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Are Paid Newspaper Apps Floundering on the iPad’s Opening Weekend?

The iPad as savior of print media is one of its most prominent narratives. So what have we learned from opening weekend? Are people spending money on news again?

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There are a few news stories today, started by Rafat Ali at PaidContent, saying the old media newspaper and magazine apps on the iPad are flailing. Ali says despite the buzz, these apps “are barely present in top paid apps, whether by
number of apps downloaded, or by the gross revenues from their apps.” It’s not that that isn’t true, but it’s certainly not the whole story.

If you take a glance at the best-selling paid and free apps in iTunes, you’ll see why Ali says what he says. Seven of the top ten free iPad apps are news and weather related, with all the biggies represented (New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC). Over in the paid section, there are only two old media apps in the top fifty: Time at number 16, and Popular Science at 22. It begs the question: where are the blockbuster paid iPad newspaper apps we in the media have promised ourselves?

The answer: they’re either not yet in the App Store, or they’re sneakily placed in the free section. The Wall Street Journal app, for example, is not actually free at all–sure, the download is free, but you don’t actually have access to any content unless you sign up for the Journal‘s $18 per month subscription. That’s a paid app, not a free one–and it’s number 9 in the App Store. Of course, the app currently has a 1.5 star rating due to this sneaky tactic, and who knows how many have actually subscribed (many are complaining about the steep price, which is twice that of a normal online subscription). But still: this is not a free app.

The New York Times, on the other hand, actually does have a free app, called NYT Editors’ Choice. It is, as you might guess from the name, a limited-access app. Free, sure, but you can only read a small selection of stories selected daily. In all likelihood, the Grey Lady will put out a paid, all-access subscription app, and it may well cost $20 per month, considering the price of its Kindle subscription (also available on iPad) was just hiked to that figure. Of course, all of the Times‘ content is available for free online (and even its videos work with the iPad), so it’s possible nobody will buy that either–although commenter BrettHogan wrote, “I want each days’ paper on this app, and
I’m willing to pay for it.” So even that guess might be premature.

The iPad only made its way to consumers yesterday, and it’s far too early to be making any kind of statement about “nobody wanting expensive newspaper apps.” There aren’t enough of them to tell, and the evidence (as shown by the WSJ app’s high download rate and even the by all accounts lackluster Time app’s high ranking) doesn’t even suggest that conclusion. Will newspaper subscriptions fail on the iPad? Maybe! But we just don’t know yet.

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About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law

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