November 25, 2010 12:57 pm

Branson set to unveil iPad-only magazine

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Sir Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch are set to go head-to-head with rival iPad-only publications, as Virgin prepares to launch a magazine for Apple’s tablet computer next week.

The initiatives by two of the world’s best-known entrepreneurs underline the opportunity seen by many in the media industry for a device which did not even exist a year ago.

Virgin has invited journalists to a press event in New York on November 30, where Sir Richard is expected to reveal a magazine, developed specifically for the iPad, called Project. It is expected to cover international culture, business and travel.

Mr Murdoch’s News Corp is expected to unveil The Daily, an iPad-only “newspaper”, in early December. Intense speculation surrounding the News Corp initiative suggests that Apple’s chief executive Steve Jobs could launch the app onstage alongside Mr Murdoch.

Apple said last month that it had sold 7.5m iPads since launching the device in April.

Magazine and newspaper companies see iPad apps as a way to charge for content in a way that few have been successful in doing on the open web. Early adopters of tablet PCs tend to be wealthy individuals who have shown early indications that they are prepared to pay for digital news and magazines with additional features such as video and interactive graphics.

A report by the Pew Research Centre this week found that 9 per cent of higher-income households in the US own a tablet PC, compared with 3 per cent in less-well-off homes. Pew found that 80 per cent of wealthier homes already access news online, compared with 22 per cent reading a print newspaper for national news.

The Daily, which will initially be available in the US, is expected to sell for 99c a week. News Corp is believed to have hired about 100 staff in New York to work the product, which will not be available in print or through a standard web browser.

James Murdoch, News Corp’s chief executive for Europe and Asia, said last week at the Morgan Stanley TMT conference that the company was in discussions with Apple about a subscription mechanism for the Daily and other tablet initiatives.

“We think it’s a great format because the tablet in general lends itself to a type of journalism that is really new,” said Mr Murdoch.

“The topography of a tablet, the multi-touch screens, little ones and big ones, not just the iPad but around the way, we think it’s very exciting. These really are becoming our flagship products, even though they are very much in their infancy.”

Virgin’s Project will not just be an in-flight magazine for Virgin Atlantic, as some outlets have speculated, the company said. Edward Hill-Wood, media analyst at Morgan Stanley, said tablets could be “transformational” for media companies but warned the market remained nascent.

“Tablets are different because the consumer feels there is a benefit, they feel that the product is good and gives them the sense of ownership which they don’t have online,” he said.

“There is no question people want to read newspapers on iPads, the question is how much people will pay for them. They will pay more than perhaps people thought they would, but it’s still very niche.”

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