All national newspaper editors know their print circulations will rise and fall, driven by events in the outside world. Major events and 'slow news days' go with the territory. But no daily national newspaper plans for this more than the Racing Post, who this past week joined other major publishers in launching an iPad app.
Some may think it an unlikely innovator, their thinking clouded by images of old men in betting shops but the Racing Post is keen to ignore such narrow stereotypes and its publishing model can definitely benefit from embracing the flexibility of digital.
During the Cheltenham Festival in March or meetings such as Royal Ascot, the Derby or the Grand National the Racing Post will sell upwards of 120,000 copies. On weekdays, when racing is limited to more low-key meetings, it plans for around 40 to 50 per cent of that amount.
But with the cost of print increasing, catering for such fluctuations is an expensive and inexact science, especially when the weather can also affect sales by impacting the quality of racing. Launching an iPad app is a natural and sensible move.
This isn't the Racing Post's first foray into apps. Its free iPhone app has been downloaded more than 600,000 times since it launched in February 2010. The team behind the launch are confident in market research which suggests they have a digitally-engaged readership and hope a 30-day free trial of the app will encourage iPad owners to give it a go. Those who do sign up will get the first edition of the newspaper delivered every day by 8pm the previous evening, followed by the full edition by midnight.
It features the full newspaper content, including the race cards which are so central to the paper's popularity. The race cards are fully interactive, allowing readers to delve into the form of horses, jockeys and trainers at the tap of a finger:
The cards can also be customised so punters can sort the runners and riders by almost any criteria they choose, or they can double-tap to remove a horse altogether from their card and their thinking. All that information is easily mined and accessible also through a standalone database, where race fans and stattos can read full form and career records:
All in all the app is good. It works well and for readers of the paper it does everything you'd expect. But where this becomes most interesting to the wider media industry is with pricing.
The challenge with any app is getting the pricing right and getting people using it to a degree that really does mitigate the long term threats posed to print publications.
All newspapers have every day readers and occasional dippers, weekenders and once in a blue moon types. But the Racing Post is catering for a wide range of customers and unprecedented seasonal and sporadic buying habits. It hopes it has struck upon two options which will appeal to customers. After the 30-day free trial period is over there is a £24.99 per month or a £1.99 per edition option.
The £24.99 may appeal to some of the people who read the Racing Post every day of the year, such as owners; trainers; breeders; jockeys; agents; racecourse staff; racing broadcasters; bookmakers and professional gamblers.
But for the rest of its customers, who might buy the Racing Post rarely or at weekends or only during the major festivals, the £1.99 is the only option. The price represents a healthy reduction on the £2.50 weekend cover price. It also offers total flexibility with none of the risk of signing up long-term and not getting full value from the app.
The fact there is no middle ground however is interesting. That might have been a 40, 50 or 75 issues per year option for example, paid for upfront at a further per-edition discount. These could be tailored to cover the major flat or jumps racing festivals or Saturday editions. The appeal of such a half way house to publishers is that it could lock readers in for longer and give the app a better chance of becoming an established part of their readers' media consumption habits.
The team behind the launch admit there is more to come. The free Racing Post iPhone app has an integrated betting platform which at this stage has not been included in the iPad app in order to speed it past Apple's app store gatekeepers. That functionality will surely come in time, as should some social media integration which is currently missing.
Sadly the one thing which can never be integrated is a foolproof way of telling you which horses are going to win.