The glossy mag as App

I’ve long thought that publishing on the Web won’t provide a sustainable business model for magazines, for two reasons: (a) the paywall problem; and (b) the fact that the Web can’t provide the ‘immersive’ reading experience that high-end magazines require. (Some interesting research by the Economist suggests that, in may of their markets, subscribers ‘make an appointment’ with themselves to set aside time every week to read the magazine.) One possible inference is that classy publications stand a better chance of flourishing in an online world if they’re Apps rather than sites. Taking this route addresses the paywall problem (Apple collects the dosh via iTunes store); and it may enable designers to create reading experiences that are more immersive than web browsing. This report suggests that Conde Nast, at least, is beginning to think this way too.

Condé Nast’s plans for the iPad tablet computer from Apple are getting firmer.

The first magazines for which it will create iPad versions are Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Glamour, the company plans to announce in an internal memorandum on Monday.

GQ will have a tablet version of its April issue ready. Vanity Fair and Wired will follow with their June issues, and The New Yorker and Glamour will have issues in the summer (the company has not yet determined the exact timing for those).

The company already sells an iPhone application for GQ. That has sold more than 15,000 copies of the January issue and almost 7,000 of the December issue.

Condé Nast plans to test different prices, types of advertising and approaches to digitizing the magazines for several months before wrapping up the experiment in the fall. “We need to know a little bit more about what kind of a product we can make, how consumers will respond to it, what the distribution system will be,” said Thomas J. Wallace, editorial director of Condé Nast.

The magazines were chosen for their range, he said. “They are representative of the company, right? GQ is men. Glamour is women. Vanity Fair is a dual audience. The New Yorker is unique with its periodicity, and therefore it’s also more news- or text-heavy, and it’s a slightly older audience,” Mr. Wallace said. And Wired has already been working on a reader project with Adobe, the software company that provides publishing tools to much of the magazine industry.

Other than Wired, the digital magazines will be developed internally. “We’re taking a two-track approach partly because we want to learn everything that we can,” said Sarah Chubb, president of Condé Nast Digital.

During the test phase, the company will sell the digital magazines through iTunes. Wired will also be available in non-iTunes formats. While that means Condé Nast will not have access to consumer data — a valuable tool for its marketing — Ms. Chubb said there were other ways to get that information.

Of course, the implication that — once again — Apple will be in pole position to profit from the marketing data that comes from iPad APP sales.