Sports Illustrated unveils another digital app subscription plan

February 11, 2011

sports illustratedTime Inc’s Sports Illustrated unveiled the details of another subscription plan for the Samsung Galaxy tablet computer and Android based smartphones — the print version of its  parent Time Warner Inc’s “TV everywhere” idea currently touted by Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes.  Like TV Everywhere, magazines everywhere charges one price for access to content across print and digital platforms.

The SI digital and print subscription plan comes on the heels of  a Time Inc announcement about a similar subscription plan for SI and People for  Hewlett-Packard’s forthcoming tablet device the TouchPad.

“The key to the media business is habituation,” said Time Inc EVP and Chief Digital Officer Randall Rothenberg.

Indeed, the SI digital app subscription plan is available everywhere with one glaring exception: Apple’s iTunes store.

That was the elephant in the room this morning when  Time Inc executives showed off the SI app on various devices. Currently, only single copy editions of SI are available on the iPad and iPhone. It’s a sore point among publishing executives who depend on subscriptions for circulation and more important, advertising revenue.

“We love Apple,” Rothenberg said. “We have a great desire to sell subscriptions in the iTunes store and we’re confident we can sell subscriptions at some point in the iTunes store.”

The sticking point between Apple and media executives is over the control of subscriber data in that Apple wants to control most of it. Publishers are loath to give up subscriber data such as names, addresses and credit cards, which helps them court advertisers and market new product to existing readers.

For now, Time Inc’s plan is to press on with other tablet computers and smartphones despite the wild popularity of Apple’s iPad and iPhone. “One thing we can be confident about,” said Rothenberg, “it doesn’t matter what kind of store you got… but if you have great products in the store.”

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“The sticking point between Apple and media executives is over the control of subscriber data in that Apple wants to control most of it. Publishers are loath to give up subscriber data such as names, addresses and credit cards, which helps them court advertisers and market new product to existing readers.”

Apple’s position distinguishes it from its peers in this regard. This is the threat that Google fears most … yet with the trend toward richer clients where ads make less sense, it is what is likely. The ability to peer into personal lives and infer things that then are sold to the ad community is something Google has built its company around. While I love its search engine core, I personally think that building a company around advert revenue that is threatened so significantly by an alternate approach is so 2000 … it represents a bubble that can burst and threaten even the electronics products Google has successfully introduced to the market. Indeed, Android is probably laced with functionality that enables Google to know where you are and what you do. It is your permanent ip address … AND named context (in that number identifies to who you are, and you essentially stay permanently logged in … if this erodes, Google and its ecosystem members are very hurt.

In general, the trend toward richer client will force a rethink of advert-based business models. It is not that adverts won’t still play a big role in business models, but the idea of having a customer always in the position where opt-out is necessary, it could be we’ll see a consumer-benefitting position where opt-in is the default, and vendors depending upon customer demographics, etc., will have to approach the customer in the old fashioned way … through bona fide value that instills a sense of customer loyalty that leads the consumer to permit the vendor to present new innovations and products.

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