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Friday, October 08, 2010

Magazines and the iPad - on second thoughts

Every magazine publisher at the moment is faced by a new problem, on top of the other ones. Do you or do you not invest in a version of your magazine for the iPad? If you listen to the futurists you have no choice. If you're adventurous you go for one of those all bells and whistles remakes such as Wired. (If you watch this little video review you can see how reviewers fudge the awkward issues – such as how do you actually read the thing? – to focus instead on the video and navigation.)

My favourite magazine, The New Yorker, has just launched their own app which means they're inviting subscribers like me to pay another $5 a week to get a version of the magazine for a tablet. Judging by the comments, I don't think I'm the only one who thinks that's a bit much. But I can see why they've done it. They have to recoup their costs and they probably reckon Apple is planning to do to the magazine industry what it has already done to the music industry, but with less lubricant, in which case it's better to set your price high.

Problem is things like this are insanely expensive to produce, aimed at a user base which is a fraction of the magazine's universe and by the time it's proven (or not) as a medium the publishers will be thousands of pounds in the hole. The only people guaranteed to make money are the developers. The only people to make money out of the Gold Rush were the people who sold the shovels. It's an old joke but it still holds good.

If you're less adventurous you could put your magazine on a platform like Zinio, which provides a PDF-like facsimile of your pages and has an interface that allows you to "turn" the pages. But even this costs money. Above all this is less about technology than behaviour. I don't feel in my water that people will inevitably use their iPads to read complete magazines on. At the moment they're using magazines to try out their iPads with, which is not the same thing at all.