Economist on iPad seeks to replicate 'immersive' qualities of print

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The Economist’s paid content strategy hinges on the quality of its journalism (more so than its clever advertising). It is one of the few magazine publishers to claim success with a partial online paywall. The company hopes to extend its model to the forthcoming iPhone and iPad apps it plans to launch later this year.

The goal of the new apps is to replicate the magazine experience, while taking advantage of the devices’ unique features. “As closely as possible, we want it to feel like you’re reading The Economist in print,” said Oscar Grut, the Economist Group’s managing director of digital editions.

Grut believes the iPad and other e-readers like the Kindle offer an opportunity to replicate the lean-back experience of the print magazine.

“The strong message we’re seeing is that people are using these devices in a completely different way than they use desktops,” he said. “We’re seeing increasing evidence of the enjoyment people derive from reading on these devices. For us it’s a complete departure from the old world of digital. It’s much more like print.”

Which, of course, plays right into the type of analytical, long-form journalism The Economist offers.

“The weekly Economist has been a ritual, immersive experience that our readers prefer to consume in print,” said Grut. The Economist iPad App - by Urban Mixer“Online is more for analysis, debate and discussion. Now, we’re seeing evidence that these immersive, lean-back qualities of print can increasingly be delivered by digital devices.”

While replicating the print experience is the goal, the company also plans to take advantage of the individual platforms on which its content delivered.

“We can’t be blind to the opportunity these devices present in terms of user experience,” said Grut, who acknowledged the navigational constraints of presenting magazine content on the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen. The iPad’s 9.7-inch, high-resolution display, on the other hand, offers more design possibilities, including multi-column layouts and, of course, more rich media presentation.

Separate apps for iPhone, iPad

The Economist is developing separate apps for the iPad and the iPhone. “One of the advantages of starting a little bit later is you can create a great experience by doing apps for both,” said Grut.

Without offering specifics, Grut said pricing for the forthcoming apps will be in line with the company’s other paid offerings. “Our starting point is, we believe in charging appropriately for the content, regardless of medium,” he said. To be successful, he added, “we need to continue to invest in our journalism and our overall offerings.”

Grut also noted that advertising will be featured in the new apps. “If executed properly, these devices have a huge amount to offer to advertisers, especially if you get the immersive treatment right,” he said. “But the advertising dynamics will change. Advertising is still undefined for this medium.”

An iPad app, he explained, may not support the same volume of advertising that a print magazine might include, because it will detract from the user experience.

The Economist Group has seen strong interest from existing subscribers who want to access The Economist on their mobile devices, particularly the iPhone and the iPad. But Grut also sees a significant opportunity to expand the publication’s reach to new readers who don’t subscribe to the print magazine.

“We target our content at the intellectually curious,” he said. “They may not have come across our brand in print, or they may have an image of us that is outdated. Digital devices are a way for us to show those people that our content is relevant to them.”

The apps will not be The Economist Group’s first offering for the iPhone. The company currently offers an app called Which MBA?, which ranks the top 100 MBA programs globally. It is priced at $9.99. The company also sells digital subscriptions through Zinio.

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