Last updated: March 29, 2010 12:27 am

Publishers see iPad as path to sales increase

When Time magazine goes to press this Wednesday night, there will be more than the usual sense of expectation among its editors. The issue will be one of the few iPad applications available to early buyers of Apple’s tablet.

The edition has taken far longer than the usual week’s work. “We called it Project Noah,” says Josh Quittner, editor-at-large. “We had 40 days and 40 nights to do it. Our tech guys worked miracles.”

Biblical references have been rife as media executives await the Easter Saturday launch of a device dubbed “the Jesus tablet” by the New York Times. But it may take months to know whether the iPad offers publishers a path to financial salvation.

Apple has allowed only a few publishers – including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal – to work with the device and there will be just a handful of dedicated media applications for the device at its US launch this weekend.

The early apps display a wide variety of business models, suggesting that there is little consensus among publishers about how to exploit a category of mobile devices they hope will help change the economics of content.

Time will offer its US print issue, with additional photos, videos, international content and updates from Time.com, for the same as its news-stand price. Hearst’s Esquire title should go on sale for a similar $2.99 on the iPad, but this is $2 below the cover price.

The Journal will charge $17.99 a month for its iPad application, compared with its $1.99-a-week introductory offer for print subscribers. The Financial Times app, planned for release in Europe and the US in late April, will be a free download, but will have the same subscription requirements as FT.com, one of the few websites to charge for news.

The FT iPad app will be sponsored at launch by Hublot, the watchmaker, subsidising a two-month free access period, highlighting interest in Apple’s device from advertisers, a constituency as critical as readers to media owners.

Time has signed up six advertisers including Fidelity and Unilever, each paying about $200,000 to appear in its first eight iPad editions. The Journal app will launch with six advertisers paying about $400,000 each for four months.

“We think we’ve got pretty good value,” says Steve Pacheco, managing director of advertising at FedEx, whose ads will appear on the Journal, Thomson Reuters and Newsweek apps.

FedEx hopes to align its brand with the buzz around Apple, he says. “If it’s done to half the degree Apple typically does its products to, there’s going to be a lot of energy, natural awareness and built-in curiosity.”

FedEx will be the exclusive advertiser until July on the Thomson Reuters News Pro app, which promises more multimedia features and better data manipulation.

The app is free, but Alisa Bowen, head of consumer publishing for Thomson Reuters, says the company plans “additional high-value content sites consumers can choose to upgrade to”.

The financial information group has seen its iPhone app downloaded 850,000 times, but Ms Bowen says it hopes the larger iPad will replace the laptop for senior executives.

In spite of the hype, some publishers still have reservations about everything from how much data Apple will share to the iPad’s incompatibility with Adobe’s widespread Flash software.

Michael Gutkowski, president of Hearst’s LMK division, which sells apps aggregating updates about interests from Barbie dolls to baseball teams, said it had done little work so far on an iPad launch.

“Apple is an amazing organisation. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how well they’re able to expand the market beyond the core of Apple lovers,” he added.

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