that Vogue and Wired will now potentially sell to international readers who would not usually have access to them. "We see [the iPad] as a complementary route to market."

As the number of iPad users grows, publishers are already thinking about creating apps for the planned rival tablets from Samsung and BlackBerry - the FT has already announced the launch of an app for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, with free content sponsored by Samsung.

"It is very difficult to back a particular horse," says Pinches. ‘We need to be available for our readers through any means possible, so we will develop apps for each device that comes along, provided it is a brand fit with our  readers."

Whichever path publisher choose, one thing is certain: the iPad has shaken up the industry irrevocably. "This is definitely the beginning of something," says Read. "But as yet we have no idea where we will end up."

Click here for Media Week's round-up of the most-downloaded newspaper and magazine iPad apps.