Guardian Counts 145,880 Free iPad Downloads, But Will Readers Pay For It?

The Guardian‘s debut iPad edition has been downloaded 145,880 times in the week since launch, making it more popular than the publisher’s iPhone and Android apps were in the same space of time, but not as popular as its new Facebook app.

“This number of downloads in a week is a fantastic achievement, and shows the appetite among our readers to access our content in new, digital ways,” says editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.

This can be considered a free trial period because the iPad edition is currently free for three months, sponsored by Channel 4. The Guardian‘s challenge in early 2012 will be to convince early free adopters to pay £9.99 a month – its heaviest digital pricepoint to date.

How will the publisher do it? As with iPhone, iPad users will attempt an inducement with freemium, but the strategy will differ. Whereas iPhone users can read three stories before having to subscribe (£2.99 for six months, £4.99 for 12 months, free in the U.S.), iPad users from January will get seven days of free access before a hard-stop subscription requirement, even those in the States.

The Guardian‘s iPhone app, which has been downloaded over 570,000 times since relaunching in January 2011, currently has 96,543 paying global subscribers — that’s a 17 percent conversion rate. The Guardian hasn’t provided revenue figures for its iPhone app, but by our estimate, it brings in nearly £500,000 in annual sales (before Apple’s commission).

If the same proportion of current iPad readers (25,000) subscribed to the tablet edition today, it would yield an estimated £3 million in annual iPad sales (before Apple’s commission). And that is just on week-one numbers, which are likely to grow through the winter.

iOS 5 is scoring uplift for both publishers’ free-trial apps and subscriptions to those apps, according to early disclosures from Future and Exact Editions.

The Guardian‘s actual conversion prospects will depend in part on how much value readers ascribe to the iPad edition versus the publisher’s other outlets, like its free website and mobile site, free Android app and the stories now being promoted to millions of Facebook users.

Right now, the iPad app includes only a portion of the content published on the free website and none of its bells and whistles like liveblogs. For these, the app links out to the site.

BBC technologist Mo McRoberts blogs: “(It) seems an odd retrograde step, given the Guardian’s ‘digital first‘ kick. It also seems a very odd way of going about getting some much-needed cash out of those who currently use the website.”

Alan Rusbridger recently responded to a tweeter who made the same point: “It’s version 1., aimed mainly at people who want an alternative to the newspaper. Other versions to follow.”

Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.