NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sports Illustrated's app version of its print edition will run not only on tablet computers like the Apple iPad but within web browsers as well, Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonell told Google's developer conference on Wednesday.
Planning a web-based app pushes magazines' aspirations to sell digital content into even closer conflict with competition from free websites. But it also signals one way magazines might escape the demands that Apple makes on anyone who sells through its app store. Mr. McDonell described the browser version of the app during a broader presentation from Google, which was announcing a new online app store. Both are expected to appear this fall.
Although Sports Illustrated has always said the app it first described last December would appear on every platform possible, the magazine industry has been focusing on app editions for tablets largely because the iPhone app store proved that consumers will pay for digital content that's packaged as an app for a mobile device. A paid iPad edition of Women's Health arrived at the app store this week, following Vanity Fair last week and Time, GQ, Popular Science and others before that.
It's still too early to tell, however, how many iPad owners will spend money on magazine apps when the iPad's web browser can also summon oceans of free content. Conde Nast said this week that GQ app editions of the issues from December through May have combined to sell more than 57,000 copies on the iPad and iPhone. Each issue of GQ's print edition, by comparison, averages more than 192,000 in newsstand sales and 680,000 subscribers, according to its most recent report with the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Getting consumers to pay for digital content that lives in a web browser, so close to endless free competition from magazines' own websites and countless others, may prove even harder. Selling meaningful numbers of browser-based digital editions might require magazines to cut back on the print content they make available free on their websites.
Right now Sports Illustrated posts each print edition's content to its free archives site, The Vault, during the week each issue is on newsstands. But it is examining the implications of that strategy, given the new ambitions for selling digital content, so that could change in the future.