CNN Charges for iPhone News App

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-09-29 Print this article Print

CNN slaps a $1.99 price on its iPhone application. But can news organizations, which have traditionally provided their mobile news applications for free, make a viable business out of charging for those programs? The Associated Press previously tried something similar with a $2.99 BlackBerry application, only to find its download numbers plummeting. CNN argues that its mobile content will be worth the cost.

CNN has decided its new iPhone application is worth a price: $1.99. While that amount may not exactly break the bank, it represents a test of sorts for media-related mobile applications, the majority of which are free.

In addition to revenue from people downloading the application-which will feature news stories, photos, video, and customized weather and traffic-CNN also plans to include in-application advertising.

Similar applications from other news organizations, such as USA Today, the New York Times, NPR News and the Wall Street Journal, are currently free. However, the Wall Street Journal previously announced that it intends to charge $2.00 per week for a mobile-device-only subscription starting in October.

KC Estenson, general manager for, suggested to the Associated Press that the company could afford to charge for its iPhone App based on the caliber of its content, saying, "It really depends on the quality and nature of what you're putting into the market."

Earlier in 2009, the Associated Press tried charging $2.99 for a BlackBerry application, an effort that backfired as, according to the news outfit, the download rate dipped by more than 90 percent from when the application was free. After removing the charge, the Associated Press saw its level of downloads spike.

On Sept. 28, Apple announced that about 2 billion iPhone Apps had been downloaded from the App Store, which now features over 85,000 applications. In an accompanying news release, CEO Steve Jobs said more than a half-million applications had been downloaded "this quarter alone," but the company declined to say how many of the downloaded applications were free.

The App Store passed the 1-billion-downloads mark in April, an event that Apple marked with much publicity and a contest. The store's success has led other players in the mobile market, including Microsoft and Research In Motion, to attempt their own application stores to feed their respective mobile operating systems.

However, rival companies face something of a battle to reach Apple's numbers. For example, Palm's App Catalog, for the WebOS mobile operating system running on the Palm Pre smartphone, achieved its millionth download on June 24.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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