Sir Richard has always pushed the envelope with his business ventures, from running a mobile phone business to piloting an airline to, of course, his long-term love -- the music business. But Branson is pushing beyond the revenue curve with a new iPad magazine he plans to show to the public next week. The British mogul bills it as a as a paperless "revolutionary multimedia" publication. First word of the project -- dubbed, simply, Project -- leaked out in July, but the effort has been kept under tight wraps.
Branson is the second Brit titan to announce an iPad-based publication in November. News Corp. (NWS) owner Rupert Murdoch unveiled plans for an iPad-based newspaper, to be called The Daily, which will cost the owner of The Wall Street Journal and Fox News as much as $30 million. The Daily will have a dedicated staff of 100 and Murdoch has been on a hiring spree of brand-name journalists around the U.S. and the Big Apple in particular. The Daily will launch next year.
Both men are basing their bets on the continued success of Apple's (AAPL) iPad, a smash hit that could log sales of 13 million in 2010. The iPad has already achieved iconic status even among Apple products and could be the fastest selling product Steve Jobs and his storied consumer technology mavens have ever put out. Early reports have found that readers are far more willing to pay for media apps (like Wired magazine, for example) or to pay for individual articles on iPads. This could be because the iPad, unlike the PC, is a dedicated device that elicits more of a "going to the movies" mentality among users.
Branson's new magazine will draw primarily on entertainment, design, business, travel and international culture. The venture will be led by Branson's 29-year-old daughter Holly. Anthony Noguera, a former editor of Zoo and FHM, will take charge of editorial operations. Both publications will likely embed video and use other multi-media technologies that are of course absent in dead tree editions.
Should Branson and Murdoch show that an iPad magazine can truly scale and drive real advertising dollars, expect a gold rush of iPad apps from media companies seeking that golden mean between the high but hard to justify advertising rates of print and broadcast and the unsustainably low online advertising rates for most Internet publications.