No. 1 magazine publisher Time Inc. announced plans to put its magazine content on Flipboard. People and InStyle will roll out this week on the mobile news aggregator app, with Time and Fortune scheduled to follow in December.
Some publishers have pulled out of Flipboard, questioning its value as a revenue driver. Flipboard purports to be a friend to magazines. It displays their content in a magazine-like, flippable format, with the stated goal of helping publishers by driving people to subscribe and offering a new ad platform at print-like rates. But critics fear that users will simply bypass the publisher's site or publication altogether; one defector, Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall, went so far as to call Flipboard and its ilk "scams" (though he later softened his stance).
As for the promise of ad revenue, it's another platform for publishers' ad reps to sell, and smaller publications don't have enough audience to attract advertisers.
Time Inc., with 68 million readers, didn't have a scale problem, but until now, Flipboard did. But with 90 million people now using the app, Flipboard was hard to ignore as a reader and advertiser platform.
"Their audience has grown exponentially, so they actually have scale," said Fran Hauser, president of digital for Time Inc.'s Style and Entertainment Group. "It's really attractive to know we can reach a new, younger audience."
Two other findings suggested there's a big untapped audience on the app for People in particular. Only 8 to 10 percent of its Web audience visits the brand on the iPad. People also was the most searched-for media brand on Flipboard, Hauser said.
Like other publishers, Time Inc. will let users sample free Web content from its brands on the app, like People's red carpet moments and fashion news from InStyle. Publishers have been challenged to sell ads on their tablet editions because they lack scale, which is why many tablet ads are free pickups from print. Hauser said the primary goal of the Flipboard partnership is to sell advertising, adding that InStyle has already sold two ads, including one to Gucci, and that People is close to inking a deal.
But Time Inc. has been aggressive about getting people to pay more for its content and creating new products it can charge for. As such, the publishing house also plans to follow the example of other publishers and use the app to promote its apps and subscriptions via house ads on Flipboard. Time Inc. also is talking to Flipboard about integrating links in those ads.
Flipboard also plans to expand publishers' ability to let paying subscribers sign in to access paid content on the app, as The New York Times and Financial Times already do, another feature that could appeal to Time Inc.
"The number of readers they have makes it very interesting for them," Flipboard CEO Mike McCue said of Time Inc. "The other thing is, they've seen what we can do on the paywall front."
As for the smaller publishers who don't have the audience a Time Inc. has to sell against, McCue said he's working on pooling the inventory of smaller publishers so they can sell ads as part of a category, sometime in first half of 2014.