Publishers Talk Tablet Strategy at MPA Swipe 2.0

Flipboard, Hearst, New York mag show off new features

Yesterday, at the MPA-Association of Magazine Media's Swipe 2.0 conference in New York, speakers from across the publishing and tech industries gathered to show off their latest tablet products and new ways of replacing dwindling print revenue with digital innovation.

MPA president and CEO Mary Berner opened the conference with her characteristic optimism. “There has never been a better time to be in the business of magazine-branded media,” said Berner. “Sure, it is a time of transition, but if you ignore the pundits and the potshots and focus on the very real strengths of the industry, then you’ll be able to see why this is true.”

Berner downplayed the continuing decline in newsstand sales as a reflection of retail trends while reminding attendees that magazines' audience continues to grow (albeit by a small percentage). “We don’t have a consumer problem,” Berner said. “What we do have is a perception problem among certain segments of advertising communities.”

John Loughlin, evp and general manager of Hearst Magazines, took the stage to give an overview of the publisher’s current tablet strategy. Loughlin declared himself “hugely bullish” on e-editions, saying that they “offer a chance to fundamentally strengthen traditional magazines.”

There are, however, a few hurdles that magazines need to overcome in the tablet space, said Loughlin. One is convincing consumers that “a magazine subscription needs to be valued at more than two venti cappuccinos.” A Hearst digital subscription runs at $19.99 per year—considerably higher than its print counterpart—but offers extra perks, including pre-newsstand availability, additional content and interactivity. And so far, with 900,000 digital subscribers, Hearst seems to have been getting that point across, said Loughlin.

According to Loughlin, publishers are also losing prospective customers because of Apple’s Newsstand, in which publishers must offer a free shell app but ask users to pay for content once it’s been downloaded. To ease that transition, Hearst has begun offering free preview issues of all its brands in the Apple store.

The launch of “What’s New,” a live content feed within Hearst’s iPad apps that pulls in eight to 10 recent stories from the magazine’s website, is similarly meant to ease new readers into paying for content while attracting existing subscribers to the app on a more frequent basis, said Loughlin. As of yesterday, the feature began rolling out with Cosmopolitan and Popular Mechanics.

The addition of live Web content seemed to be a recurring theme in the latest generation of digital edition apps. The new New York magazine iPad app, which was presented at the conference, includes regularly updated content from’s popular blogs. Forbes similarly integrated a live Web stream into its latest magazine app, which launched in January.

Adobe, which said that it had seen nearly 100 percent readership growth for magazine apps using its Digital Publishing Suite since last August, had its own list of new features intended to entice consumers to buy more digital editions. Among them are push notifications to announce new issues, automatic delivery of new content, offering a free first issue (complete with digital blow-in cards) and enhanced sharability.

Another platform developer, Flipboard, had its own news. The social magazine app—which just hit 50 million users—showed off the latest version of its platform, released earlier in the week. The new Flipboard includes the capability for users and publishers to create custom magazines within the app by pulling in existing content from the Web (as well as any attached ads). Within the first 24 hours of launching Flipboard 2.0, over 100,000 user-generated magazines had been created, said Paul Katz, Flipboard’s partner of strategy and development.