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Hearst Launches New App Lab: A Digital 'Think Tank'

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NEW YORK – Hearst Corporation unveiled a new "App Lab" Thursday that the publishing company hopes will showcase its digital editions for advertisers and serve as an idea incubator for magazine staffers creating content specifically for tablets and smartphones.

As print revenue drops, major publishers are increasingly looking at the growing tablet market to sell subscriptions and are developing advertising that utilizes the digital platform’s strengths. Hearst, along with rivals Conde Nast and Time Inc., have all struck deals with Apple in recent months to sell iPad subscriptions. Although some publishers, such as Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, remain skeptical that the tablet will immediately impact magazine industry, others aren't slowing down. Hearst, which has already published over 100 apps, plans on launching a dozen more by the end of this year.

And now the company has an in-house lab to experiment in. The Hearst App Lab doesn’t offer the sweeping views one might expect from the 41st floor of the publishing company’s Manhattan tower. That’s intentional, according to Avi Zimak, advertising director for tablet media at Hearst Magazines. At Thursday’s opening, Zimak told reporters that Hearst was “purposeful and deliberate in keeping the lab a little bit low-key.”

“You'll notice that there are no windows inside this lab,” he continued, “the reason being that this is meant to be a think tank, a place for innovation, and it's also a space that we want to continue to evolve as the tablet medium continues evolving, so we can make those changes as the space evolves.”

So what can you do in a digital 'think tank?'

Zimak and Chris Wilkes, Heart Magazines’ vice president of digital editions, showed off some of the Lab’s features, including a large digital video wall that can display digital editions of popular Hearst magazines -- Cosmopolitan, Esquire and O, The Oprah Magazine. Hearst staffers can use the touch screen to make notes on the pages and also research trends across social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. The Lab also includes all the major tablet models for staff use.

“We can't put an iPad at every desk,” Wilkes said. “We can't put a Galaxy tab then right next to it, and a Zoom right next to that, and as you know, the multitude of devices keeps growing -- and so this is an area where we've stocked it with enough resources for everyone to come in here and be very, very productive together.”

But the Lab isn’t just for editorial. Hearst plans to work with advertisers on tablet-specific campaigns. For instance, Wilkes demonstrated the Lab’s stereo sound while showing a recent Infinity ad in O that includes video, a slideshow and 360-degree view of the car’s interior.

"We see this app lab as a space for innovation, a space where good smart content can shine," Zimak said. "I look forward to inviting advertisers, consumers, and partners in to help us continue to innovate as the tablet landscape continues to grow."

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