Friday, April 23, 2010

Time Magazine: the weekly release of iPad apps exploits the marketing potential of Apple's iTunes store

April 3 was launch day for the iPad, a day where around 300,000 or so customers received their tablets via UPS, unboxed them and immediately began downloading apps. Time Magazine was one of the handful of publishers that was ready to go from Day One.

Time took advantage of the opportunity by putting Steve Jobs on the cover -- a not so subtle move on the publisher's part, but one that certainly got the attention of iPad owners. The reviews for iPads owners was mixed -- nice app, but $4.99? -- but iPad owners were hungry to test out their new tablets and Time was there to take advantage.
For many iPad owners, the idea that a publisher would price their app at print levels stings a little. But Time, like the WSJ decided not to discount their first tablet product. The WSJ, though, decided to create a free app, but then charge a bundle for a subscription. The result is that the app has been a popular download, as well as a generally panned app. Of 590 reviews in iTunes, 62 percent of reviewers have give the WSJ app a one-star rating -- the lowest possible.

In the end, though, one has to admit that Time's strategy of launching a new app every single week is marketing genius. The biggest issue facing app developers who create iPhone and iPad apps is that it is easy to get lost in the iTunes app store. Unless you have created an app that can generate instant buzz and have your app listed in the top seller's list, an app can quickly get lost among the thousands upon thousands of other apps available.

Upon release, a new app will appear on the first page of its category, but after a few days will drop off that first page and most likely into obscurity. But the Time app, because a new one is released every week, always is visible, always listed on the first page.
In addition, because Apple counts individual app sales, not the cumulative sales of all of Time's app sales, it is clear that the weekly release strategy is working. No single issue of Time leads news app sales, but the publisher has all four of its apps listed in the Top 20 of paid news apps. Further proof that the strategy is working is that the April 12 issue, the one all those early adapters downloaded, is not their best seller to date -- that goes to last week's issue, April 26.

The newest issue, May 3, is already listed as the 13th highest paid news app. The Time strategy seems to be working. And judging by the reviews, users are already used to Time charging $4.99 an issue.

Ultimately, Time will have more competition in the iTunes app store. But Time's first mover strategy has been a success. The app itself will need to continue to evolve as iPad users are generally disappointed in the efforts of newspaper and magazine publishers so far. The lack of interactivity and creativity in design has only reinforced the notion that publishers are too conservative in their approach to tablet publishing. But Time's decision to launch early and often has been a great marketing move.

Update: Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times has his own review of Alan Brinkley's new biography of Henry R. Luce, the founder of Time Magazine, entitled The Publisher.

On Tuesday of this week, I wrote a piece that was ostensibly about Amazon's Kindle store and how it might actually be helped by Apple's iPad. But the genesis of that post was the first review of Brinkley's biography of Luce, published the previous day in the NYT and written by Janet Maslin. I am currently reading The Publisher on my iPad and will report back on the experience. I think, though, that Maslin's and Keller's reviews will more than suffice.