APPLE PRODUCTS SUCH AS the iPhone and iPad are dominating much of the content-centric behavior of consumers but casting a wide net across all emerging devices in the e-reader, smartphone and tablet categories is the best approach for publishers, Gilbane Group vp and lead analyst Bill Trippe recently said at MPA’s "Dimensional To Digital: From Augmented Reality to Tablets" conference.

Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous, tablet usage will likely be very high and e-readers will see a comparatively low number of owners but a high level of loyalty, according to Trippe.

One of the biggest questions for publishers is whether e-readers are simply an interim device, Trippe said. While Amazon’s Kindle is appealing to an older demographic, usage increases the longer the owner has the device, according to research from Gilbane parent Outsell.

Publishers who are pursuing iPad editions could follow Time Magazine’s strategy of releasing iPad versions a day or two before the print version. Wired’s Chris Anderson is predicting his magazine’s iPad version will soon eclipse newsstand sales (without hurting newsstand sell-through).

Bonnier Corp. and Interweave have launched new digital products specifically for viewing on desktops and laptops. As part of the magazine’s broader "360-degree multiplatform initiative," Bonnier’s Skiing has developed Skiing Interactive, a digital edition with unique content and advertising that was developed specifically for accessing on a computer. Each issue will include features like a navigation scroll bar at the bottom, high definition cover videos, interactive maps and ads that allow users to click through for additional product information.

Each issue also will feature a "Best of the Web" section that includes user-generated videos, stories and photos that is aggregated by the magazine’s editors. Bonnier has 10 editions of Skiing Interactive lined up, the first debuting in late fall. A Bonnier spokesperson says the company is still weighing different pricing models and subscription plans.

Separately, Loveland, Colorado-based enthusiast publisher Interweave has launched Quilting Arts in Stitches, a digital product (they’re calling it an "eMag") that the publisher says is a "much more immersive experience" than traditional e-books or digital magazine editions.

"This is not a magazine or an app or a digital version of a magazine," Fiber Division vice president and publisher John Bolton says. "Quilting Arts Magazine readers have been accustomed to digital issues of our print magazines for several years, but this is an entirely unique digital product unlike any we’ve been able to deliver before."

Quilting Arts in Stitches will include video demos and interviews with artisan quilters, slideshows with zoom options, downloadable and printable patterns and hyperlinks to other content. It will be available for purchase in Interweave’s e-commerce Web site for $14.97 per issue.

Interweave says it will launch three more "eMags" soon from its knitting, specialty fiber and jewelry-making groups.

From 600 Downloads to 8,000

IDG’s Macworld and PCWorld have had digital editions for years but they’re just starting to realize the potential of the platform, thanks to the iPad. While Macworld and PCWorld averaged 600 monthly downloads combined for their digital editions, the iPad versions are generating 8,000 monthly downloads combined and a Macworld special edition about the launch of the iPad has generated about 90,000 downloads (and growing) over the last three months. The Macworld and PCWorld digital editions (including iPad app) are supported on the Zinio UNITY platform.

"Digital editions were an idea waiting for a platform," said Jason Brightman, director of Web design with PCWorld and Macworld. "The iPad is great for magazines and eliminates many of the problems the Kindle had. The Kindle is not good for magazine layout. Mobile phones weren’t a great experience either. With ‘swiping,’ the iPad can replicate that tactile experience you have holding a magazine."

The success of the iPad version is not hurting traffic to or, either. "PCWorld and Macworld are making half of their revenue from the Web sites and we haven’t seen any drop from the digital editions," said Brightman. "We bundle our digital editions with the print magazine, so all revenue and downloads count against the magazine bottom line."

Still, the iPad isn’t a magic wand and Brightman offers four areas to focus on for developing a digital edition (including being ready for the wave of e-readers about to launch).

1. It’s About Reading. "That seems academic but look at some of the apps getting press right now like Wired and Popular Science," said Brightman. "They have lots of rich media and interesting things but if you look at the reader feedback online, it’s not that good because the reading experience is compromised by their over-reliance on multi-media. It’s important that you have it but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the content. Make sure you can pinch and zoom to make the content easier to read. It’s important that the vendor offer a text-only view."

2. Navigation. While it’s still early days and conventions are still being developed, don’t require readers to learn a new navigation process.

Right now, page flip software is the convention in digital editions. "If you look at iPad apps you will see a lot of experimentation and variation," says Brightman. "The one I’m watching and like is Financial Times — which just won ‘Best iPad App’ in the 2010 Apple Design Awards. Rather than have a button to go to the next page, it will slide to the next page. That allows you to hold the device in any way and let’s you cap with your thumb. More publishers will start adopting that."

Macworld includes tabs that open up to a commerce page that feature products discussed within the article. "Close that window and you’re back in the digital edition," said Brightman. "It’s additional revenue for us."

3. Advertising. Macworld includes an interactive ad from Kia that can be accessed via a large red button in the digital edition. "Those extra bits make advertisers happy and enhances content rather than takes away from it," said Brightman.

However, the Kia ad is supplied to Macworld via an ad network and Brightman recognizes that it may be several years before interactive ads become the norm for publishers and even advertisers. "Most advertisers are not going to take advantage of the functionality for the short term and we don’t have the bandwidth to create such ads for them," he added. "Interactive ads will be led by bigger advertisers with the means."

4. Reach. While the iPad is a fantastic device — selling 500,000 units per week according to some sources — don’t limit digital editions efforts there, says Brightman. "Over the next two quarters there will be no less than seven new devices launching using the Android system, the Web OS that HP just bought and even Windows 7 is working on their own. Whatever vendor you go with should have a road map for all these devices."

E-readers and tablets will evolve into a distinct medium from Web sites and magazines, according to Brightman. "At one end you have the Web site with daily updates and on the other end you have the magazines with highly curated content," he says. "The iPad is going to fall somewhere in between where it’s updated more than once a month but not quite daily."

And even while much of the content available on the iPad edition is already available for free on the Web sites, Brightman says subscribers are willing to pay. "Our push with digital editions is about user revenue," he adds. "We’re creating a different experience on an immersive device. That has value and people will pay for it. We’re trying to come up with a bundled price that includes the digital edition, the iPad app and exclusive access on the Web site."

Pricing Magazine Apps

For now, publishers are merely experimenting with pricing for full magazine apps on smartphones and tablet devices. A baseline at this point is still a moving target. On the one hand, publishers don’t want to get trapped in devaluing digital content again, and with all the production work involved in the versions that are not simply digital edition repeats, but have added content, robust pricing is the name of the game.

Pricing is generally hovering around the cover price for a newsstand copy, but we’re nowhere near a standard approach, however. Publishers caution that pricing will evolve as technology, access and device adoption change. Wired’s editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, tweeted exactly that on the occasion of Wired’s iPad launch at $4.99: "For all asking about Wired iPad app pricing, it will evolve as we build new e-commerce methods. Freemium is in our future ;-)."

Condé Nast, which also has iPad editions available for GQ and Vanity Fair, is testing two price levels. First-time buyers of GQ get the app for $2.99; subsequent "in-app" purchases are $1.99. Vanity Fair has a $4.99/$3.99 price point, which Wired has yet to implement.

So far, the GQ apps combined have been downloaded 63,000 times for iPhone and iPad. Wired’s iPad app hit 24,000 downloads in its first day. "Since we are in an R&D phase and we are looking at the consumption of both iPhone and iPad users, we have been actively looking at a variety of price points to see what the consumer response is," says Bob Sauerberg, group president, Condé Nast Consumer Marketing, and Next Issue Media board member. "We are setting the prices for what we think are early adopters. We want to see how print parity and consumer behavior looks."

At Rodale, which has churned out 41 apps to date, pricing runs the full range from free to $5.99 — largely dependent on the app’s level of utility and content. Thirty-three of the apps are paid. The rest are free, says John McCarthy, senior vice president of customer marketing.

The richer the experience and content, the higher the price. The "Eat This, Not That" and Men’s and Women’s Health magazine apps are $4.99, for example. "Don’t price it below the product you’re selling," says McCarthy. "We’re not just driving the cost up because of business considerations. It’s a dramatically different experience. As the format evolves, we need to see what the impact will be on pricing."