Time Inc. likes to show off its iPad apps as a symbol of the company's future. But inside the publisher, the digital editions have become a source of hair-pulling frustration.
That's because the magazine giant has been unable to get Apple to let it sell and manage subscriptions for its iPad apps--much to Time Inc.'s surprise.
Last month, the publisher was set to launch a subscription version of its Sports Illustrated iPad app, where consumers would download the magazines via Apple's iTunes but would pay Time Inc. directly. But Apple rejected the app at the last minute, forcing the Time Warner unit to sell single copies, using iTunes as a middleman, multiple sources tell me.
Since then, Time Inc. executives "have been going nuts," trying to figure out how to get Apple to approve a subscription plan. One of the more desperate suggestions, which apparently didn't get traction: pulling the publisher's apps out of the iTunes store altogether.
Subscriptions, whether they're for ink-and-paper magazines or their digital editions, are a big deal for Time Inc. and every other magazine publisher. They value them in part because they provide recurring revenue, but primarily because they provide a treasure trove of data.
The ability to control digital subscriptions also gives publishers the ability to make their existing print subscriptions more valuable, by bundling the two together. Imagine a scenario where existing Time or Sports Illustrated subs get the digital version free, or at a very steep discount.
No other magazine publisher has approval to sell their own iTunes app subscriptions, either. But Apple and Steve Jobs had made a point of reaching out to Time Inc. executives and editors before the iPad's launch, and encouraged them to build digital editions for the platform. … Read more