Digital-Media Roulette: Who's Hit the Jackpot, and Who's Hit the Double Zeroes

Last Updated May 23, 2011 4:12 PM EDT

It has been more than a year since the Apple (APPL) iPad changed the publishing landscape, and media companies are still struggling to balance their print, web, and tablet audiences -- some more than others. Here are the guys who are headed in the right direction and those that clearly are lost right now.

First, the leaders:

The New Yorker: This month the magazine finally updated its iPad app to accept subscriptions. The result is a smart financial plan: Subscribe to the digital version for $59, $10 less than the $69 print subscription. Either will also let you browse any article archived on its website.

The most exciting part about The New Yorker app is the foundation it has created. When using the app, it genuinely feels like it could be the replacement to the print edition. It's no surprise CrunchGear called The New Yorker app "the Beginning of the End of Print".

People Magazine: Here's a simple idea: Get print consumers used to the iPad app by initially giving it away for free. As early as last August Time Inc. gave People readers the offer. As BNET's Catherine P. Taylor said at the time, "...the iPad isn't just about new relationships; it's about extending them in new ways." Time Inc. is now in the position to ween readers off the print publication and start charging for the digital version.

And now, the confused:

Playboy: Last week founder Hugh Hefner hyped up that every issue in the men's magazine's six-decade history would be available digitally. The problem? It would cost users $60/year to access it. Keep in mind, a print subscription is about $30/year, or half the digital subscription. Playboy can barely get its print subscribers to pay for porn, with its average circulation dropping 30% from 2,257,123 to 1,575,255 in 2010. Worse, conservative Apple won't let a Playboy app with nudity in its store, so readers will be looking at centerfolds through their iPad web browser - requiring continuous Internet access.

The New York Times: The Gray Lady launched its digital paywall system in March, limiting the amount of free articles readers could access. Within hours, readers easily found a way to bypass it. According to BNET's Erik Sherman, the Times spent 18 months coming up with its digital paywall plan.

The Times has managed to get 100,000 paywall subscribers - not a bad showing - but that's not enough to keep it afloat: As of April, profits were down 58%. Instead of paywalls, perhaps the Times can find other ways to make money.

Photo courtesy of ComputerGuy - Wikipedia User // CC 2.0
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