Huffington iPad mag stops charging, renewing concern about readers’ willingness to pay

Capital New York | GigaOM
The Huffington Post’s new weekly iPad magazine — originally priced at 99 cents / $1.99 a month / $19.99 a year — is dropping its price to zero after five issues, Joe Pompeo reports. AOL claims about 115,000 downloads of the app, Pompeo writes, but it wasn’t clear how many of those ever paid for an issue (the first month came free).

The moves comes shortly after The Daily, News Corp.’s iPad-only newsmagazine, laid off 50 staffers and scaled back content.

Mathew Ingram’s analysis is that single-source apps “don’t fit the way content works anymore”:

Whether media companies like it or not (and they mostly don’t), much of the news and other content we consume now comes via links shared through Twitter and Facebook and other networks, or through old-fashioned aggregators — such as Yahoo News or Google News — and newer ones like Flipboard and Zite and Prismatic that are tailored to mobile devices and a socially-driven news experience. Compared to that kind of model, a dedicated app from a magazine or a newspaper looks much less interesting, since by design it contains content from only a single outlet, and it usually doesn’t contain helpful things like links.

I’m not sure that’s the biggest problem. The New York Times recently disclosed that 20 percent of its readers use aggregation apps like Flipboard, which it partnered with. Pew research says 36 percent of U.S. adults get news “very often” directly from a news organization’s website or app, while only 29 percent do so through an aggregating website or app. Multiple-source aggregators seem an important part of today’s diverse content economy, but not to the exclusion of single-source apps.

The renewed question of what readers are willing to pay for, though, seems to be the bigger issue. We know that tablets are extremely useful for news distribution – 84 percent of iPad owners use them to keep up with news. But only 39 percent of tablet users have paid for a digital magazine issue or subscription, and only 15 percent have paid for a digital newspaper subscription. So for now, The Huffington Post and others see a free product supported by ads as the best way to proceed.

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