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.


  1. I think the iPad is fantastic and I use it all the time. But I have not bought a single magazine for it. Generally they are way too expensive but also I don't buy a magazine for video content : not everything needs to be a multimedia extravaganza. I'd much rather have a paper copy : part of the pleasure of a good magazine is it's physicality. ( I just got the first issue of Privateer and it is gorgeous)

  2. Anyone concerned that the internet will destroy the magazine industry is looking in the wrong direction. The big problem sneaking up on us is energy depletion, which some call peak oil. Don't worry about the iPad, worry that you won't have electricity to run your printing presses...

  3. Agree with Nick's peak oil comment... we'll all look stupid with our pile of useless gadgets soon... in the mean time...

    ...I couldn't post this from my iPad because the visual verification requires flash... ironic given my comments but...

    ...I haven't bought a newspaper or a magazine since I got my iPad. I still have a running subscription to paper WiReDs though because it's cheaper... I bought their first iPad edition for a look-see.

    I love the New Yorker but won't be paying the money. I quite like Zinio but just read the freebie articles... Haven't bought anything.

    I use Pulse and Flipboard extensively as well as several RSS readers powered by Google Reader, meaning I have access to way more content than I can consume.

    I have no space left for buying mags but do miss them to a point, especially the longer form interviews and features.

    I have to say, that having been a massive buyer of CDs and vinyl and never much of a pirate, I now get most of my listening done via a premium Spotify account for a tenner a month... I trawl blogs and record shop sites for recommends and new releases and have more an enough to go at.

  4. Odd. Word verification seems to work on iPad now.

  5. Ah, 'Peak Oil'. The new 'Global Climate Disruption', which was the new 'Climate Change', which was the new 'Global Warming', which was the new 'Global Cooling', which was the new 'Population Bomb', which was the new...

    I'm sure there's a pattern here somewhere...

  6. Peak energy or not, there's a new metaphor waiting to happen around magazines, just as there was around radio. Radio should have died at the advent of talking pictures, then television, then the internet – but actually the internet seems to have given radio a new, and perhaps unexpected, lease of life. My newish smart phone is equipped to receive radio. Something similar will happen to magazines; it's almost certainly happening now but we are too close to see it. But it won't be Zinio or Olivetree or Ceros or even Issuu.

  7. Have a look at Magazero to see what is going on with interesting magazines. Lots of stuff there - apparently a new magazine shop called Gmbh has just opened in Glasgow.

  8. I do agree that people are looking at iPad magazines because frankly they want somethign to show off their new toy.

    However with publishers looking at rising paper costs, dwindling print sales and websites that are tricky to monetise, they reall ought to be all over the iPad.

    Here's my response

  9. Anonymous4:49 pm

    David, apologies if this is old ground, but I've just taken out a sub to the Kindle version of New Statesman. Within seconds of me hitting 'buy now', it appeared, wirelessly on my Kindle and will continue to do so until I tell them to stop. Text only, but then that's why I read it. Could The Word be made available in such a manner?

  10. Chris, I think this kind of thing is very interesting. I can see the appeal of just having a words and spaces version. I find I read quite a lot of news on my iPhone using Instapaper. At some point, though, you're going to be facing the fact that you're paying your subscription to the New Statesman twice and then you might drop one. Which will it be? My colleague Fraser Lewry made a very good point which applies to all magazines or newspapers delivered by new means. If those new means prove unsatisfactory people don't blame the new means, they blame the brand.