Thursday, December 22, 2011

For BNA, creating 'reader' apps is the preferred approach

What approach should B2B publishers take in regards to tablet editions? Should they simply launch an iPad app and make their industry trade publications open to anyone who downloads the app? Or should they charge new readers for a subscription through the App Store while allowing current "qualified" subscribers to log into their accounts in the app to access the content for free?

A third approach might be to create a reader app – one that only allows content access to those customers who are already subscribers. This approach means that the app itself can not generate new subscribers, but the publisher won't be splitting revenue with Apple, either. Also, the new iPad app then serves as another way paying customers can access their content.
This is the approach BNA (The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.) has chosen to use with its iPad apps.

BNA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bloomberg L.P., is a company that provides legal, regulatory and other business information to its customers through print and e-newsletters, the web, book, etc. The company has many products available in the areas of Legal and Business, Tax and Accounting, Environment Health and Safety and Human Resources. All or most of these could potentially become tablet products, should the company decide to go in that direction.

To date, BNA has released seven iPad apps, that latest being BNA Labor and Employment Law Insights, released earlier this week. Each app is free, but each app only allows downloaders to browse the articles and videos available, as well as see the author and speaker names and content headlines.

In order to fully access the content, downloaders will have to already have a subscription to the information service. In the case of the BNA Labor and Employment Law Insights app, the cost is $295 for a year's subscription. As you can see, BNA products are generally pricey, one reason the company would be hesitant to share a revenue split with another company (in this case, Apple).

Does this approach make sense for other B2B publications? Certainly, if you one of those B2Bs that are charging a fairly high subscription price for your print or web products. With your customers buying tablets you want to migrate with them.

But if you are mailing a monthly print magazine to a list of "qualified" readers, and not getting any, or little subscription revenue, then this would simply be an additional cost – sort of like those Flash flipbooks so many publishers have paid for. In that scenario, I would think that the hybrid approach is best: charging new readers through the app, while letting current "qualified" readers log-in for free access. As far as I know, Apple has not objected to this approach, though one could interpret their developer rules in such a way as to disallow this – I have yet to hear anything definitive to date.