Project iPad Mag Flips To Free Thanks To AmEx Sponsorship

Virgin’s Project magazine is now doing a backward version of the drug pusher strategy.

Four months after its debut, with many a technical problem, at $2.99/£1.79, its fourth issue is published for free.

The change is thanks to an ad sponsorship from American Express and illustrates how publishers are still not yet certain of the best way to fund their new ventures.

Unlike Project, many new-launch iPad titles like The Daily initially were free to build up audience that might be convertible to fee – a classic and uncomplicated marketing strategy used by many a business and drug dealer alike.

Project‘s switch suggests there’s more money in a big lucrative sponsorship than from fees from the readers it has – and publishers don’t have to give away 30 percent of their ad income to Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) (at least not yet!).

In the same vein, The Financial Times‘ iPad edition was initially free thanks to a big sponsorship from watchmaker Hublot, while International Herald Tribune has deployed the same method on iPad thanks to Cartier.

High-end brands are clearly interested in iPad because, at least at its inception, it has had a self-selectingly A-grade audience for targeting. If tablets go mainstream, it will be interesting to see whether these big sponsorships will tail off.