Friday, May 6, 2011

Wisconsin State Journal launches tablet edition that requires subscription, gives incentive for opt-in data

The Wisconsin State Journal, published by Madison Newspapers Inc., has launched its first tablet edition today. The app is free to download but requires a paid subscription to get beyond the headlines.
The newspaper has taken a unique approach to charging for the app's content. The app opens up to a look fairly similar to other native designed newspaper apps: a NYT look where the content is fed in through RSS feeds. At first blush the app looks like you would be able to read the content for free. But tapping on an article immediately produces a pop-up which informs you that you must buy a subscription: $3.99 per month, $21.99 for six months, or $39.99 per year. A home delivered subscription would cost you $65 according to the paper's website.
Additionally, the pop-up says that an additional month will be added onto your subscription term if you click "allow" when asked if it will be fine to have Apple share your basic account data. (click at left for enlarged screenshot)

This is one approach to getting customer data – the other being a direct request for information in the form of a customer survey within the app's content.

One major thing missing, however, is a way for current print subscribers to get access to the app for free. This is a strange features to be missing, and will no doubt make a number of the paper's subscribers pretty unhappy – after all, this is the home to the University of Madison, and I would guess that a good number of State Journal readers are iPad owners.

On the other hand, it is possible that this was a strategic decision on the part of the publisher to drive iPad owners towards a digital edition. If not, oops.

As for the actual app: I did not end up buying a subscription as I am not a local resident of Madison and it certainly looks like the paper's content is not very relevant to me. But I certainly would be interested to know what residents think of the app and the subscription policy. So far, however, there are no reviews inside the App Store.

Final note: the newspaper currently has a link promoting its iPad app. It takes you to the iTunes store directly, not to a promotional page on the paper's website. This is fine because the developer wrote a pretty good app description which spells out the subscription plans. The support page in the App Store, however, takes you to a complete irrelevant web page – this will have to be fixed. I mention all this both to point out the good app description, but also because I was trying hard to figure out if the publisher is trying to explain why they are charging all iPad owners for content access, even their print subscribers.