Oprah Releases Mag App For The iPad; Ad Placements Are Limited And Premium

Oprah’s still got her TV show and the upcoming debut of her Discovery TV network next year. But what she hasn’t had is an iPad app dedicated to her Hearst-published monthly, O, The Oprah Magazine — until now. While it may get overshadowed by this morning’s expected news that The Beatles’ music will finally be sold on iTunes, Oprah is one of the few contemporary celebrities who can probably command a good deal of attention even in the face of the media storm descending on Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) today.

This latest Hearst iPad app release is part of the publisher’s wider app rollout. Currently, Hearst Magazines working on rolling out 22 apps. It currently has all 14 of its mag titles, including Esquire, Cosmopolitan</em> and Seventeen available as paid digital replicas through the Zinio online storefront on the iPad since the Apple device was released in April.

“We wanted to capture Oprah’s personality in a different way, since the iPad is different from the magazine and the TV show,” said editor Susan Casey. “There is no need to repurpose or do the exact same thing over and over again.”

With that in mind, the individual titles have been fairly free to experiment with the app format. The Oprah mag app sells for $3.99 per issue download — slightly cheaper than print version’s newsstand price. While it contains a lot of the usual bells and whistles associated with iPad mag apps — there are three videos, all featuring Oprah — this app has aimed to be a little more web-like in terms of its social sharing features than a number of other magazine releases.

Things are particularly interesting on the marketing end. While a lot of apps aim to place every single print add in the digital version, only two ads have made it into the Oprah mag app: Disney (NYSE: DIS), which is making its first advertising appearance in an app with this placement, and Lexus. The next app issue might have three, but Oprah mag execs want to keep the apps’ ad space premium and uncluttered, said Michelle Shih, director of digital editions and lifestyle, in a demo of the mag app last week at Hearst Tower.

That largely ad-free environment makes it easier to pick up on the promotional features that are part of the mag app’s content. There’s a “12-Day Holiday Give-O-Way” sweepstakes, which app users can enter each day for nearly two weeks (it’s also available in print and online, but there’s a little more work involved) and a holiday gift guide that has 70 items to choose from. The items all come with three choices: users can pick “favorite” and save it for later, or they can hit a “share” button, and lastly they can simply click “buy.”

There’s also an interactive bookstore where readers can peruse first chapters and buy e-books within the app. However to read it, you have to go outside the app’s digital walls, since it didn’t make sense to keep book purchases within the app’s virtual shelf.

For now at least, the Oprah team is just going to concentrate on the iPad app, along with versions for other tablets later on. But don’t expect a version for the iPhone any time soon, as editors and execs feel the magazine experience on that screen is just too constrained.

I asked Casey if the new app will greatly influence the production of the magazine. “In some ways, it will, since we’ll be making video and behind the scenes of every photo shoot we do from here on in,” she said. “But in other ways, I don’t think so. The print and digital versions are related in very obvious ways. But in meetings, we’re not just coming up with ideas for what can we do that will work for the magazine and the app equally. Many of us are coming up with ideas just for the app, because we can go much deeper there. That’s really the point.”