Not the Apple of His Eye: Conde Nast executive Rick Levine preached to a South By Southwest crowd on Friday night that the growing tablet marketplace will make good business for the magazine industry but one thing remains in the way: Apple’s dominance.

“We frankly don’t want Apple to have a stranglehold on this business,” he said.

This story first appeared in the March 15, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Levine, the director of editorial operations who was recently named the Conde Nast corporate executive of the year, said that publishers need the marketplace as “open and competitive as possible. That’s how we will get scale.”

But Levine condeded that “for the foreseeable future, Apple will rule the roost in terms of the marketplace.” Apple released its iPad 2 on Friday.

Conde Nast and most publishers have failed to make a deal with Apple to sell subscriptions for its digital magazines on the iPad. Single-copy sales for magazine digital editions have flat-lined in recent months. After Wired sold 100,000 copies for its debut iPad edition in June, sales between October and December dropped to an average of about 23,000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Levine said subscriptions are necessary.

“That’s why we’re actively working with all distributors to get a more competitive environment,” said Levine.

But Levine was bullish on the business and said that he expects there to be 60 to 70 million tablets on the market within nine months.

“We like this technology so much that by the end of the year every [Conde Nast] magazine will have a digital edition,” he said.

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