Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Time Inc. Makes a New Pitch to iPad Shoppers: Try Us Before You Buy Us

Time Inc. used to have really big hopes for the iPad era. Then came reality, plus a protracted cold war with Apple.

Three years later, the world’s biggest publisher is sending out cautiously optimistic vibes about the tablet industry again. Advertisers have yet to fully embrace the new format, but some readers are beginning to accept it — helped in part by a peace accord Time Inc. and Apple signed last year.

And now Time Inc. hopes to lure more digital-only readers to its magazines with a tried-and-true marketing tactic: It will let people browse its titles on their iPad before they buy them.

Up until today, for instance, someone who downloaded the free Entertainment Weekly iPad app would see a page like this when they opened it up — a sales pitch, without the ability to see what is actually inside the current magazine, the way they could at a real newsstand:

Time Inc. old iPad iTunes EW

But, as of this morning, EW will now let users read a handful of articles from this week’s magazine — without having to hand over payment or other information — and will tease a few more:

Time Inc. EW iPad iTunes new

Does that sound like an incremental change, and one that should have happened years ago? That’s a reasonable argument.

On the other hand, the fact that it’s just happening now shows you how nascent the digital magazine really is: Time Inc. officials said they’re only able to pull this off because they’ve been working with Adobe on a back-end system that allows them to easily change up their free offerings on the fly. They’ll implement the new software for all 21 of their titles on sale at Apple’s iTunes Newsstand by the end of the year.

The idea, said George Linardos, who heads up digital marketing and business development for Time Inc., is to build up the publisher’s roster of digital-only subscribers. People with subscriptions to the publisher’s print magazines already have the ability to read digitized editions on their tablets, and some 2.7 million people are using “authenticated” subscriptions to do that.

But Time Inc. wants to boost the number of people who get its magazines solely through the tablet. It says it has more than 500,000 of those customers, most of whom have come on in the last year, after the publisher began selling digital-only subscriptions through iTunes.

That leaves the publisher behind rivals like Hearst, which hit the one million digital subscriber number earlier this year, but Time Inc. said it has been adding 10,000 paid digital subscribers a week this year.

More than half of those subscribers are new customers, Linardos said. And he thinks he can boost that number by giving browsers more to see: “We know we have hundreds of thousands of people downloading the app, opening it, and walking away,” he said. “We want to give them a reason to stay.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work