Should magazine publishers keep taking the tablets?

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This week’s magazine ABC figures suggested a continuing improvement in the demand for magazines among consumers. But despite the renewed power in print, many publishers are moving to the world of tablets to increase brand reach and revenue streams.

Since the iPad’s launch into the UK market in May last year, publishers have explored using the new device to replicate and add value to magazines, as well as launching stand-alone branded apps.

The current tablet universe is still dominated by the iPad. According to Strategy Analytics, the iPad accounted for 75% of tablet shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010, but lost share from the previous quarter’s figure of 96%. Apple sold 7.33 million iPads in the three months to 25 December, according to its latest company results.

The number of tablet owners is set to grow in 2011 with the upcoming launches of dozens of new devices from Samsung, HTC, Motorola and others due to be launched in the UK market.

Currently, iPad magazine apps appear to be more popular with men, according to Sannah Mullan at ZenithOptimedia, with Future Publishing’s T3, Sir Richard Branson’s Project magazine and Condé Nast’s Wired leading the market.

It is inevitable that tablets will cannibalise magazines, but we have to ensure we protect the content. Print is still the dominating market at the moment

Andy Marshall

But the female market is starting to catch up. Vogue tested the iPad with its December issue, achieving 6,608 downloads, Marie Claire secured the number one download in its launch week in November and Glamour is due to launch four apps with its April issue.

Other tablet download data is difficult to come by because publishers are, by and large, tight-lipped about the amount of people consuming their apps. In the US, Wired’s iPad app saw 100,000 downloads from June to August last year, Elle achieved 20,000 iPad downloads for its debut October issue and Popular Science average 14,000 downloads for its first four issues.

Despite the figures suggesting that download sales lag far behind magazine sales, publishers are predictably upbeat about the role of the tablet format to drive magazine revenue, although other industry observers have more tempered views.

There does seem to to be a common belief that iPad editions read differently to any other current format.

THE AESTHETICS

Andy Marshall, managing director of BBC Magazines’ Bristol operation, publisher of Focus, the first BBC interactive app to launch on the iPad, says: “Apps allow us to present information in a way that is a lot more intuitive than in magazines.”

Mike Goldsmith, editor in chief of Future Publishing’s iPad and tablet editions says the iPad has caused people to “time shift” their reading patterns.

Whereas on the internet, readers’ attention spans are often fleeting, Goldsmith says iPad users spend longer with content, taking time to read long-form features and even black copy on a white background is accessible – sometimes more so than in print.

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Future Publishing announced the launch of 14 new iPad apps in December, ranging from best-of lists, to magazine replicas and how-to guides. Goldsmith says he aims to roll out further apps soon and adds that the new form of publishing will soon become a dominant tool in Future’s armoury.

He adds: “If we are going to staff up, we will not need any more writers; we have a fantastic archive and exclusive content. We will be looking for more animators and people informed on tablet devices who can produce things such as infographics.”

As well adding further visual and interactive assets, apps also take away the need for physical distribution, meaning titles can change categories or pricing at any point during a live campaign and can reach more readers in different territories.

Goldsmith says: “Apps help you find the market that is most effective while a campaign is live. They allow you to experiment more.”

Earlier this week, Apple helped the magazine industry take apps further by launching a subscription service. Previously, users would download a “wraparound” app which would need to emit in-app or push notifications to notify users about updates.

With Apple’s new service, iPad apps will work more like the traditional subscription model, in which subscriptions are paid for in advance or on a regular basis. However, Apple will keep 30% of the revenue from subscriptions bought through its App Store.

Google has quickly followed by launching its “One Pass” subscription service which features a more generous 10% revenue share for subscribers.

Marshall says the introduction of new services means readers are starting to use apps in the same way they used print products.

There is no manual for this, we are still in an exploratory stage

Mike Goldsmith

He adds “It is inevitable that tablets will cannibalise magazines, but we have to ensure we protect the content. Print is still the dominating market at the moment.”

But Andy Taylor, head of magazines at Carat disagrees tablets will have quite as big an impact.

He says: “In the same way that the internet didn’t kill off the newspaper, tablets won’t kill print either. In the same way that websites settled into a relatively happy coexistence with magazines, tablets will eventually settle into a happy trinity with websites and physical publications too.”

Despite a potential “happy” co-existence between print, websites and tablets, Gord Ray, IPC Media’s publishing director of Wallpaper* says apps are presenting staffing drawbacks.

He adds: “One barrier is that it creates extra work for our current staff – coming up with a concept, managing the development and ongoing maintenance of the app, selling the sponsorship, and so on. This all has to be managed efficiently.

App data can also be difficult to analyse; a key factor when it comes to attracting advertisers to the new format and proving in-app ads could extend a brand’s reach.

APPS AND ADVERTISING

While tablet apps open up the options of using HD video, sound, interactivity such as games and click-through links in adverts, the market currently appears more fruitful for the reader than advertisers and even publishers, who are investing thousands in apps that generally sell at a retail price below £3 – of which a proportion goes back to the App store operator.

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Marshall adds: “Advertisers are still learning about the iPad and because it is a pioneering marketplace it is difficult for us to provide robust figures – especially as Apple has been very hard to get data from and, in a publishing world, data is key.

Bauer Media, which launched its first iPad app – a redesigned and formatted edition of Empire magazine – last month, is attempting to get advertisers more involved with the editorial process to make ads more appealing to users.

Bauer’s head of digital sales Richard Phillips says: “[Our] commercial model is based around ensuring advertisers are part of the editorial proposition rather than distracting from the user experience; fewer partners with greater integration across all Empire platforms.”

Future’s Goldsmith adds: “There is no manual for this, we are still in an exploratory stage. Takeup of tablets might be slow at the moment but it won’t be long before the whole market changes – just look at what happened with the iPhone.”

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