6:06 pm Jun. 12, 2012
The Huffington Post's new iPad publication will hit the Apple Store for the first time on Thursday.
The weekly tablet magazine, called Huffington. (Ed. note: yes, with a period at the end, though this is the last time we will do that) will be free for the first month and will cost 99 cents an issue, $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year after that. Users can get an additional free month if they provide the magazine with their zip codes and email addresses.
"We thought long and hard about it, and in our view, we felt that this is a highly stylized, curated experience," said Huffington Post executive editor Tim O'Brien, who gave several reporters a preview on Tuesday afternoon. "We feel it's a premium product and it deserves to carry a price with it in order to access all the value we're giving people."
Indeed, Huffington, which O'Brien started working on last fall, seems to have shaped up into a much more elaborate product than what was described when news of the venture first leaked out earlier this year.
Originally billed as a free app that would repurpose stories from huffingtonpost.com, the Huffington concept appears to have evolved into a slick digital title with exclusively-conceived content.
Interest and development picked up steam in April when Huffington's architects first met with Apple, which takes a 30-percent cut of publications' digital newsstand sales but offers them a valuable marketing opportunity.
"I think we've got a lot to gain by partnering with Apple, and that was worth the price tag to us," said O'Brien.
Thursday's inaugural edition is a preview issue and therefore includes some content that originally appeared on the website. The first official issue of Huffington, which will come out every Friday but carry a Sunday dateline, will be the following week's installment, with columns by Lisa Belkin and Howard Fineman and features by Mike Hogan and Peter Goodman, who wrote a cover story about Obama and the youth vote. Each story will get a URL so it can be shared online individually.
The magazine has a full-time in-house staff of two dozen, including designers who've done time at Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune and Men's Health, and editors who previously worked for Huffington Post proper, including John Montorio, Katy Hall and Danny Shea. O'Brien will be heavily involved in the editorial side; Josh Klenert is the creative director, a title he also once held at Billboard.
O'Brien called Huffington "a nice, long meal that you can sit with and digest over the course of the weekend."
And in most respects it appears to follow many print-media conventions: There's a front-of-book section with "appetizer"-length content such as columns from prominent Huffington Post contributors; a feature well, with two or three multi-thousand-word articles by Huffington Post reporters, as the main course; and a back-of-book culture-reviews section for "dessert." The bells and whistles are pretty standard tablet fare: embedabble video, live commenting, interactive graphics, sharing capabilities and out-bound links. There will also be a weekly photo essay.
"Certainly from the beginning we wanted to do something that felt like a print magazine," said Klenert. "We've started smart, small and nimble and we'll grow from there."
"A weekly felt a nice compromise to the frenetic rush of a daily and the detachment of a monthly, so we could be on the news but not necessarily just of the news," said O'Brien. "We felt this was a nice counterpart to the web experience we offer readers."
It will also, of course, be a nice counterpart to the web experience The Huffington Post offers advertisers. If the many verticals of huffingtonpost.com are a cacophony of splash headlines and blog posts, Huffington will instead offer a "display-ad rich environment," as O'Brien put it. (Toyota is the launch sponsor.)
"We see this as a rich, Conde Nast-like experience," he said. "We're aiming for advertisers who want to put their goods and services in front of a discerning and highly intelligent audience that's going to be engaging at length with the content in the magazine and the ads. Blue-chip advertisers are right in our wheelhouse."
O'Brien declined to specify a goal for downloads, but said: "We're very optimistic about how our audience is going to respond to this."
The launch comes at a time of expansion for The Huffington Post, which is starting up new verticals and global titles left and right. This expansion may eventually extend to additional tablet-magazine titles, O'Brien said.
"We have talked about having a stable of apps, a stable of magazines," he said. "That's something we're gonna be aggressive about."
Toward the end of the presentation, O'Brien was asked how Huffington would stand out from the usual rotation of newsweeklies.
"I think for a newsweekly to have traction, it has to be relevant, it has to be unique and it has to be kinetic," he said. "We're gonna be all those things. Publications that aren't any of those things don't stick around very long, and we're pretty confident that we can offer people something that is singular and vibrant and that will stick with them for quite awhile."