AMI Targets the Tablet

Many publishers entered the iPad by creating enhanced versions of their magazines, but since then, magazine content has begun to take on more experimental forms. A recent example comes from National Enquirer and Star publisher American Media Inc., which is launching single-topic, custom publications for the Apple tablet.

The custom pubs are part of a larger digital push that AMI plans this year to grow the business—the company having just emerged from a prepackaged bankruptcy. AMI has lagged the industry from a digital standpoint; digital revenue accounts for some 10 percent of magazine industry revenue, but at AMI, it makes up just 2 percent.

The company’s first tablet pub, just launched, is Shape’s New Year, New You, a 48-page “digi-mag” featuring Shape-branded content on healthy living. The articles were developed by Shape’s editorial staff to align with Splenda, which is the publication’s sole sponsor. AMI has two more in the works: a Men’s Fitness-branded publication that’s sponsored by Powerade and a second one from Shape, a beauty-themed pub backed by Revlon.

“We were looking to be a curator of our content and…embed the advertising in a way that isn’t intrusive,” AMI chairman and CEO David Pecker said. “We wanted something that would be timeless.”

Financial constraints, he noted, have kept him from investing in digital initiatives. But with AMI’s new capital structure, Pecker said he hopes to be able to grow its digital revenue share to 10 percent within two years.

“It’s clear the whole industry is not growing,” he said. “If you look at our digital [products planned], I think they’ll more than offset the continuous decline in print.”

One of those is a major e-commerce initiative. Pecker hopes to open a string of online stores, starting with three under the names of AMI titles Muscle & Fitness, Flex and Men’s Fitness, launching in early March. Stores are in the final design stages, with beta testing to follow.
The stores will sell products that carry those titles’ brands, among others.

“I’m a big supporter of e-commerce,” Pecker said. “Having a digital store [as a] companion with the magazines—I think [that’s] another revenue stream that’s been untapped.”

He’s also eyeing a tablet version of supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which he aims to launch by March. The tabloid scooped the mainstream media world with its breathless revelations of John Edwards’ love affair, stirring hopes of a Pulitzer Prize, and Pecker envisions capitalizing on that notoriety to appeal to a new, younger audience in the tablet environment. (The Enquirer’s median reader age is 45.)

“I think we could take the DNA of the Enquirer—all the stuff that comes in, whether it’s photos or features or breaking news—and we can put it up quickly,” he said.

Then there are the custom digital publications. Designed by Ed Young, one of the founders of Source magazine, they’re being sold as part of a print ad buy. AMI is guaranteeing the advertiser a minimum number of downloads—a promise it can comfortably make because the publications are free to download and sharable. (In its first four days on sale in the iTunes store, Shape’s New Year, New You was halfway to meeting its guarantee, with 10,000 downloads.)

“The reason we’re able to make that guarantee is, this is a brand that has no silos,” said Brian Gruseke, vp, publisher of Shape. “I can take the Splenda digi-mag and take it to folks who have signed up for our newsletters and promote it on our Web site. It’s fun, and it’s free. You have the opportunity to share it with a friend.”