ESPN’s Newest Premium Apps Are For Insiders Only

While other publishers brag about surpassing single-copy sales on the iPad or look for ways to manage subscriptions outside of iTunes, ESPN (NYSE: DIS) is running a different pattern. The Disney sports unit has a number of successful free and one-time purchase apps. But its new ESPN the Magazine iPad app and ESPN Insider iPhone apps, awaiting approval now, are subscription products tied to its premium Insider membership — and designed to be sold through Apple (NSDQ: AAPL).

The download will be free with access to one digital issue of the bi-weekly magazine included. When the user tries to access back issues or to use the app to download a new issue, they’ll see a pop up that asks “Are you an Insider?” Current members can use their ESPN Insider login; others will get an offer to become one at $9.99 for six months. That’s a significant discount from the $6.95 monthly Insider subscription; plans online also sell for $60 for two years or roughly $40 for one year. (Membership is also included in subscriptions to the print magazine. This may encourage more of those subscribers to activate their Insider accounts.)

Gary Hoenig, GM & Editorial Director, ESPN Publishing, explains the strategy. “We don’t see it as a major means to add subs or revenue. We see it as a great way to promote the overall Insider experience.” That’s one reason they’re comfortable with in-app purchases through iTunes, even though it means giving up 30 percent of the take. “To me, the question is not whether people will pay but how. … If you make that easy people will do it; you don