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The iPad has been a hit with newspaper and magazine publishers because its 9.7-inch screen gives apps room to play with layout. At a recent industry conference, a digital strategist for the Gannett newspaper chain worried that the coming wave of 7-inch tablets might hurt that investment by shrinking one key component that makes those apps profitable: ads.

“People will pay for content on mobile platforms,” Gannett Digital Ventures’ Craig McKennis told gathered newspaper and e-reading professionals at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers 3rd International E-Reading & Tablet Conference in Hamburg.

Gannett has had great success selling newspaper subscriptions to small-screen Kindle e-readers, according to McKennis, making up for the dearth of ad opportunities on that platform. But app stores on tablets so far generally haven’t allowed for subscription purchases, leading publishers to offer either individual issues at print newsstand  for sale as stand-alone apps or inexpensive apps backed by advertising. This is due to a sort of stand-off between publishers and Apple over access to subscriber details and, to a lesser extent, the subscription fee split, for periodicals and dailies that would be sold through the iTunes store.

On the iPad, Gannett’s leading and most profitable app is USA Today, a launch-day partner with Apple which has attracted strong advertising sales based on more than 900,000 free downloads. USA Today’s success in fact prompted Gannet to reverse its decision to go to a pay model July 4 and is still free to readers.

Smaller screens diminish ad visibility by definition and therefore the appeal of in-app advertising. To preserve ad visibility, new form factors would require either an entirely new app design or a retreat to apps designed for mobile phones or a version of the subscription delivery used for Kindles. (USA Today currently offers an app for iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones, but not Android tablets.)

Concerns by newspaper publishers that smaller tablets might not be good for their digital business model are probably not enough to influence tablet-makers’ designs — after all, these devices are supposed to be much more than e-readers, and portability is arguably as important as function.

But if “smaller” ads could also be a tougher sell for a wider variety of applications — not just media apps — and this could influence market leader Apple’s decision on a 7-inch iPad or Google’s thinking on whether or not to fully support tablet access to the Android Marketplace.

Conference Looked to Make E-Reading, Tablets Work for News Media [Editor & Publisher]

Image via USAToday.com


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