Turning a magazine into an iPhone app might seem as simple as shrinking the printed page to about a sixth of its normal size. But as magazines develop iPhone and other mobile applications to supplement their print editions, they’re finding that adapting to the new medium is a significant challenge.

Years ago, magazines realized that their websites had to do more than just display the text of articles. Likewise, their mobile incarnations need to offer a unique experience. After being slow to the game, innovative publishers are now finding ways to re-imagine their content and use the mobile platform to its full advantage — for both users and advertisers.

Reimagining Magazines for Mobile

Mobile apps distribute magazine publishers’ content and brands to an audience advertisers want to reach. Making print pages smaller is unappealing, though, so magazines are creating other types of apps that are helpful companions to print content, or that serve up content in an exciting new format.

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“We’re thinking of ourselves as brands, not magazines,” said Yaron Oren, director of mobile strategy and operations at Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., publisher of Elle, Woman’s Day and Car and Driver, among other magazines.

Oren said the goal of his company’s iPhone apps — which include Woman’s Day Cooking Assistant and the Car and Driver Buyer’s Guide — is not just to repurpose content, but to build the app users’ relationship with magazine brands by providing useful information or a fun experience.

“That can be [through] an entertainment-oriented app based pretty closely on magazine or web content, or it can be a utility or a location-based service that has content different from anything else we’ve done,” he said.

Similarly, Rodale Inc., whose magazines include Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Runner’s World, has developed iPhone apps to complement their titles. Some of their apps demonstrate the workouts contained in magazine articles and let users track their workouts. Sean Nolan, vice president of online operations and external online marketing at Rodale, said these apps make information more usable than it is in the print format.

“Before we had the apps, we had guys tearing out the workout poster and going to the gym with it,” said Nolan. “Now, for a small fee, they can take the app, take their music on the phone, and have the workouts with them.”

Condé Nast’s companion apps include Wired Product Reviews and the Lucky At Your Service shopping app. Both of these free apps use the magazines’ brand recognition and subject matter to provide specialized services. The Lucky app even uses GPS information to provide shopping details. Many publishers said they plan to add more shopping functionality into apps as a way of generating additional revenue.

Birth of the ‘Replica’ iPhone App

Condé Nast’s GQ magazine app, which was released two weeks ago, has ventured into entirely new territory. It’s what Sarah Chubb, president of Condé Nast Digital, called a “replica” iPhone app because it qualifies with the Audit Bureau of Circulations as a digital edition of the magazine. That means app sales are included in circulation figures as “digital single copy sales.” The app presents the content of the entire December 2009 issue, reformatted and packaged with some exclusive extras, for $2.99 — less than the print edition’s cover price.

“We developed the app in-house, and the team is a group of user interface people and tech and design people together,” said Chubb. “They were given the challenge to make the app feel like the December issue, and they came up with a solution that we can use for any of our magazines.”

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The app allows users to read articles, zoom in on pictures, and purchase some of the clothing and other items contained in the magazine. It’s also possible to buy a subscription to the print edition of GQ through the app. Condé Nast may eventually offer an app-based subscription as well. The app was an opportunity to sell advertising deals encompassing print, web and mobile, which Chubb described as “a great revenue driver.”

Developing a Magazine App

Recognizing that their content now has to be wherever consumers want it, magazines are adapting their production process to include mobile considerations. Editors, writers and designers all play a role, and some publishers have brought in external developers as well.

“We have people all along the way who have their hands in the content and have ideas that get pushed forward because they make good sense for the device,” said Nolan of Rodale.

Some apps, like Rodale’s Runner’s World Shoe Shop, are also able to track what users read most, and that data can be used to refine the content.

Business-to-business magazines are also branching out into iPhone apps. Texterity is one company that helps B2B publications bring their content to the iPhone. Its first magazine-branded apps will launch next month, pending approval from the iTunes App Store.

“The iPhone app is great for trade magazines and enthusiast magazines,” said Wendy Zingher, vice president of sales and marketing for Texterity.

Many B2B magazines have successfully launched websites and email distribution methods that provide frequent updates, so their readers are accustomed to receiving and seeking out fresh information, according to Zingher.

“They will check in multiple times per day and want to know what’s going on in that area of their lives,” she said.

Texterity considered offering publishers the opportunity to distribute their content visually through a more universal “reader” app that would access numerous titles. Instead, the company decided to develop dedicated, branded apps for each magazine that simulate the familiar look of their print editions. Just like their consumer magazine counterparts, B2B publishers seem more interested in being represented by their unique brands, Zingher said, than in being accessible through a more comprehensive iPhone magazine reading app.

Magazine apps can also include social features that let users with similar interests interact. Texterity’s apps will allow mobile readers to add comments that will show up on the magazines’ websites. Condé Nast also plans to integrate Twitter and Facebook into its apps to “help friends come together around the content,” said Chubb.

Wherever Readers Go, Magazines Follow

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The challenge of bringing magazines into the mobile reading age is just beginning, and iPhone apps are just an opening foray. The need to reach other mobile devices, such as BlackBerrys and Google Android phones, creates a more complex project for publishers, who have to prepare apps for different platforms.

“This is a challenge we share with every content provider in the universe,” said Nolan of Rodale. “We hope that all this will get worked out by the customer over the next few years.”

But phones aren’t the only mobile devices today, and certainly won’t be in the future.

“The definition of mobile is already evolving — soon everything will be connected,” said Oren of Hachette Filipacchi. “So when we think about the services we’re creating for mobile, we’re not just thinking about what’s relevant for a phone, but for any device that’s portable.”

Further broadening this project, Condé Nast also announced an exclusive joint effort with Adobe to develop a magazine software template for tablet computers, which will be prepared first for Wired. It can then used for the company’s other magazines.

“We’re trying to work with anyone we think will have a viable product that will be attractive to our kind of consumer. If those readers are moving toward all digital, we’ll sell it to them,” said Chubb. “We need to be where they want to buy us.”

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