What Men’s Health Workouts can teach you about paid mobile

By Steve Outing

I recently purchased the new iPhone app Men’s Health Workouts for $1.99 on the iPhone App Store. Yes, I really should use it to get in better shape, but rather I bought it to try out a new form of mobile app payment made possible by Apple’s recent release of the 3.0 OS for the iPhone.

Till now, iPhone apps could be purchased for a one-time fee (typically ranging from 99 cents to $9.99), and as a buyer you get free upgrades as new versions come out. But now, in addition to charging for the app itself, publishers can charge for additional (premium) content from within the app.

Here’s how it works with the Men’s Health app: Once on your iPhone, you get 18 workouts that the application guides you through and records your progress. Men’s Health also sells additional workouts, called “Expansion Packs”: for example, “Huge Arms in a Hurry” for 99 cents; “The Ultimate Golf Workout Series” for $1.99; “The Ultimate Abs Pack” for $1.99; and “Build a Beach Ready Body” for 99 cents.

As the news industry tries to figure out a model for making money from mobile content, Apple has (at least for the iPhone) offered up a valuable new tool. We just need to figure out how to use it.

There are numerous news-related iPhone apps available already for free. USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times … all have an app that offers a better experience than reading their content on the iPhone’s Safari browser. Some publishers have experimented with paid iPhone apps: People magazine charges $1.99 for the “People Celebrity News Tracker,” which give celebrity junkies breaking news on the stars’ latest (scandal, baby, breakup, marriage, etc.) on their iPhones.

For a news publisher to take advantage of the ability to charge for premium or special content within its own iPhone app, it will have to charge something for the app itself. 99 cents is a reasonable price that should not scare too many people away, as long as there’s real value in using the app even if you never buy any premium content or service subsequently.

So let’s think about what news organizations could charge for within an iPhone app, a la Men’s Health. I’ll toss out a few ideas and thoughts, but I hope you’ll add some of your own in the comments section below.

  1. Perhaps the best opportunity is for one-off premium purchases, as the Men’ Health iPhone app demonstrates. If the phone user is reading a news organization’s coverage of climate-change (free, of course), then the publisher can sell an e-book, say for $2, via the app which may be of interest to those truly passionate about the topic and wanting more. … The current day’s interactive crossword puzzle on the phone app can be free, but the app user can pay 25 cents to scan older puzzles and instantly download another to play. … Reading free football coverage on the phone app, the user might be able to pay 50 cents for an audio interview with the winning quarterback.
  2. Enable premium services for an added fee. For instance, a news phone app for the New York Times might disable the ability to leave comments on stories on the basic 99-cent app, but allow a user to pay an extra $1.99 to turn on that ability. Or perhaps an extra $9.99 turns on the NYT searchable article archives feature, which is disabled on the basic app.
  3. Delay the news by an hour. I’m not sure how I feel about the wisdom of this idea, but it’s a possible revenue-generator. Charge 99 cents for the basic app, but delay delivery of all news content to the phone app by 1 hour. The app user can, from within the app, pay an additional $1.99 to remove the hour delay. This might make more sense on a niche advertising app, say the “Washington Post Rental Finder”; for-rent listings are delayed on the basic 99-cent app, but for an extra fee the app delivers new listings right away, and even notifies the user when a listing that fits requested criteria is first published.
  4. 99 cents gets you a basic news app with advertising. Pay an extra $4.99 inside the app to upgrade it to the no-advertising version.
  5. A news app might have a paid upgrade that delivers alerts of various happenings (news event, house sold, apartment burglarized, road construction detour installed, etc.) within a user-selectable mile radius of your house. With the iPhone 3.0 OS, push notifications are now possible for iPhone apps; personalized push alerts could be a nice paid upgrade to the basic app.

It wouldn’t be difficult to spend the rest of the day dreaming up ideas for news-related iPhone apps and premium paid add-on, a la Men’s Health Workouts. But what ideas do you have? Tell me in the comments.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!