Friday, March 1, 2013

Variety lowers its website paywall, kills off its daily edition, but will its tablet strategy remain print-centric?

When Penske Media Corporation (PMC) bought Variety from Reed Business Information in October of last year the new owner was not acquiring a property that was built for the digital media era. RBI was slow to launch website for its B2B properties in the nineties, and it never put a high priority on making those sites once launched anything more than places where press releases went to die. As for mobile and tablets, well, RBI left that for others to deal with.

So the new owners of Variety had a lot to think about when it came to the venerable entertainment title. This week they got to work when it was announced that they would be killing off their daily print publication and would relaunch it as a weekly magazine. But for many the big news was that the website's paywall would be coming down.

"Internally, we've been referring to the paywall dropping as 'the end of an error,'" said Jay Penske. "It was an interesting experiment that didn't work. We look forward to welcoming back longtime Variety readers when the paywall drops March 1."

But now what happens to the tablet app, Variety iPad Edition? The original app was launched in March of 2011, well after RBI has sold off or closed most of its other U.S. B2B titles. The app has been plagued by bugs that cause crashes, but some readers liked the app because they could receive their daily editions quicker than through the mail – such was the level of loyalty of many readers of the Hollywood daily edition.
 photo Variety-iPad-sm_zpse9815a2d.jpg
The app served as a receptacle for replica editions of the print publication and a place were readers could also access the latest news. But the publisher never was a serious app developer, as the app description shows, because the app didn't originate with the Variety staff but through either the printer or BlueToad (the tagline "Includes patent-pending Media Deck technology" is the clue to the app's origins).

In its announcement of its changes at Variety the company never mentioned mobile or tablets. "When PMC purchased Variety last year, we committed to the digital evolution of this great brand," said Penske. "We're accelerating this strategy by heavily investing in our editorial staff, technology, video production and responsive design -- all with the goal of providing the best experience for our dedicated readers." The company also said it will "remain committed to a print edition of Variety."

Does this mean its tablet edition will remain as is? I doubt it. It really should be dumped, it is a relic of another era, when the strategy was all about selling more print subscriptions and closing off the website in order to force yet more print subscriptions.

With the company now focusing on building its technology and video capabilities it will soon be in a better position to build a better tablet edition, one more in keeping with the new publishing platform, and one that can survive should the print publication ever be shuttered permanently. After all, by producing a replica edition of a print edition, a publisher shuts out any option they may should they decide a print publication does not make economic sense.