Why we’re going free with the Encore iPad app

So three months ago, we made something of a leap when we launched an iPad edition of Mumbrella’s sister title Encore magazine.

Today we’re making another leap – we’re making it free. You can find it on the App Store here.

At the time, I promised to share what we learned along the way – and our numbers, no matter “how embarrassingly small”. And I’ll do that in a moment.

A lot has happened since then, and we’ve learned a lot.

For starters, I’m still in love with the iPad as a means of delivering a magazine.

When you’re writing about visual content such as ads, it makes a huge difference to be able to play them right there. And the experience of reading longer pieces beats doing it on your average website.

I’ve also found myself in various conversations – including at the Oomph-curated tablet session at Mumbrella360 and in private – about whether free or paid is the way to go. As you’ll see from the video of the Oomph chat, I was arguing (admittedly slightly as devil’s advocate) for paid little more than a month ago.

Before beginning this exercise, I leaned towards the view of many publishers that this was their last chance to put the digital genie back in the bottle and get people to pay for content after ten years of training them to expect it for free online.

So how have we done since we launched the app?

(Bear in mind that the numbers that follow are unaudited – the Circulations Audit Board which audits Encore and Mumbrella has not yet introduced a tablet reporting standard, although I think it’s on the way.)

In April, 147 people paid; in May, it was 61. The drop, wasn’t a surprise though – we made more noise when we launched it. In June, it rose again to 104. So just over 300 sales made.

Along with print subscribers who are also entitled to free access to the app, we’ve so far delivered 513 issue downloads.

Which on the face of it might be something to feel a little downhearted about. We’re really proud of the Encore app. People love it when we show it to them. Of the few reviews it’s had on the iPad store, it’s been mostly five stars. And yet, we only persuaded 300 or so people to click on the buy button.

But here’s the stat that encourages me – reading the Encore app is a two stage process. First you download the Oomph viewer from the store for free, then you download the individual edition.

But… despite the fact that we were always very clear on the price structure, more than ten times as many people downloaded the free viewer as then went on and made a purchase.

A total of 4620 people have downloaded the viewing app. Which suggests there is an audience – once they get to see it.

It then becomes a publishing decision – if we switch our strategy to building an engaged industry audience, and then helping advertisers to speak to that audience – in other words the same strategy as Mumbrella – how many ads do we need to sell before we’re ahead of the paid content model?

So far, I reckon our paid subs revenue from the iPad app is less than $2000. So the answer is one ad.

So that’s the rational reason.

But there are two more reasons.

First, the selfish, journalistic reason. I really believe in Encore. It’s good. I, and the whole team are really proud of it. We’re proud of the print edition, and we’re blown away by the iPad edition. At various points over each publishing month, I still find myself opening it up and playing with it – despite the fact that I know pretty much every word in the edition. So I want as many people as possible to see it.

The latest edition – which I hope you’ll look at – is a case in point. Appropriately enough, it’s the money issue.

Stuff you’ll see in it:

  • Our feature on pay in the media and entertainment industries;
  • Our nine columnists covering TV, games, magazines, online, radio, print journalism, advertising, content and film. That includes Andrew Mercado on the finances of TV drama; Guy Gadney on the business of virtual goods within games; Paul Merrill on chequebook journalism in magland; Jason ‘Jabba’ Davis on radio giveaways; Robin Hicks on million dollar ad budgets; Cathie McGinn on piracy and Game Of Thrones and film maker Enzo Tedeschi on movie marketing;
  • Our guide to the bosses of Australia’s major seven screen funding bodies;
  • Chats with John Laws, Shaun Micallef, Omnilab boss Chris Mapp and publicist Max Markson;
  • The making of the new Herringbone ad
  • Initiative’s Ashley Brown singing the praises of Spotify
  • An examination of piracy in the Australian content industry;
  • Robin Hicks’ exploration of what the Cannes Lions results say about the Aussie ad industry;
  • Our debate on when to work for free;
  • Behind the scenes at one of the biggest ever Australian web productions;
  • We ask whether the Nikon D800 will be a Canon 5D challenger; and review an iPhone tripod;
  • We talk spreadsheets with BRW editor Kate Mills;
  • A comprehensive guide to Australian TV shows and films currently in production;
  • McCann’s John Mescall and Banjo’s Dav Tabeshfar review the best and worst of the current crop of insurance ads

The second reason is that this is one of our punts on the future.

As you may have noticed, we shoot a lot of video content for Mumbrella. I reckon we lose money on that – but it’s fun to do, it gives us a point of difference and it gives us access to interesting people. (Like Ita Buttrose this week for instance. I’m glad she’s excited about iPad editions too.) And I reckon video will pay off for us one day.

I’d put the Encore iPad app in that same category as the reasons we do video. There will come a time when magazines are not in print – we’re not there yet, but that time is coming fast. In our little niche of the media, marketing and entertainment world, I’d rather have my plan B in place when that moment comes. In fact, by that point, I’d rather it was Plan A. Clearly we’ll have to get to grips with non iPad tablets soon too.

So we’re going now, and we’re going hard.

I hope you tell us what you think of the Encore iPad app. And now it won’t cost you a cent to do so.

Here’s a link to the App Store.

Tim Burrowes, editor-in-chief – Mumbrella and Encore


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