Hearst Opens App Lab

A lot of ink has been spilled over the various approaches to developing magazine iPad editions and how publishers are fighting with Apple over subscription sales, but less about how publishers should organize themselves internally to prepare themselves for the tablet computer market.
Hearst, at a breakfast meeting this week for the ad community to kick off its “App Lab” think tank, pulled back the curtain on its strategy. While Esquire’s app was created with help from an outside firm, Hearst is leaning toward an internal development strategy.

Among the details shared:
Hearst has 20 people working on an App Lab team, which is overseen by Chris Wilkes, vp of audience development and digital editions. The team includes Avi Zimak, who is handling ad sales for mobile devices, as well as software, business and technical experts.
The company also is embedding “digital asset managers” at magazines to help them develop enhanced apps for their brands. They’re already in place at Popular Mechanics and Marie Claire, with more to be added at other titles.
Wilkes said the Hearst team setup demonstrates a commitment to the new platform. “This isn’t necessarily the work of a few evangelists going from brand to brand,” he said. “We think it’ll give us the ability to move faster than our competitors.”
The Hearst strategy invites comparisons with that of Condé Nast, which David Carey left earlier this year to become president of Hearst’s magazines. Condé Nast has a two-pronged approach to creating magazine apps, some being developed by software firm Adobe, others by the company’s internal digital unit. The two-track process has led to some tension as editors have begun clamoring to get on the Adobe track with its flashier product. It’s also seen as enabling more editorial control.
Hearst seems to be trying to avoid that pitfall by giving editors more involvement in their tablet versions.
“What we’re not doing is setting up a separate editorial team,” Wilkes said. “By not doing that you end up getting something that’s as true to the brand as possible.”
Roberta Garfinkle, svp, director of print strategy, Targetcast, who attended the breakfast, saw another motivation of the embed approach: “They’re not going to have turf battles. My interpretation is, you can’t have someone over here putting together an app that looks, feels and tastes different from how the magazine feels.”