Urban Airship Delivers Subscriptions for Newsweek iPad App

Newsweek makes it interesting this week with the release of its latest iPad app. The publisher has been on the cutting edge with its apps and is now the first major publisher to offer in-app subscriptions to its iPad users. This is a major differentiator… and where Urban Airship comes in.

As the New York Times article points out, the inability to offer subscriptions has been “a source of major frustration” for magazine and newspaper publishers. It is no easy feat to add in-app subscriptions that work within the Apple guidelines and practices. One of our engineering team members described the task as “Herculean,” which is apt, given the amount of code required to make it work.

As Richard Stephenson explains in his post, implementing subscriptions is difficult because Apple’s SDK for in-app purchase extends only to single-copy sales.

As publishers have raced to market with apps for the iPad, they have faced many unforeseen challenges in their attempt to transform a business model to fit the new paradigm. And the lessons they have learned will have broad impact across the industry. Conversations around subscriptions have mainly centered in the context of how magazines offer them – upfront money paid by a reader for access to content for a set period of time. But this subscriptions-monetization model translates to much much more than magazines and news. Any organization that provides information or content can succeed in monetizing their mobile strategies with Urban Airship.

Think of any content that users would pay for up-front: a 6-month magazine subscription, a one-year association membership, or an ongoing opt-in research database. In each use case with a mobile app, Urban Airship helps manage all aspects of the transaction, including identifying which devices (users) have paid for content, verifying the user account, and delivering the content to the device. Urban Airship tracks the entire lifecycle of a subscription. We see this as an important new monetization blueprint for all types of developers, and we are making it easy for them to integrate.

Further simplifying the process, if a user buys a new device, they still have rights to access back issues or other content they have paid for. Our subscriptions service manages this verification, associating a specific user with an account. Our service also enables “user entitlements.” In this process, content can be “unlocked” for designated users or those who have been authenticated. Publishers can put content behind a paywall, viewable only to subscribers. This is similar to what many information-providers have been doing on the web. An ID and password are used to unlock that content and make it viewable.

Publishers and content providers are wading in new waters and still in the early stages of identifying their mobile strategies. This is a dynamic market but one thing we know for certain: things are just starting to get interesting.