Mags’ Apps Add Cash

While some newspapers experiment with online pay walls, magazine publishers are toying with products beyond their Web counterparts to shift costs to consumers. The stepped-up effort to develop consumer-generated revenue streams has grown more pressing as publishers struggle to cope with sinking ad revenue. (For first half ’09, magazines’ total ad pages fell 23.7 percent, per the Mediaweek Monitor.)

For now, publishers seem to see the potential not in cutting off access to existing content but charging for new offerings such as mobile applications. “If you look at the paid applications that are doing well, there are a lot of games that are being paid for, tools and applications that are adding a lot of functionality,” said Todd Anderman, senior vp of digital media at Hachette Filipacchi Media. “At this point in time we don’t see charging for micropayments on our Web sites. We haven’t seen any successful models on that front.”

Hachette, parent of brands such as Elle and Car and Driver, is looking at launching iPhone phone apps later this year for shopping and car enthusiasts.

Meredith Corp., parent of mass lifestyle titles like Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle, plans to launch free and consumer-supported mobile apps this year in areas like food, parenting and fitness. Beyond iPhone apps, Meredith recently launched quilting and gardening clubs that charge $54.95 and $9.95 to join, respectively. And it’s eyeing a scrapbooking-themed club. “It’s not huge, but we think there’s opportunity,” said Dan Hickey, vp, digital content there.

Condé Nast plans this year to try charging consumers for premium features on existing apps. Sarah Chubb, president, Condé Nast Digital, said that while pay walls “don’t make sense to us,” she sees potential to capitalize on the popularity of apps Condé has already developed for sites like Epicurious.

But after consumers have grown accustomed to unfettered access to online news and information, can publishers come up with content people will deem worth paying for? That task will prove hard for publishers dealing in broad-based content like lifestyle, a concern that Jim Sexton, senior vp, editorial director, Time Inc. Lifestyle Digital, acknowledged. “We need to find a model where we’re doing something unique enough,” said Sexton, who thinks he has the answer in packaging recipes tailored to specific dietary needs.

Even Rodale, which has been in the online paid content business for a decade, doesn’t claim to know what the right revenue model is for mobile applications. “I don’t know that anyone’s cracked the code on that one, whether it should be paid, ad supported or both,” said Sean Nolan, vp of online operations. “The data on it [are] still not complete enough.”

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