Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Retweet: Adweek asks 'Did Time Inc. miss the paid content boat?' No, they simply did it differently for too long

I'm not a good mood today everywhere I turn reporters are writing stories that seem to take the facts out of thin air and spin some new tale out of them. That would be OK by me until I start to see the story getting picked up and retweeted. It's like Disney and The Hunchback of Notre Dame: you know it in the book it doesn't end well for Esmeralda and Quasimodo, right?

Adweek is telling us that Time Inc. missed the paid content boat, and the blame is squarely on Laura Lang, hired only a bit over a year ago. Lucia Moses writes that "In the spring of 2011, the company's biggest rivals, Condé Nast and Hearst, made deals to sell subscriptions to their magazines' tablet editions in Apple’s iTunes store. It took Time Inc. more than a year to follow suit."

In fact, Time was one of the first to launch a tablet edition, charging $4.99 per issue, well ahead of most other publishers. The Newsstand would not appear until over a year and a half later, and it is true that those who had not yet launched tablet editions eager launched apps into the new feature. But Times wasn't a laggard, it was a pioneer. It was first, and then found itself in a bad position with stand-alone apps that would need to be updated.

"Of all the big competitors, all of them have figured out pricing—those companies have seen they can charge more" compared to the "very conservative" Time Inc., said Ken Doctor, media analyst with Outsell. “They plainly lost a year and a half under [CEO] Laura Lang."

That's utter nonsense.

On August 3 of 2011, two months before the launch of Apple's Newsstand, Maurice Edelson, EVP at Time Inc. said the publisher would "launch tablet editions for its entire portfolio of 21 titles by year's end." It was huge news, and many thought it daring, a huge commitment to a new digital platform.

“Having our entire portfolio available on tablets will create a significant new digital reach for our advertisers," said Edelson. Time followed up by launching tablet editions for Golf Magazine, not only for the iPad, but other devices, as well.

Time Inc. also was one of the first to even talk about tablet magazines - creating a YouTube video of what they felt a tablet magazine would look like. Don't remember it? Well, it appeared in December of 2009 (TNM story here, one of this site's first), two months before Steve Jobs introduced the first iPad:

After this video appeared Sports Illustrated worked with The Wonderfactory to produced their first iPad edition, which was launched in June of 2010. There was no Newsstand and Time continued its policy, then brand new, of launching individual apps for each issue. The downside was that no one could subscribe; the upside was that each week the new app appeared at the top of the list of apps – it was a marketing move that made a lot of sense in an environment where each new app got a lot of attention.

"We still have plenty of features on our wish list and under development at the moment, but I think the iPad apps available today clearly show that we're offering a versatile and mature solution," said Erik Schut, President of WoodWing Software, who was Time's partner on that original app.

Yes, Time Inc. was late to enter the Newsstand, but one has to say that when you have invested in stand-alone apps the way it did moving to the Newsstand is a major move. But Lang did that, and so in June of 2012, only six months after being hired, all the Time titles migrated into the Newsstand and started selling subscriptions. So the reality is that Time Inc. was a pioneer in the tablet platform (they also were in Zinio's newsstand early on), but late to start setting subscriptions. Does that make them late to have a paid content strategy, or merely guilty of having the wrong one?

Of course, we all know what Moses is really referring to when she says Time Inc. is behind in the paid content area: paywalls, the Shibboleth of the media world.

But if Adweek and Ken Doctor want to bash Times Inc. for being a print company failing to profit on the web they better be prepared to deal it out to the hundreds of other publications in the same boat. But let's get our facts straight, as one of the first major publishers to begin selling digital copies of its magazine inside Apple's App Store, Time Inc. was not lagging behind its competitors, it simply took a different route. It's error was not cutting its prices or giving away its product, it was in being first into a market that was immature. No one sold lots of subscriptions in 2010. And if Time the decisions were made in early 2010, it is hard for me to blame Laura Lang, who was the head of a digital ad agency at the time.