Sponsorship and Advertising in Mag+

One pretty universal truth about the Mag+ iPad publishing clients is that they’d like to make money with them. And while Mag+ and the app ecosystem gives creatives—and especially magazines—the best platform they’ve had yet for creating digital content consumers can and will pay for, advertising can’t be ignored. In fact, iPad publications give advertisers an ideal scenario: the large immersive canvas that makes beautiful display advertising so valuable in print, combined with the opportunity for multimedia, interactivity (“click here to like us on Facebook;” “e-mail for more information”) and trackability (time spent, times viewed) that only digital provides. It’s the best of TV, magazine and Web advertising combined.

A highly interactive HTML5-built ad for Lincoln from Popular Science.

This is not just wishful thinking—several studies have backed up the notion that dedicated tablet ads have higher engagement than print or web advertising. One of our clients ran a survey of their tablet readers last year and found that tablet-optimized ads delivered up to a 60 percent action rate and 68 percent recall. They also found that in general 80 percent of their readers spent more than 30 minutes with a digital publication (40 percent spent more than an hour) and more than 50 percent opted to share their personal data when they subscribed.

Unfortunately, iPad advertising is also a Wild West, with no industry agreement on how to measure or price these ads. And based on conversations I’ve had with publishers, agencies and advertisers, those standards are still a ways off. But that’s all the more reason those parties should be working together now to experiment and gather some real-world experience and data to inform the making of those standards.

There are really three primary ways to incorporate advertisers into Mag+ publications:

Traditional advertising

According to the rules of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), the organization in the US that verifies circulation for most consumer publications, including all editorial and ads (above 1/3 page in size) from the print publication allows magazines to count their digital subscriptions toward their rate base, the circulation number promised to advertisers. That means magazines can print fewer copies to achieve the same rate base, saving them money on manufacturing and distribution (magazines will typically drop the lowest-margin print subs to keep their rate base the same). Among our clients, Maxim does this, including its print ads as static images. Popular Science also does this, but requests InDesign files from advertisers so an in-house production team can remake them in Mag+, optimizing them for both orientations and for the iPad canvas (making small type legible, for instance). This also gives them a chance to upsell additional digital features, like Web links or embedded video.

It’s also of course entirely possible for advertisers to create custom ads for Mag+ publications. Because our tools are free for anyone, agencies can download them, design their dream ad and simply deliver the InDesign file or finished MIB for the publication to include. Or advertisers can create their ads in HTML, sized to the tablet canvas, and send on the HTML package. For the publication, including this is as easy as opening the Mag+ template, drawing a box the size of the screen and pointing to that .html file. A note about HTML ads: In-app browsers behave differently than Mobile Safari, and while most things that work in the latter work seamlessly in the former, not everything does, so we strongly encourage anyone creating an HTML ad to either download the Mag+ tools and test it on the reviewer or work with the publication to do so, with plenty of time to tweak if something isn’t looking right.


Some titles are forgoing the ABC audit—or are digital-only—and monetizing their publications via sponsorship, either by one or by several companies. Outside magazine does this, including a single ad (typically designed in HTML) per digital issue. The Bulletin, an awesome digital-only pub that tracks the Chicago Bulls, was originally sponsored by the Illinois Lottery. We’ve seen other pubs sell category-exclusive sponsorships, allowing a company to be, say, the only auto advertiser in a certain number of issues. These sponsorships can be sold as part of larger packages that could include Web and print.

Sponsors can have traditional ads in the issue, or, if the app itself is sponsored, can take advantage of other spaces in the app to tout their brand. Here are some ideas:

1. Ads built native to Mag+ in InDesign. Pro: Works even when user is offline; native user experience. Con: Can only be swapped out by updating the whole issue (and user would have to redownload the issue to see).
Example: PopSci
All its ads are built in Mag+.

2. HTML ads either embedded in the Mag+ issue or loading live. Pro: Can be deeply interactive; agencies or clients can build without knowing anything about Mag+. Live ads can be changed dynamically. Con: If it’s embedded, can only be changed with issue update; if it’s live, user must be online for full experience (you can have an image placeholder for offline users, however).
Example: Outside
See the ad in the free Preview issue for Sept. This is an embedded HTML ad.

3. Loading screen. Pro: user sees on every cold open of the app. Con: Can only be changed with app update.
Example: No current Mag+ clients that I know of are doing this, but you can see the loading screens on any Mag+ apps.

4. Branding bar. A 60-pixel high strip above the navigation visible in the store and library spaces. Pro: Highly visible, unique space. Con: Can only be changed with app update.
Example: The Bulletin
This app is not currently using that space for a sponsor, but did on an earlier release.

A mockup banner in Outside’s store. You can also see the “branding bar” at the top. Sponsors could use either of these spaces.

5. Store Banners. 256-pixel high images that appear in the store space. Pro: Can have up to five and can change dynamically from the Publish backend. Can be hot-linked to any URL. Con: Only visible in the Store space.
Example: See Bulls app above for an example of the banner in use—again, no current client (to my knowledge) using this for sponsorship.

6. Live button. Optional button in navigation that opens a in-app Web view. Pro: Can change the URL this points to dynamically from the backend. Con: User must tap button to see it.
Example: No current client using this for sponsorship, though we have seen that button labeled “Sponsored By” with the site going to a sponsor. Could also replace that button with a sponsor logo.

7. Navigation bar customization. No one has done this, but you can replace the background of the navigation bar (by default a dark gradient) so that you could embed a sponsor logo in it.

Ad Networks

We’re currently investigating another option: ad networks/servers. Common on the Web, these services dynamically place ads into designated spots on a page or in an app. While this can be done today in Mag+ using a simple embedded HTML element (draw a box the size of the ad, point it at a URL that will dynamically serve that ad), we’d like to get a deeper integration that would allow publications to, for instance, insert ads between verticals in already-published issues via the Mag+ backend, Publish. You could also ask the user to volunteer information about themselves, like location or age, which would allow the serving of more relevant ads (which also command higher clickthrough rates). This is new ground, and publishers want to be careful not to let rates for these ads dip to the levels seen online, especially if the creative is optimized for the tablet canvas and the engagement rates are higher. But particularly for digital-only publications that don’t have an existing sales operation in place, we anticipate this to be a big opportunity.

What have you seen in the tablet ad space that’s interesting? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Dave

    ad networks seem the best fit since they can change rather fast — dont know if they’d be retina-resolution but I think they would work.
    Thinking about using OpenX to serve just this purpose.