CNN the Latest Media Brand to Sell a Paid App

Last Updated Sep 29, 2009 3:58 PM EDT

It's looking more and more like big media companies are working on making up for past mistakes -- by asking customers to pay fees for apps that access their content via the mobile channel. The latest to fall in line with the thinking du jour is CNN, which just launched an iPhone app of its video news feed, and is charging consumers $1.99 for the privilege. According to a story in Mediaweek, the app also has other features, such as one that lets users easily share content on Facebook and Twitter. KC Estenson, general manager and senior vp of CNN.com claims it will offer more customization than the CNN.com Web site. Maybe that's a way of convincing people that this is one app worth paying for.

CNN's paid app comes only weeks after News Corp. said it would charge users up to $2/week for WSJ Mobile, with the price depending on whether or not they have other subscription relationships with the brand. People magazine charges $1.99 for its Celebrity News Tracker, though most of the big media brands, like USA Today, The New York Times and MSNBC.com offer free apps, at least at the iPhone app store. Interestingly, according to this chart at AppShopper, which its creators say is updated hourly, the CNN app is now the second biggest selling iPhone app, which seems like a pretty good performance just out of the box. It may show that all of the other media companies I mentioned above should look at finding value-added apps that consumers will pay for. As I've said before, since mobile apps are relatively new on the scene, their emergence creates a new opportunity for media companies to rebuild the subscription model in a digital environment, since consumers haven't necessarily been taught, as they have on the Internet, that their mobile content should be free.

As an aside, while I support building a paid model in the mobile space, don't do this: charge $28.99 for a mobile version of the AP Stylebook, which, yes, our counter-intuitive friends at the Associated Press are apparently doing. (Thanks for bringing this to my attention, @MRMWorldwide!) The app is bound to be a hot commodity among those few magazine and newspaper copy editors who still have jobs -- if they can afford it, that is. The paper version, meanwhile, is only $12.98 on Amazon, making this perhaps the first time that someone has charged more than twice as much for a mobile app as for another version of the same service. As another point of comparison, popular e-books for Amazon's Kindle go for $9.99.

Maybe if the AP sold the app at a cheaper price point, it could get some goodwill for its brand and bring better punctuation into the blogosphere -- but I guess that's not the plan.