Hearst’s Carey: We Will Have One Million Paying Digital Subscribers In 2012

On the heels of the Economist claiming one million monthly mobile readers of its magazine across Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Android devices, another magazine publisher is gearing up to join the seven-figure club: Hearst says it is on track to reach one million paying subscribers to its digital editions in 2012, fuelled by the rise in people paying for content on tablets.

The prediction was delivered by David Carey, president of Hearst, during the Reuters (NYSE: TRI) Global Media Summit today. Currently, Hearst has close to 400,000 digital subscribers covering its portfolio of magazines, which include Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar and O. The number of subscribers is growing at a rate of 10-15 percent every month, Carey added.

He did not break out, however, how well individual titles are doing, or how those subscriptions break down by region: Hearst publishes in multiple countries, including the U.S. and UK.

While some publishers like the FT are investing now in developing web-based apps for their content, Hearst has chosen to take the native app route, and offers paid subscriptions for the iPad, the Kindle Fire and the Nook. While its editions keep a lot of the look of the printed magazines, the apps, which are made by Pixel Mags, also incorporate some of the bells and whistles you get with digital apps, such as video and interactive elements.

The prices Hearst charges for apps are separate to those it charges for print subscriptions — something that has raised the ire of at least some print subscribers, judging by the comments from app reviewers in the iTunes store. The apps are free to download and then users can buy either single editions or longer subscriptions using in-app purchasing options.

Subscriptions, however, will not be the only revenue stream Hearst is developing for these apps: there is also advertising, which could become more targeted to specific readers over time: Carey today also noted that on the iPad, some 60-65 percent of subscribers have opted in to share personal data such as location with the publisher.

Hearst may be one of the first big publishers to come out with a million-subscriber prediction for its magazine app portfolio, but it probably won’t be the only one reaching that tipping point: in September Conde Nast said it already had 500,000 subscribers to its apps, at a time when Hearst was only reporting 300,000. Their number will likely be growing, too.