Many print publishers hoped that the iPad would do more for them than it has done thus far, but that doesn’t mean that the iPad, and tablet computing in general, doesn’t have potential.

The challenge: figuring out a strategy that works. Trying to charge more for your newspaper on the iPad than it costs in print doesn’t seem all that sensible, and creating tablet-only dailies doesn’t exactly come off as a smart investment given the economics of the publishing business today.

However, Condé Nast might have stumbled upon a concept that might be a viable
part of a larger strategy: take old, existing content, repurpose it and
sell it as a new product.

That’s precisely what Condé Nast is doing with its new Best of Italy:Condé Nast Traveler app. The content distributed in the app isn’t new; only the way the content is organized and presented is.

As Peter Kafka at AllThingsDigital notes, “because it’s not a literal translation of a current title, the app sidesteps some of the problems that have plagued magazine apps: Print subscribers don’t feel like they’re being gouged by paying for something they’ve already bought. And jaded iPad owners can’t compare it to an existing issue and utter a bored sigh.

Throw in the fact that Condé Nast’s app, which sells for $4.99, has a corporate sponsor (a pasta maker), and it’s likely that economically-speaking, this probably didn’t cost Condé Nast a whole lot to develop.

Sure, it’s unlikely that the Best of Italy app is going to rake in millions, but in this environment, it’s unlikely any publisher is going to sustain itself with one big iPad hit.

Instead, if publishers can develop a template for these kind of “single-serving” apps, they will minimize their fixed costs, which here exclude the large cost of creating of new content, and can take advantage of the next-to-zero marginal costs of distributing their digital publications.

The question is just how much these apps will appeal to consumers. That, of course, will depend on the perceived value of the content. Which highlights something publishers should think about as digital mediums like the iPad grow in popularity: the timelessness of content.

Although we live in an always-on information society thirsty for the latest and greatest news, Condé Nast’s ability to create its Best of Italy app was dependent upon it having a library of content that could be as relevant today as it was when it was first created.

From this perspective, perhaps it is the publishers with content that depreciates slowest that will win out on the iPad and tablet devices.

Photo credit: yto via Flickr.