Mag Executives See Gold in Tablets

Monetizing social networks still eludes publishers, though

Magazines have been heavily criticized in recent years for their practice of deeply discounting the price of subscriptions. But industry leaders see the potential in tablet devices to change that model.

Speaking on the opening panel at the 2011 American Magazine Conference, Bob Sauerberg, president of Condé Nast, said the luxe publishing company looks at the tablet as a way to evolve how people buy its content.

“My goal in life is to find a way to transition from [selling subscriptions] to selling access to a branded experience,” Sauerberg said. “Not just changing the price, but redefining the product in a way that creates a branded experience.”

Condé Nast started selling bundled print and tablet subscriptions to its titles like Glamour and The New Yorker on Apple’s iPad in the spring, and Sauerberg said the company intended to raise the price of its tablet editions as a first step towards creating that branded experience.

Similarly, fellow panelist David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, said he strove for Hearst’s tablet editions to be equally supported by revenue from consumer and advertisers, versus ad-driven ink-on-paper magazines. “That’s what these devices have done, is finally allow us to monetize our content digitally,” he said.

The wide-ranging discussion also delved into the effectiveness of tablet audiences for advertisers, with publishers saying their readers are just as if not more engaged with tablet editions as they are with the old-fashioned printed versions. Media buyers have balked at spending premium rates to place ads in tablet editions because of the lack of scale and measurement.

“The engagement factors are fantastic,” proclaimed Carey.

Meanwhile, industry execs admit they’re still struggling to figure out how to spread their brands’ content to digital platforms including social networks without neglecting the print magazines that still supply most of their revenue.

“One concern I do have is, we are stretching our editorial staffs,” said Tom Harty, president of Meredith Corp.’s magazine unit. Despite the company’s growth in social network connections, he said, “I question what the business model is for the future.”