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Struggling for Ad Support, Huffington Mag Looks Past iPad

Revamp under way

When The Huffington Post’s weekly iPad magazine Huffington transitioned from a pay model to free last August, advertising was intended to sustain the tablet-native title, as consumers had resisted paying for it.

Almost a year postlaunch, it looks like advertisers are rejecting it, too.

A review of six recent issues found just one sponsor, for United Healthcare. Most issues feature a couple of promotions for HuffPost apps but no outside ads.

Is Huffington poised to go the route of News Corp.’s disastrous The Daily and other failed tablet pubs?

The publisher insists the answer is no. “We are more committed than ever to Huffington,” said Rhoades Alderson, HuffPost’s senior director, communications. “We love this product and so do our readers. ... It’s still an infant, but we’re way ahead on our year-one strategy to establish the brand and a core audience.”

Huffington is being revamped with more of a lifestyle focus under the guidance of its new editor John Montorio. The magazine’s previous editor, HuffPost executive editor Tim O’Brien, left earlier this year to become publisher of the opinion website Bloomberg View.

In addition to Huffington’s editorial shift, a new publishing platform will allow the magazine to move onto the mobile Web, enabling it to achieve “much greater scale beyond the iPad universe,” Alderson said.

As for the dearth of ads, the spokesman noted that the magazine had not been included in companywide packages. Still, Paramount and United Healthcare recently bought monthly sponsorships, with “two new Fortune 100 advertisers” to come, he said.

The magazine’s move out of the iPad-walled garden is scheduled for late this summer, while Huffington will continue to be available in Apple’s App Store.

While iPad-only pubs have not been a hit so far, Khoi Vinh, the former design director of NYTimes.com, stressed that they have potential. “The iPad is inherently immersive, and if you can build a loyal audience, you know that people will spend much more time with your content in your iPad app than on your website, sometimes by many orders of magnitude,” he said. 

Still, the platform presents its own unique challenges, he added, noting that sharing content is not easy and many iPad users have yet to integrate the device into their daily routines.

For a parent brand not exactly known for its breakthrough design, Huffington is a “high-water mark” for the company, Vinh added.

David Rittenhouse, managing director at Neo@Ogilvy, said that while he hasn’t looked at Huffington magazine in a while, he still believes it is a solid concept. “It’s an interesting extension of the portfolio into a different space,” he said.

Rittenhouse noted that given the potential for distraction when it comes to tablets, a product has to be quite special in order to attract an appreciable audience.

While Huffington’s advertising remains scarce, Alderson pointed to a 50 percent bump in active users since the end of 2012, with the magazine’s readers averaging more than 40 minutes per month with the product. Since launch, the app has been downloaded about 600,000 times.

Despite the pitfalls and with Huffington on the verge of branching out beyond the iPad, Alderson insisted it was the right move to launch the publication on the device.

“This has been an evolutionary process,” he said. “I think it’s a new world, and you learn as you go like everybody does.” 

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