Magazine Publishers Continue iPad App Craze

Hearst to open live “App Lab” think-tank; Time Inc. rolls out free People app

Magazine publishers continue to treat the iPad as the Second Coming, and two of the biggest made pointed moves this week to cement that notion.

One, Hearst, is planning to open an “App Lab” at its glassy New York headquarters next month.

The idea, according to PaidContent’s David Kaplan, is that the lab “will serve as a ‘think tank’ for marketers and ad agency staffers to help jump start some collaborations.” And early next year, the space “will be opened up to consumers as a showcase for Hearst’s iPhone, iPad and tablet products.” Sort of a mini-showroom for its glossy apps, such as the one for Popular Mechanics, which according to Hearst, is its most popular. (Launched in July, the $1.99 app has already been downloaded more than 40,000 times.)

A few blocks up at Time Inc., the mega-publisher rolled out the iPad app for People magazine. And in a twist with potentially big implications for the magazine iPad business, Time Inc. is offering the app for free to print subscribers, and plans to roll out free apps for Time, Sports Illustrated and Fortune, too. (Currently, iPad versions of those magazines are priced the same as print – even for subscribers — a common tact for most publishers putting out iPad versions.)

The official line from a Time Inc. spokesperson is that the company “is looking at various subscription opportunities for all of our titles,” but even Fortune thinks People’s pricing is going to be the blueprint going forward.

To get People’s app out, Time Inc. had to thread the legal needle with the paparazzi and other photo agencies, which apparently weren’t too keen on People putting photos on a new platform without getting paid. (Time Inc. insisted that the launch delay had nothing to do with a paparazzi dispute.)

With that out of the way, expect more publishers to follow in Time Inc.’s quasi-“Magazines Everywhere” approach.