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App Czars: Five to Watch

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The tablet market could, some day, represent a meaningful business for publishers. But with the iPad still only seven months old, it’s anyone’s guess how big the pie will get and, for that matter, who the right people are to wring new revenue from it.

As they scramble to adapt their products to an entirely new platform, publishers are placing their bets on consumer marketing and technology expertise. Who’s driving the apps strategy for the publishing industry, and where do they come from?

Here are five heavyweights to watch:

Liz Schimel, evp, consumer relationship management and digital media, Meredith National Media Group

With a background in technology, entertainment and wireless companies, Liz Schimel brings a nonprint perspective to Meredith, the publisher of heartland magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle. “I’ve been working where content and technology come together for most of my career,” says Schimel. “I understand the mobile device and form factor issues and user experience issues very well.” With Meredith’s first digital magazine (BHG) planned for Spring 2011, Schimel sees a big opportunity in the space for the company’s female-focused brands on the iPad as well as smaller screens. “Women are the heavy adopters and are falling in love with technology,” she says. “I know iPad numbers are limited, but the whole market is going to scale a lot.”

Progress Report
Meredith has lagged peers in launching iPad versions of its titles. But with its record of being a full-service marketer, acquiring digital and other shops, critics are giving it benefit of the doubt.

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Chris Wilkes, vp, audience development and digital editions, Hearst Magazines

While Chris Wilkes has spent his career in publishing, his focus has always been on digital. In his five years at Hearst, he’s been credited with building online subscription sales. For 10 years before that, he created digital products for tech publisher Ziff Davis. This year, he’s been focused on staffing up Hearst’s App Lab, a 20-person team that’s developing mobile apps for the company’s 14 magazines. “Technological awareness and understanding and appreciation is an important part of venturing into this space,” says Wilkes, whose roving “lab” will move into a physical space at the Hearst Tower in early 2011.

Progress Report
Nearly 40 mobile apps out, from Esquire and Popular Mechanics replica-style apps to Cosmopolitan’s Sex Position of the Day tool. Downloads topping 1 million for total apps and 100,000 for iPad-specific apps. Buyers give Hearst credit for involving editors and publishers in development, sales process.

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Bob Sauerberg, president, Condé Nast

When glam publisher Condé Nast decided it needed to shift from an advertising-dependent business model to a consumer- and technology-driven focus, it looked to Bob Sauerberg, who rose out of the relatively obscure areas of finance and marketing. While Sauerberg’s background is light on technology (he had been CN’s chief of consumer marketing after having served in a number of operating and financial roles), he’s installed key execs, including Monica Ray and Joe Simon, to focus on creating a business out of tablet magazines and other consumer-driven mobile products. “It looks like a paid environment, and we think there’ll be multiple revenue streams,” says Sauerberg. “What I’ve just put in place is to get our company aligned with that. The first thing we did was find experts to find the right approaches.”

Progress Report
Adobe-driven iPad editions considered best in class, but at full price, download numbers have been small. Company still has much to prove after flat-footed start to digital race.

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Daniel Bernard
, chief product officer, WSJ Digital Network, News Corp.

The Wall Street Journal got a leg up on The New York Times with its full iPad app available in subscription form (and the WSJ just announced an Android version). Leading the strategy is Daniel Bernard, who became the WSJ’s first chief product officer two years ago after holding marketing and ad development roles. The son of a computer engineer, Bernard is a self-taught tech geek, and the WSJ app has been praised for its print-like reading experience. Next up: Barron’s and foreign-language WSJ apps.

Progress Report
With 800,000 downloads to date (and an apparent thumbs-up from Steve Jobs), the WSJ app is among the few publisher successes on the iPad. But advertisers are hungry for more subscriber data, while the recent departure of WSJ Digital Network president Gordon McLeod leaves a leadership void.

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Steve Sachs, evp, consumer marketing & sales, Time Inc.

Time Inc. is still trying to replace the void left by Monica Ray, an svp who led its paid-content strategy and who defected to Condé Nast. But for now it has Steve Sachs, a consumer marketing specialist who’s admired for the brand-building acumen he brought to Real Simple. Sachs recently reorganized consumer marketing, naming Sports Illustrated’s Ken Fuchs to take on some of Ray’s former duties. He’s also looking for an svp to spearhead the tablet business model.

Progress Report
Time Inc.’s magazine apps have been well received from a quality standpoint, but can Sachs make them into a real business?