I am struggling this morning trying to decide whether I think Meredith's tablet edition strategy is brilliant or foolhardy. I also can't decide if their marketing approach is a step forward, or positively retro. It is, however, unique.
Yesterday the Des Moines, Iowa publishing company released three new tablet editions for their brands: Better Homes and Gardens, Fitness Magazine and Parents Magazine.
Each of the apps is free download, and each creates a library app on your iPad where you can then buy individual issues -- in the case of Better Homes and Gardens it is $3.99 per issue, Fitness charges $2.99, as does Parents.
Had these apps come out last year this would not have seemed unusual, a lot of publishers were waiting for Apple to introduce new subscription policies for in-app purchases. But on the iPad a reader is not given a chance to subscribe, and worse, print subscribers are given no chance to access the issues for free, one of the few policy decisions by Apple that benefit publishers.
So why is this? Is this a decision that was made last year that has not been altered by events? Or a decision that iPad readers will represent new readers, not legacy customers?
The problem may simply be that Meredith is one of those legacy publishers that severely discounts its print subscriptions, putting it a bit in a hole when it comes to electronic subscriptions. A quick check on Amazon (screenshot at left) shows that a reader can get an annual subscription to Better Homes and Gardens for $5.99, the same for Fitness. A three-year subscription to Parents costs $12.
As for the apps, each gives the reader one aspect -- vertical or horizontal (portrait or landscape is my preferred way of phrasing this). While Better Homes and Gardens uses horizontal layouts, the other two apps are vertical. This cuts down on the total weight of the app and allows the art director to concentrate on one layout. Magazine apps that use both orientations have certain creative and content advantages, one can understand a decision to stick to one orientation.
Rather than being replica editions with all the print ads, each app employs a sponsored section approach. “We had a very positive response to the tablet editions from our marketing partners,” Lauren Wiener, SVP, Meredith Women’s Network, is quoted in the company's release for the new apps. “We expect this market to grow rapidly over the next year as women expand their tablet experience. According to industry data we’ve seen, women already are approximately half of the current tablet marketplace.”
By creating their apps this way they are saying that these are in many ways separate from the print editions, though content-wise they would be considered "enhanced editions", with their video and interactive added content.
In the end these apps probably say more about the political battles inside Meredith than they do the state of tablet publishing. It is probably true that right now the demographics of iPad owners do not match up well with Meredith titles, but that will change as Apple gets to 40 or 50 million iPad owners. We'll see if then Meredith decides to change its pricing policies to reflect the emerging tablet publishing market.
Here is the company's promotional video for their new iPad apps: