This article was originally published in Publishing Executive’s daily Industry Insiders eNewsletter.
On Sunday, a guest post by Jon Lund appeared on GigaOm, with the titillating headline, Why Tablet Magazines are a Failure. The article (and the 50+ comments from very smart people) is worth reading, though I disagree with the overall premise. Indeed, the tablet magazine can and will be the future of publishing once the industry completely embraces the full potential of the medium, which is only now just beginning to happen. To claim that digital magazines are dead is akin to proclaiming your kid is not college material because he didn’t walk at 9 months. Mr. Lund’s statistics aren’t wrong, they are simply not yet a reasonable predictor of success or failure.
It reminds me of early predictions that the Internet would never catch on, no one would need a home computer and the iPhone would never have significant market share. Three years is not enough time for the publishing industry to test, evaluate and iterate upon what audiences want from this new and complex mobile media or to determine what ideal and individual user experiences should. It is also not a lot of time to learn how to monetize this new platform, particularly when trying to balance mobile growth against an existing print business.
In fact, it is vital to look at tablet magazines in the context of a publisher’s existing print business, because most successful publishers are looking for a broad variety of ways to engage the same readers over multiple platforms each delivering unique value rather than simply migrate them from one to another. Finding the right balance and offering will take time. It will also require publishers to step up their game creatively as well as overcome (or simply ignore) premature negative prognosticators.
Inspiration and creativity will drive success
From my perspective, at this early stage of tablet magazines, the ideal way to measure success is to look at how much innovation is being brought to the table – how far away digital magazines are getting from simple PDF versions of their print magazine and how they are using the technology. The tablet has many interactive possibilities that make readers engaged and more attached to the brands they love, but only when the publishers give it effort and create for the medium. Anyone can have a tablet app, but it takes real effort to build something great that captures the essence of your brand and gives it the feeling of what the brand stands for. Creative thinkers behind titles like Wired, New York Magazine and The Atlantic Weekly may or may not be profitable today, but they are laying the groundwork for how the whole industry is going to make money in 5-10 years.
New York Magazine designed a ‘window shade’ into their tablet magazine allowing users to toggle back and forth between its weekly magazine content and daily content from its website, which keeps readers coming back on a daily basis. The Atlantic Weekly pulls the top performing content from its websites each week to create its weekly tablet edition, and Wired recently announced the launch of ShopThis!, which lets readers go from product discovery to ownership without leaving the app. Creative ideas like these will help brands reach consumers, enhance their experience within tablet magazines, and will eventually lead to growing subscriber numbers, increased engagement and new revenue streams.
mag+’s own experience with customers is that the conversations are very different today than they were even 18 months ago. Both small and large publishers are moving beyond just adding mobile as an experiment to truly analyzing why and how their audiences use tablets, and creating mobile experiences that reach their loyal audiences in the ways they want to interact with that magazine on that device.
Overcoming the negative prognosticators
By now it should be obvious to even the grumpiest Luddite that the tablet is an incredible technology that’s here to stay. Common sense dictates that one of the best uses for this technology is content consumption. How this content is ultimately manifested and best monetized remains to be seen but it is going to happen.
I believe some existing publishers and publishing-related organizations will lead that charge. The MPA, for example, is doing a great job in working to standardize metrics that will prove consumer engagement with both the editorial and the ads. This will help us to better measure what success is for tablet magazines. Publishers who use data to produce a digital magazine – not just crank out a replica of a print edition – will be rewarded, over time, with a sustainable brand and business. Chances are good others from outside the industry will seize opportunities and drive innovation as well.
Those that allow premature prognosticators to justify the worried thinking of people looking to avoid the hard work of a technology shift will be pushed aside. What we need is fewer Doomsday criers, and more inspired leaders in publishing. It is easy to criticize, in the early days, but much more useful to celebrate a brand or an industry’s successes and build upon them.
More information about Tablet publishing with Mag+.