Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why Fortune’s Apple Story is AWOL from the Web–And Why You Can Buy It on Amazon

Last week, Fortune published a deep dive into Apple, then made sure that many people who would care about it couldn’t read it: The story was available in the magazine’s print and iPad editions, but not on the Web.

Instead, tech bloggers quickly devoured the piece and spat it back up, in chunks, on their own sites. And even if they were inclined to, they couldn’t point their readers to the source material.

What were Fortune’s managers thinking about? Quite a bit.

“This is an entirely new experiment,” says Dan Roth, managing editor of Fortune Digital. “We’re trying to figure out the best way of releasing journalism online.”

The short version: Fortune will eventually make the story available, for free, on the Web. But first it’s going to see if it can use Adam Lashinsky’s piece to generate more than just eyeballs. Perhaps even cash.

In the past, Fortune would have published the Apple story online last Thursday, at the same time the magazine was showing up on newsstands and in mailboxes.

Instead, the magazine teased the piece with a post from Apple blogger Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Saturday, telling print subscribers they could read the full story on Fortune’s iPad app for free. And that everyone else could either sign up for a $20 subscription–which would give them access to the app–or buy an individual iPad edition for $4.99.

Fortune hasn’t been able to pull this off until this week. It’s the first time the magazine has been able to offer its iPad app to print subscribers for free, via a pact that parent company Time Inc. just struck with Apple.

Roth says the main idea behind gating the story on the iPad app is to give print subscribers a bonus for their patronage. Or to make them feel like they weren’t dummies.

“There was this feeling that we’re sort of pissing off our subscribers,” by publishing the magazine’s best stories on the Web, often before paying customers got their hands on them, he says. “The problem was there wasn’t anything we could have offered them before.”

And if Fortune can sell some subscriptions or app downloads, even better. Over the weekend, Fortune tracked 1,400 referral visits to its subscription page from Elmer-DeWitt’s post, and another 1,000 visits to the app’s iTunes preview page. Roth says he hasn’t seen iTunes sales numbers yet.

Starting this morning, a small slice of the Apple piece will show up on, but that will be another teaser promoting the iPad app. If you really want to read the story and don’t want to wait–or shell out for an issue or a subscription–you’ll have another option, too: It’s now available as a $0.99 Kindle “single” on Amazon, too.

But won’t anyone who wants to read the story be able to read it for free via the tech blogs?

Well, yes. Maybe. That’s sort of the test.

Magazine employees have reached out to handful of bloggers who they think have lifted too much of Lashinsky’s story. They’re particularly sensitive about reproductions of a painstakingly created Apple org chart. (Sorry! Fixed!)

But Roth, along with Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer, assumed that parts of the story would get prominent Web play. Their bet is that most of Fortune’s audience will be interested in reading a really good Apple story, but not enough to seek out a summarized version on someone else’s site.

“I think that our readers, for the most part, aren’t necessarily going to Techmeme and reading the tech blogs”, Roth says.”A lot of them are. But not most of them. And this is the kind of thing that people will really want to read all of, and pass it along to friends.”

But then again, they’re not really sure. Hence the experiment. “None of us have any idea what works and what doesn’t work anymore.”


Disclosure: I worked with Dan for a few months way back in the late 1990s, and he interviewed me when he wrote about my last employer a couple years ago. It’s a good read.