Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Condé Nast Takes Another Crack at the iPad, With a Single-Serving App

Okay. So iPad magazine apps aren’t going to magically solve the publishing industry’s problems, after all. But that doesn’t mean publishers can’t find ways to take advantage of tablets.

Here’s one–instead of selling digital versions of paper magazines people can already get in their mailbox or at newsstands, cobble together special-edition apps using stuff you’ve already made.

That’s what Condé Nast has tried with its new “Best of Italy: Condé Nast Traveler” app. It’s a $4.99 compilation of the magazine’s earlier articles, and based on a brief flip-through, it works quite nicely.

And because it’s not a literal translation of a current title, the app sidesteps some of the problems that have plagued magazine apps: Print subscribers don’t feel like they’re being gouged by paying for something they’ve already bought. And jaded iPad owners can’t compare it to an existing issue and utter a bored sigh.

Meanwhile, Condé has signed on pasta maker Barilla to sponsor the app, so there’s not a whole lot of money at stake here for the publisher.

Condé already sells some paid iPhone apps, and has a couple of in-app purchases available for some of its free apps, but you should expect to see more paid, standalone apps this year, most of which will utilize stuff the publisher already has in its archive.

Meanwhile, more optimistic publishers hold out hope that Google’s Android will give them what they want–the ability to sell subscriptions for magazine apps, and keep most of the revenue and all of the consumer information. And that once that happens, Apple will come around, too. Theoretically.

But even if magazine subscriptions get resolved, I’m not sure that solves publishers’ magazine app problems. The industry’s hope, at least for much of the last year, was that the iPad and other tablets would allow them to roll back not only the “content = free” ethos of the Web, but also the “subscriptions = really, really cheap” precedent they’d set up on their own.

But since publishers are still giving away print magazine subscriptions at fire-sale prices, it’s going to be hard to convince tablet owners to pay a penny more. And you can’t blame that one on Steve Jobs.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald