The magazine says the region has a high potential for its digital products on the iPhone and iPad.
Economist aims for the million mark
The Economist is planning a Middle East marketing campaign to promote its iPad and iPhone applications, in a region it says has "high potential" for its digital products.
The business magazine is well known for its advertising campaigns, with bold marketing messages taking part of the credit for higher sales of the print title.
To further increase readership, the magazine has launched applications - or apps - for the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, with the aim of boosting its global digital user base to 1 million subscribers.
"The global campaign will cover the Middle East," said David Taylor-Evans, The Economist Group's managing director for the Middle East and Africa.
"In addition, we are showcasing our digital platforms with free Wi-Fi hot spots in popular cafe locations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi," he said.
"The app will give a wider range of delivery options for subscribers in the region. In addition to the print version, all subscribers receive access to The Economist in all its digital forms".
Applications include a free weekly sample of articles, with users given the option of paying for access to the entire magazine for US$5.99 (Dh22) per issue.
Oscar Grut, the managing director of digital editions for The Economist, said there was "a very high potential" for the magazine's apps in the Middle East, partly because of the relatively slow distribution of the print edition.
"It's quite hard to reach a lot of the countries in the Middle East region in a timely manner," he said.
He added that the initial uptake of the apps had been strong. "In the UAE, we are the 11th most-downloaded iPad application. It's a good, encouraging start," he said. "I'm pretty bullish about people wanting to read our kind of content on digital devices."
Analysts expect Apple to sell about 7.5m iPads this year, with some forecasting sales of 20m units in 2011.
Mr Grut confirmed that The Economist had a global target of 1 million digital subscribers within three years. "That's the target we set ourselves for digital subscriptions across all platforms - it's not iPad-specific," he said. The title was already available via the Kindle and Zinio digital magazine services, and the publisher was also "looking at other platforms", Mr Grut said.
News outlets around the world are starting to embrace apps for smartphones and digital tablets, through which money can be raised via subscription fees and advertising revenue.
Last month the Financial Times said its iPad app had generated more than £1 million (Dh5.8m) in advertising revenue since it was launched in May, with more than 400,000 downloads. The Economist is 50 per cent owned by the Pearson Group, which also owns the Financial Times.
Publishers in the Middle East have been relatively slow to embrace the trend, but some newspapers, such as The National and 7DAYS, have launched mobile apps.
7DAYS, based in Dubai, has an edition for the iPhone, and recently launched an app for BlackBerry handsets. An expanded iPhone app, plus downloads compatible with Android, Windows and Symbian operating systems, are to follow.
Will Breitholtz, the digital manager at the 7DAYS, says the newspaper is bullish on mobile apps but hesitant on the iPad.
"To be honest, the jury is still out on the iPad in this region. It's still not as significant a part of the market … at this stage," he said. "We don't think that it's as popular as perhaps it was perceived at the beginning."
He said that while the 7DAYS advertising-driven mobile apps were "not yet" profitable, he expected revenues to pick up soon.
"We are getting good click-through rates for the banner [advertising] on the applications," he said. "I'm confident that we will see good, consistent levels of revenue by quarter one next year."