Almost one year after Apple introduced the iPad and sparked a frenzy of app development from most major magazine companies, Meredith Corp. is introducing its first iPad editions, for Better Homes and Gardens, Parents and Fitness.
The new app editions join similar efforts previously introduced by Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Rodale, Bonnier and other publishers, but Meredith's huge footprint among consumers might help advance magazines on the iPad a little bit further. The company publishes some of the country's biggest monthlies, including Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal and, its largest, Better Homes and Gardens, which guarantees paid and verified circulation of 7.6 million copies. Better Homes has higher print sales than any other magazine for sale on the iPad.
But the move also represents Meredith's belief that the mainstream women who make up most of its audience are becoming significant consumers on the iPad -- something that may have been less true last year, when Meredith was focusing on building new mobile web sites and biding its time on apps.
"We felt the foundation was mobilizing our web sites because we were increasingly seeing data that showed people accessing our sites from their mobile phones and they weren't having an optimal experience," said Lauren Wiener, senior VP at the Meredith Women's Network.
It was logical for Conde Nast's Wired magazine to introduce an iPad edition as soon as last summer, said Liz Schimel, exec VP for consumer relationship management and digital media at Meredith's National Media Group. "That was the early adopter universe, whereas our consumer is coming in as more of a mass market play. But I think that's the tipping point I think we're at here."
Meredith is not, at least initially, participating in Apple's iPad subscription plan, which sends 30% of circulation revenue to Apple and keeps subscriber information from publishers unless subscribers specify otherwise. That will limit its apps' traction among consumers, who have previously shown a reluctance to buy iPad editions month after month without the discount provided by subscriptions.
The apps are selling for close to their print cover prices. The Parents and Fitness iPad editions cost $2.99 per issue while the Better Homes and Gardens app is $3.99.
Ads in the Better Homes, Parents and Fitness iPad editions take the form of exclusive section sponsorships for marketers such as Honda, M&M Mars and Kimberly-Clark, which is promoting its Pull-Ups in the Parents app. "The Pull-Ups brand is all about mom and child engagement," said Pete Sawin, Pull-Ups brand director, in an email. "We were able to bring this to life via a coloring page."
Advertisers aren't looking at these apps as big-reach plays the way these magazines' print editions can be, according to Ms. Wiener. "They're looking at it as an R&D opportunity," she said, "to learn how women are interacting with the tablet and also to learn best practices for their creative."
Interactive features in the new iPad editions include a "parents playroom" in the Parents app that lets readers browse toys, DVDs and child-focused crafting and cooking videos; workout videos and recipes in the Fitness app; and animated before-and-after floor plans and links enabling product purchases in the Better Homes app.
"In Better Homes we have these lush, beautiful garden images," Ms. Schimel said. "There's information you can click for about every plant embedded in the photos themselves. You can then do a whole garden planner within the app. And if you want to buy the plants you can actually buy them at a Better Homes garden store."
Next Meredith plans to introduce Android editions of its Better Homes, Parents and Fitness apps. "Our strategy is to look at each brand and follow the consumer," Ms. Wiener said. "We have seen to date much heavier adoption on the Apple devices than Android. Most recently we have seen a pickup on Android so we're going to follow them on those devices. As we see the consumer migrate and create opportunities on different platforms, we'll go there as well."
All that said, Meredith believes that mobile sites will continue to reach more consumers than app editions for the near future. "Are digital editions going to be a mass-reach play in the next year?" Ms. Wiener said. "No. However we do believe that the products women access from tablets will have significant reach. For some of our sites as much as 10% of our page views come from mobile devices. And that's up from zero."