Magazines On The IPad: Are They Working?

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

There have been several recent postings questioning the viability of magazine sales on the IPad. They have suggested that the IPad is not proving to be a valuable distribution platform for the magazine industry.

Womens Wear Daily writer John Koblin wrote a piece documenting the fact that several magazines that hopped on the IPad early with for-pay business models have seen their sales numbers drop since launching.

Citing Audit Bureau of Circulations numbers Koblin pointed out that Wired, which sold 100,000 single copy issues on the IPad in June has seen it’s sales drop to the 22,000- 23,000 range in October and November. That compares to 130,000 single copy print sales during the same months.

Other Magazines have seen drops, too. Vanity Fair reportedly sold 8,700 digital editions in November, down from an average of about 10,500 for the three prior months. Glamour, GQ, Mens Health all saw similar declines.

Other bloggers have weighed in with similar concerns. The highly respected “MondayNote” author Frédéric Filloux wrote from Paris that “There is no way around this fact: the first batch of magazines adapted to the iPad failed to deliver. Six months after the initial excitement, the mood has turned turned sour.”

He cites Koblin’s numbers and research from The Pew Center that people are unwilling to pay the same price from digital content that they would for the same content in print.

Filloux also cites the fact that most digital magazines are the same content from print, repurposed on the digital platform with few meaningful additions.

Fred Wilson adds,

“There is some discussion in the tech blogs …. about why iPad magazine sales have been disappointing. I don’t understand why anyone would ever think that adding a presentation layer on top of web based content would make it something people would want to purchase when they are not willing to purchase the same content directly on the web.”

From Business Insider

He is, of course, correct. Which leads me to some conclusions I’ve been coming to for a some time. But while a lot of good thinking has gone into those posts, and others on the subject, they all seem to skip, or pay little head, to some very important points.

1) This is a brand new medium and we are talking about companies who have had months, not even years, to develop their content offerings. Not surprisingly they are trying to leverage existing content and brands to see as quickly as possible how people will interact with known content in a new medium. They haven’t begun to truly create for this medium. They are still, totally, in learning mode.

2) Compared to any previous medium, the IPad is showing the fastest adoption in history, with hundreds of thousands of apps already available and scores of major media companies participating. But the fact is, even at the blazing fast distribution of 10 million of these devices in their first year, this still represents a very small percentage of the public. When you consider the fact that fewer than 10 percent of US households have an IPad, suddenly the fact that Wired sells 23,000 digital copies vs. 130,000 print copies starts to look like a good thing, not a bad thing, for the new medium. Ninety percent of the potential audience couldn’t get the web version if it wanted to!

3) At a comparable time to this stage in the launch of cable television, which by the way did not include dramatic changes in the content or advertising that appeared on TV, there was virtually no new programming. Networks like ESPN and CNN could not find an economic model that would work at 10 million homes nationwide. It wasn’t until many more homes were equipped with cable TV that new networks were able to spring up.

4) The present business model on the IPad, well, sucks. Apple has only allowed for single copy sales at this point, in a medium dominated by subscription products. People and publishers have said, over and over again, that the preferred model for much of what they do is subscription, which would also allow for a much better distribution process…downloading publications when they become available and not waiting for a purchase which is followed by a waiting period for the “download”

5) There has been little or no content development done on the new platform. The key for IPad success will not be the reprinting or archiving and retransmission of existing content from other media forms, like print or tv. The IPad content business will soar when more content is MADE for the IPad, content that takes advantage of the portability, interactivity, location-based services and real-time connectivity will dominate. That content just isn’t being produced yet. We are in the very infancy of this new medium. We need to develop content creators who know how to create for it. Someone will, and soon.

So while many magazines, newspapers and television producers will no doubt successfully expand their franchises onto the tablet format, true success for the platform will come when content created specifically for the platform begins to dominate. And, when consumers are able to pay for that content the way they want to pay. These goals will be reached at some point but we are nowhere near them now. We are in the midst of many experiments, most of which should, and will, fail. We will, however, find the right formula eventually.

Meanwhile, think of where cable tv was in early 1970’s. The only pay channel was HBO, which by the way was sold by subscription, not single show sales.

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