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Economist VP of Operations on tablets & lessons from the iPad

The Economist
Ahead of the ePublishing Innovation Forum, we caught up with Audra Martin, VP, Customer Engagement and Operations at the Economist, where she is speaking on 'a pricing strategy that suits you and your customers', with the Economist's iPad/iPhone app downloads reaching over 1 million.

What are the main learnings from your iPad launch, and managing the ongoing product development process around it?

There are really five things we keep coming back to:

  • The reason we took our time on releasing the apps was really a focus on creating a compelling experience beyond print/online, not a replication of either of the above.
  • We had a hunch, which was borne out in subsequent research, that the ipad edition hasn't cannibalised online usage - since its launch, web traffic and unique users are up. While there is some overlap in these audiences, they are accessing the Economist in different ways and to different purposes - and there's no doubt that iTunes has opened up new audiences for us - people who had never read it before.
  • The free option for the iPad - five weekly editor highlights, has provided a good introduction to these new readers, and a highly effective way of expanding our readership
  • Pricing structure has to reflect the value your audience is getting. There is lots of pressure to offer products for free or at low price on digital platforms, and lots of people saying that digital must be cheaper than print, but we wanted to show consistency in pricing for what is a premium title - a perspective that is consistent across media.
  • Finally, the ad model for tablets is still in flux - there's still lots of discussion over what works, and how we should be going about it. In short, we're still very much at an experimental stage.

What are your views so far around user experience on tablets vs. the web, and what features are proving particularly popular/effective on the iPad?

The main thing for us was to provide an immersive experience. The principal audience needs we uncovered were the 'lean back' experience on weekends - to keep yourself fully informed, and the 'lean forward' one throughout the week - where discussion and debate come to the fore.

The iPad user experience seemed to fit with the immersive/lean back need - so we tailored it around the detailed approach of the weekly edition, added functionality so that you can also read it offline, and listen to the audio edition.

In terms of what is going to provide a good UX on tablet devices - I would say something unique, fulfilling a real audience need. And something which strikes a balance between innovation (ie - not simply replicating the experience of other media/platforms) and functionality (taking into account download times, offline access etc.)

There is also a Kindle edition of the Economist - what role do you see this playing and how effective is the magazine on the eReader?

We launched the Kindle edition a couple of years ago - it's very popular with the segment of our audience who swear by that device.

Obviously, it's not in colour, so even if not the optimal rendering of magazine, you can see where it still provides an excellent reading experience - especially for longform sections such as our special reports.

Overall, you can see why people love the Kindle, which by the way, has a seamless purchasing & download process, and we need to be there for our readers wherever they are.

How far do you think it's possible for publishers to diversify out from purely advertising?

As a company, we've never been about purely about ads or subscriptions - we've always tried to strike a good balance.

As for charging on the web - we're always looking for opportunities, but the real question you have to ask is - is it a good balance with other revenue streams you have? And how are you providing a compelling experience in order to do this?

I'm of the belief that you charge for functionality and user experience, or convenience, as I believe we've done with our iPad and iPhone apps.

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