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Marie Claire's Anti-Apple Maneuver

Women's magazine moves to get around App Store
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Marie Claire is becoming the latest publisher to seek an alternative to Apple’s walled garden.

The fashion magazine has optimized MarieClaire.com for the iPad, giving it a Flipboard-like look that’s designed for the tablet. Marie Claire created the site using technology company Onswipe, which expects to roll it out to other devices as well.

Jason Baptiste, CEO of Onswipe, said the platform appeals to publishers’ desire to build a tablet audience without giving up control to the App Store. He said Onswipe is optimizing sites for Forbes, Slate, and Ziff-Davis too.

“[Publishers] have done a great job with apps, but advertisers want scale,” Baptiste said. “And publishers have that scale on the Web. It’s by far the most [common] activity on tablet devices. Why not take advantage of that instead of having to deal with the headaches of the App Store?”

Marie Claire hasn’t pulled out of the App Store, and chief revenue officer Nancy Berger Cardone said the magazine’s app is still “very important.” But these are uneasy times for Apple. When the iPad launched a year ago, publishers rushed to throw up digital editions on the device, hoping consumer and ad revenue would follow.

But the universe of tablet owners, while growing, remains small, and app download numbers are low. Plus, Apple has rankled publishers by taking 30 percent of the revenue from their App Store sales and withholding consumer data that’s seen as critical to getting advertisers on board.

And, as much as Steve Jobs might have wanted the iPad to be primarily about apps, it turns out consumers had other ideas. A survey by Forrester Research of tablet users in the first quarter of 2011 showed that while 45 percent spend the same amount of time using the browser and apps, 39 percent spend more time using the browser.

”A lot of companies that have done early apps have been surprised that half the traffic or more in many cases is going to the browser,” Outsell analyst Ken Doctor said.

In the boldest sign yet of the industry’s discontent with Apple, The Financial Times recently created a Web-based app that lets it bypass the App Store altogether.

Marie Claire, on the other hand, seems to be hedging its bets with its two-pronged approach. Its parent Hearst Magazines recently reached a deal to sell subscriptions to some of its digital magazines through the App Store. Cardone said the optimized site would expand Marie Claire’s reach, though.

“Most searches happen with people Googling,” she said. “You can’t Google an app for Marie Claire.” Plus, the user data advertisers covet is readily available from the magazine site. (Indeed, Marie Claire lined up American Express as the launch sponsor.) “There’s a lot of rich information.”