6 reasons why the iPad will be the magazine’s saviour

The web has never really been a good fit for the glossies. Their luxurious, ample layouts have not really translated effectively to the web. Advances in web technology and connectivity have resulted in a more multimedia-friendly web – we’re in the broadband era, Flash is on its 10th version, and YouTube is the world’s 3rd biggest site. Yet magazines just aren’t nearly as prominent as their online newspaper counterparts.

We can guess why. Maybe it’s because the web started out predominantly as a text-based platform and, like it or not, that legacy shapes today’s paradigm? Perhaps it’s because the web is mostly still a work-based medium, whereas magazines are an after-hours, leisure-time read? Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that magazines are generally monthlies or weeklies – they just don’t have the volumes of content that news sites do on what is a demanding, immediate and dynamic medium.

So enter the iPad. It could be the solution (or saviour) to a medium that has so far been somewhat of a conundrum for magazines.

Here are the six reasons why magazines should rejoice about the iPad:*

1. The iPad is a leisure device:
Magazines are leisure reads. The iPad is supposed to be our “third device”, an internet and multimedia device we use while relaxing on the couch in front of the TV after work and on weekends. This is different from our “first device”, the work computer or laptop, which is filled with reminders, distractions and associations about work. This type of leisure-time usage fits perfectly with most magazine consumption, which primarily happens out of work hours.

2. Apple app store has a successful payment model:
We know how hard it’s been for newspapers and magazines to find workable online business models. It seems that online advertising is not cutting it in a significant way. The jury is still out (for a rather long break) on whether users want to pay for content online. It’s not about the price, because those same users will spend the equivalent of a whole year’s online content subscription in a corner pub in less than a week. It’s psychological: it has to do with the laws of scarcity and abundance. Why pay when there’s the perception and/or the reality that similar content is freely accessible elsewhere online via thousands of equivalents? Enter the app store, where there’s an accepted payment model in a high-quality walled garden. People are paying for apps. People will pay for magazine apps.

3. The glossy iPad interface is a good fit with a glossy magazine:
The iPad is about the size of an A4 page, and therefore a perfect fit for magazine content and advertising. A luxurious, graphically-rich magazine layout would work well on the ample, silky smooth Apple iPad screen. We have a digital experience that not only matches, but betters, the offline experience in terms of design and usability because it’s now interactive. This has not quite been the case when we look at the magazine experience on the traditional desktop web. We’re not saying we want an identical magazine experience on the iPad, because that would just be one very big failure of imagination. Rather, we are saying we want a similar experience to the offline one that readers and advertisers are familiar and comfortable with. In fact, I predict iPad magazine apps, ironically, will in layout look and feel more similar to their print versions. Is this convergence nirvana?

4. Portability:
In many ways this is an obvious point, but one worth exploring. Much like a magazine, the iPad is highly-portable. On a portability scale, your PC desktop computer is at the one end and your paper magazine at the other. In between, you’d find your iPad, your laptop and your netbook. The iPad is more portable than most laptops as it is thinner, lighter and easier to move around. There are fewer wires and cords to worry about, and the battery life is advertised at being around 10 hours.

5. Access to an international audience:
Many topics most leisure magazines cover are universal. The glossies often cover issues such as love, sex, marriage, life and work. The savvier magazines will create both local and international iPad apps with their content in order to attract a much larger international audience, monetised via a contextual advertising network model.

6. Distribution and marketing:
Apple’s app store assists with distribution and marketing of your newly-created iPad magazine app. Your magazine is not out there in the great nowhere of the wild, world wide web, but in a tight ecosystem where the right type of readers will find it. This is the same audience that consumes books and are buying them in the Apple iBookStore – likely readers of magazines too.

The gorilla in the room, of course, is the question of just how many iPads are likely to be in use and how long is the road to saturation? In most emerging markets we’re probably looking at access by an elite audience only – at least in the beginning.

You could take the view that members of this elite are the all-important early adopters and influencers in society which could determine future consumption. It also depends on your target market. Perhaps you have a magazine with an international strategy that plays predominantly in the high-end iPad market. If this is the case, you should jump in now. But if your magazine is aimed at a broader market, perhaps you should wait a bit – or at least diversify. This means create an app related to your magazine, but with content and services that would appeal to a tech-savvy, elite market.

* For the purposes of this article I’ve limited the discussion to leisure magazines, excluding news and business magazines, of which some of the points may or may not apply.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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