The Spectator Launches Pay-As-You-Go iPhone Subscription App

Just as it’s shutting its website online magazine archive behind a paywall, political magazine The Spectator is also launching a paid-for iPhone app with a difference – it, too, is based on a subscription.

The app, made by digital-edition magazine vendor Exact Editions (EE), costs £0.59. That price includes one week’s access to the current edition of the magazine in a miniaturised, page-turning, iPhone version of the real thing. But that’s not one-off payment – the payment must be renewed again and again for £0.59 a week. A month’s subscription is £2.39 and both options include access to five years of Spectator back issues.

That price is quite a discount on The Spectator’s £135-a-year print edition and the £67.50 EE-run online, page-turning version. When you’ve taken off Apple’s 30 percent revenue cut, there isn’t a lot of money left for the magazine’s owner Press Holdings.

EE co-founder Adam Hodgkins told me: “We have a pretty scalable model and I expect you will see some more magazines come that process soon.” EE has also launched an iPhone app for Athletics Weekly magazine and Hodgkin says several more UK and US magazines apps are going through Apple’s app approval process right now — the Spectator app took three months to approve. EE runs the Exactly iPhone app which provides free and paid iPhone subscriptions for a range of its digital edition clients. Hodgkin says it would be easy to create BlackBerry or Android apps, but the market for both platforms is not mature enough to merit launches right now.

“The crisis in the magazine and newspapers industry is really about how advertising is not around in the medium term future,” he says. “So publishers are thinking of moving to a subscription based model and I think that’s what they should do with the iPhone.” He adds that the EE apps users can tap any phone number printed in the mag to call it, which could be attractive to classified advertisers.

Our research on attitudes to paid content last week found that punters are more keen on subscriptions than per article fees, but we also found that the preferred pricepoint was “less than £10 a year” so the annual £28.68 iPhone fee might be a little too high for some, though it is cleverly split into weekly payments.

Digital, online replica editions of magazines designed for desktop PC viewing haven’t taken off in the way that publishers and vendors have hoped. But the craze for downloading mobile apps offers a whole new opportunity and — if more publishers can compete with low prices like this — there’s no reason it can’t grow to be genuinely important platform. Whether porting print content to another medium makes any real money, for anyone, is another matter entirely…