In the grand scheme of things, iPhone applications are a relatively new phenomenon (the iTunes Store began offering them just 10 months ago) but their popularity has skyrocketed of late. In May, Apple said it passed the one billion download mark for its apps. And a recent estimate put the number of applications offered by the iTunes Store at 35,000, up from just 15,000 in January.
For Abe Burns, Variety’s director of online marketing, numbers like this prove the “honeymoon period” for print-to-online platform expansion has long since passed. Much like the Web site, Variety’s app has news, reviews, photos and video coverage of the entertainment industry. Content buckets for the app are pulled in according to what is most popular on the site. More than 7,000 downloads were recorded in the first week and have since grown to 20,000.
In terms of branding, some are having promising results. Condé Nast is building applications for the iPhone—available for free at iPhone’s App Store—for Style.com, Wired.com and other brands. The Style.com app, which allows access to photos, videos and reviews of fashion shows, has been downloaded 200,000 times in the last seven months. (The application has gone through three updates.) “It’s a great utility for the audience of Style.com,” says Richard Glosser, executive director, emerging media, Condé Nast Digital.
While some magazines are leveraging the iPhone as yet another platform to show off their print brands, others are utilizing the technology to its fullest innovative potential. In February, Lucky magazine launched a mobile application—“Lucky at Your Service”—which acts as a concierge service for its shoe-buying readers.
Using a database service called Nearby Now and GPS technology, brick-and-mortar shoppers can browse ad and editorial content on Lucky’s mobile site, select a shoe, color, size, and—after Nearby Now’s call center contacts local retailers—receive a text message identifying its availability at nearby stores. Alternatively, Lucky shoppers can buy online at the service’s Web site.
A combined 240,000 shoppers have either downloaded the iPhone application or shopped online since the service was launched, Lucky says. (It was also featured in the Top 10 lifestyle applications at the iTunes Store.)
Metrics Are Basic But Monetizable
Analytics are in the early stages, but engagement can be measured using familiar metrics specific to what users are viewing on the app. Variety averages about 500 users per day. Glosser says metrics revolve around how many downloads and number of users, as well as ads served.
The Style.com app has served up 5 million ads, which come in three flavors: A logo unit that appears on the app’s “home page,” a bumper that appears before a new section loads, and a “10-pack” ad format that’s popular in slideshows where an ad appears on every tenth slide. “We can sell advertisers an ad on the site and extend that to the iPhone app,” says Glosser.
Another way publishers have been able to monetize applications is through sponsorships. Variety has a sponsor-based ad model for now, which includes a banner-style display that appears at the bottom of the screen.
Last month, Forbes.com launched an “Intelligent Investing” application, offering iPhone and iTouch users access to content from Forbes.com.
The app—developed by a cloud services company called Xignite—includes exclusive video content, too: “Intelligent Investing with Steve Forbes” is a series of one-on-one interviews with its CEO and various financial industry luminaries. There’s even something called “the Daily Steve,” a feature Forbes developed with the “shake function” that uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to generate a random quote from Mr. Forbes himself.
To subsidize it all, Forbes sold a launch sponsorship to the Zurich Financial Services Group, a global insurance company with offices in Europe.