With the iPad out, and more digital readers on the way, are publishers getting a golden opportunity to reclaim paid-for content? Pricing the content is the dilemma.
According to a report in MediaWeek many publishers are already experimenting with paywalls on their Web sites, while others are playing with pricing for their magazine content, a process that's accelerated by the iPad's debut.
"There's no question we want to be able to sell our content to consumers, and we hope these devices will make it easier to do," said John Q. Griffin, publishing president of the National Geographic Society. "I would go so far as to say we need to find a way to charge for this format, whether it's the e-reader or iPhone or smartphone. How else are we going to be able to [raise] the money to do the great editorial we do?"
Publishers have come a long way from when Web sites were little more than a free replica of the print content. Many, including Bonnier Corp. and The Economist, have shifted their Web content or hidden their print content behind a paywall. The hope is that doing so will encourage consumers to buy magazine replicas on digital devices rather than just using the device to surf free online content. Bonnier CEO Terry Snow said, "Every single title's trying to find the sweet spot online. For the most part, what they have in the magazine is not necessarily what they want online."
At the same time, Bonnier is pricing its iPad editions the same as single-copy print issues in the hope that consumers will pay more for the enhanced experience.
But that strategy carries risk. Consumers know an iPad edition costs less to produce than a print magazine, and, accordingly, some expect them to be cheaper. For that reason (and also to drive sales), Dwell priced its iPad edition at $2.99 per issue, half the cost of the print version, while titles that charged the same for their iPad edition as for print heard about it from customers. "The price resistance on our products is extraordinary, and that's not going away," said Griffin.
To overcome that resistance publishers recognize they have to better communicate the value of their iPad editions. Men's Health, which launched as a single-issue app, included exclusive content such as videos, but still got complaints on Apple's iTunes store about the $4.99 price.
Snow defended Bonnier's decision to charge the print price for its iPad editions. "I think paying $4.99 for a digital copy is not unreasonable," he argued. "It's a combination of rolling out more services and better services, so the value is better over time. This is an opportunity to reset pricing expectations, at least on subscriptions. Single-copy prices have come up, but subscription prices have stayed relatively low."
Buyers also will be monitoring consumer reaction as they try to gauge the value of tablet editions as an ad vehicle. "We need to understand, who is the consumer who's having the issue with price, who is paying for it, which is the right consumer to have," said Brenda White, publishing activation director, Starcom USA. Magazines may have a better shot when they add an iPad subscription option. Digital publishing platform Zinio said almost all the iPad editions it's been selling were subs, some costing as much as $20.
Some also are looking at making paid content more palatable and easier to buy, by bundling print and digital to the extent it's allowed by the device maker. Hachette Filipacchi Media plans to offer print and digital subscription combos, while Rodale will test different offers, like a print subscription with its many workout apps.
"We're going to see a range of prices depending on the product," said Philippe Guelton, evp, Hachette. "I think the name of the game is testing."
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