iPad app pricing: You’re not fooling consumers

As I mentioned in one of my comments on my previous post about iPad app pricing, the gap between the value assigned by publishers and the value perceived by consumers was one of the big issues in terms of paid content.

Now, we’ve evidence of this. Mediaweek is reporting that “Mags Get Pushback on Per Issue Price on iPad“. They quote this comment on Time magazine’s app.

As one customer of Time magazine’s app ($4.99 single issue) wrote, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re … passing the savings on distribution and raw materials to themselves. I can get 56 issues of the paper version for $20. How am I supposed to feel about this?”

Some consumers also misunderstood the pricing, thinking that the per issues pricing was actually a subscription. They also quoted an unhappy, although not antagonistic, comment from a Popular Science customer, who wanted to be ‘help’ and buy the iPad edition but couldn’t bring himself to pay the $4.99 per issue price. Sara Öhrvall, director of research & development at Bonnier Corp., publisher of Pop Sci, put a brave face on it saying that they were working to prove the worth of the per issue price. She said:

We have to do a lot of work to recreate the magazine for the iPad.

However, that’s the problem. Rather than recreating the magazine for the iPad, why not think about the iPad how it changes what you can offer. This has been the problem when it comes to digital content. Most content creators think of recreating a legacy experience instead of creating a new experience. We have digital audiences now. They are natively digital. They don’t want a magazine experience on an iPad. They want a premium digital experience delivered on their device.

That they might pay for, although it’s doubtful that they will pay more than you’re charging them for a print experience. You’ve got a long way to go to prove that to consumers.

5 thoughts on “iPad app pricing: You’re not fooling consumers

  1. The first companies in are necessarily going to get a lot of surprises, both good and bad, and it’ll take a while for both buyers and sellers to settle on appropriate conventions. But we wouldn’t want to stop Time and Popular Science doing this, after all, all of us here applaud experimentation and innovation. (Meanwhile Apple will continue to make 30% on each transaction; discuss.)

    To be fair to the magazine publishers they can’t allow a new platform to add unduly to their production costs, even though they need to demonstrate value to users of using that platform. And to be fair to Popular Science, they’ve done something really, really interesting with their publication, particularly compared to Time, as

    demonstrates. I think they have thought how the iPad changes what they offer. Maybe you could think of something even better. But could you think of something better which is also cost effective to run? I don’t think I could.

  2. Nik,

    But could you think of something better which is also cost effective to run?

    In my previous post, I addressed some of this. NPR looked at the possible market opportunity by trying to assess how much of their audience were looking to buy an iPad. They then built an app that was innovative, but they also used it as an opportunity to develop improvements to their website. Building only for the iPad is folly. Unless you’re dealing with specialist content focused on design that would benefit by doing something quite special for the iPad, it would be sensible to keep development prices low.

    I will cede that companies probably didn’t have much time to develop the truly innovative applications with HTML5 and the iPad. We’ll see more as HTML5 becomes the standard across all web browsers and we have frameworks for Canvas Javascript development.

    However, much of this is around pricing, which consumers see right through. Why are some publishers pricing issues more than a print and web subscription? This isn’t an issue of innovative development but rather of taking the piss pricing.

    Could I think of something better which is also cost effective to run? Yes, if given the chance. The industry looks to the past. I’m looking to the future.

  3. Kevin,

    You said:

    “They don’t want a magazine experience on an iPad. They want a premium digital experience delivered on their device. ”

    What do you base this on?

    I work for one of the big publishers who have made a magazine/newspaper style app (with some digital goodness blended in). We’re doing this because we researched our users and asked them what they want – rather than guessing – and because the device is new, which meant that we had little evidence of real life usage to guide us.

    The research told us that they wanted a magazine/newspaper style, albeit with digital stuff (like video, graphics etc) built in. That’s what we’ve built.

    Once we know how users actually interact with the iPad we’ll tweak it. I agree that the magazine-esque approach seems like a step back, but some of the apps I’ve seen show a clever mix of magazine form with digital function, just as Nik points out above.

    It’s easy to sit in your digital ivory tower and criticise, but you ignore that many publishers ARE researching and testing – not assuming – what users want. And many of those users are saying “great gadget, give me the look and feel I’m used to with all that multimedia stuff thrown in to the mix.

  4. Jingo,

    First off, when you asked your users, did you primarily ask readers of your print product or did you have a mix of print users and web users? Did they say they wanted a magazine or newspaper site experience or print experience? Did you ask them? I’m not trying to be provocative. I’m actually curious.

    To all of this I’d quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

    The industry can’t think past print, and you’re expecting market research to point the direction past print? You’re expecting market research to deliver innovation? Look at how people behave now digitally, and you’ll get a lot more insight than asking them what they want on a product they’ve never seen. Watch how people interact with the iPhone and iPod’s gestural interface, especially when they are playing a game. How does that change the way people interact with content?

    I haven’t seen much clever from the apps yet. I don’t consider some of the video interstitials clever. Actually, I consider them expensive in terms of production and expensive in terms of my time as a user. They are linear thinking about content. I’ve seen a lot of print designers when they enter the digital space conflate design with functionality and usability. Clay Shirky recently came to the Guardian to work and he spoke of a discussion at a major newspaper that centered on the colours of the pager without knowing much about the user journey on their site. Were they coming to the network front or being immediately directed deep into the site by emailed links or search? (This was almost 10 years ago so the sharing that we’re seeing a lot of didn’t exist.)

    Actually, a lot of the iPad design feels like a step back to me. I’m almost ready to concede Cory Doctorow’s point that this feels like the second coming of the CD-ROM. Is it really all that ground-breaking to ‘flip’ a page with a finger stroke? Is it the best way to navigate content a device on which gestures are easier than text input? I don’t think so. It’s the latest example of the industry being stuck in the paradigms of the past and unable or unwilling to approach a new device or medium and think of how it’s different. Rather, they see it as an opportunity to bring a print experience to digital, something I’ve heard over and over and over.

    Lastly, ‘sit in your digital ivory tower and criticise’? Who would that be then? Me? Up until a week ago, I was the Digital Research Editor at The Guardian. (Nik was actually a colleague.) Before that, I was blogs editor at the Guardian. I came to the Guardian after 8 years at the BBC both as a digital journalist and as someone who was involved in content innovation. At the Guardian as Digital Research Editor, I was responsible for testing social media and third-party digital services to see whether they were worth developing. I looked at user behaviour external to The Guardian. I looked at response rates across a range of metrics, including page views, referrals by sharing services and social networks like Twitter. I was one of the large group of people who took voluntary redundancy (a buyout) because I wanted to pursue other opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities out there if you’re willing to live in the present instead of wistfully trying to reproduce the past. That person in the ivory tower must be someone else.

    The big question I have is that when users say, give me a look, are they willing to pay more than a print subscription or in some cases more than a print and web subscription for the privilege? I doubt it.

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