‘Atlantic’ Trying to Break New Ground With App

Magazine drops pay proposal for freemium approach

The Atlantic has been one of the few real success stories of the Internet age, at least when it comes to magazines. Now, with a new app that puts a twist on the model other companies have been using, the magazine is hoping to build on that success. 

The new app, which has been in the works for close to a year, shows how publishers have changed in their thinking about charging for content on tablets. Like other publishers trying to mine consumer revenue from the iPad, the Atlantic originally conceived a paid app, to be called Atlantic Premium, that would require a monthly fee. 

But, recognizing consumers’ resistance to paying for news, the magazine dropped that idea. M. Scott Havens, the Atlantic's vice president of digital strategy and operations, said it became clear that consumers are more likely to pay for news apps if they get a chance to download a free app and sample some content for free.

“People are much more willing to download the app and do an in-app purchase,” he said. “I think people want to try before they buy.”

In the final version, users can download the app and get access to content from the Atlantic's website for free. The hope is that once they've gone that far, they'll pay separately for the digital edition of the magazine. (This sort of combination of Web and print content in one app is by itself different from the typical model.) The cost in iTunes is $21.99 for an annual subscription or $4.99 per issue. Existing print subscribers will be able to get the digital edition for free by validating their subscription in the application. 

The Atlantic's app approach might bring to mind the New York Times’ metered paywall, which gives readers up to 20 articles per month for free, but Havens said he was most inspired by gaming apps that take a freemium approach.

Developed by RareWire, the app offers top stories from TheAtlantic.com and TheAtlanticWire.com. It will incorporate TheAtlanticCities.com, a forthcoming site focused on urban issues. The app will replace the Atlantic’s existing digital magazine app on the iPad and iPhone. Mercedes-Benz is the launch sponsor.

With so much content for free, what will induce people to buy the digital subscription? Havens said he expects most of the users to be unpaid, but he hopes that the app will scale quickly, generating a big audience to sell advertising against. There have already been 100,000 iPad and iPhone downloads of the Atlantic’s app, and the new app will automatically get pushed to all those users.

“We’re pretty optimistic there will be a ton of free consumption,” Havens said. “If we can get people to pay, great.”

Other publications continue to tinker with ways to present and charge for content on digital devices as people do more of their reading electronically. On July 19, Time magazine rolled out an “all-access” plan that lets readers pay one price to get the magazine content in more than one format, including the iPad. Sports Illustrated offered a similar plan in February, although it didn’t include iPad access.

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