Prior to the launch of the iPad, many magazine publishers hoped that the iPad might do for them what the iPod and iTunes did for digital music: provided a viable marketplace for them to sell their wares. Operative word: sell.

Getting consumers to pay for content has, of course, proven challenging for many magazine publishers. And despite the warm reception the iPad has received from consumers, it hasn't exactly meant overnight success for publishers that have rushed to develop iPad versions of their magazines.

According to GigaOm's Mathew Ingram, one reason for this is that most magazine apps are "walled gardens." In critiquing Esquire's new iPad app, for instance, he writes:

The new Esquire app also has plenty of “interactivity,” if by that you mean the ability to click and watch an ad for a new Lexus, or listen to cover boy Javier Bardem recite a Spanish poem, or swipe your finger and watch a timeline of the construction of the new World Trade Center. All of those are very cool — but if you are looking for the kind of interactivity that allows you to post a comment on a story, or to share a link via Twitter, or to post anything to a blog and then link back to the magazine, you are out of luck. In fact, if you like the app or any of the stories within it, your only option is to close the app completely and then email someone to tell them that you liked it.

While he finds flaws with the app's design as well, he concludes:

...the biggest flaw for me is the total lack of acknowledgment that the device this content appears on is part of the Internet, and therefore it is possible to connect the content to other places with more information about a topic, or related material of any kind, let alone any kind of social features that allow readers to share the content with their friends.

Ingram has a point. Many iPad apps do sort of, as he writes, resemble "an interactive CD-ROM from the 1990s."

But is that really a problem? Let's be honest here: it's quite questionable as to whether being able to comment on a story, or post a link to Twitter, is going to induce consumers to spend money on an app. After all, how many consumers are going to say, for instance, "I would have paid for Esquire's new iPad app if it had a Share on Twitter button"?

Can some of the features Ingram would like to see help create betters apps? In some cases, perhaps. But publishers shouldn't just assume that the 'interactivity' techies want to see is the 'interactivity' consumers in their target markets really want and most importantly, value. Most internet users don't comment on articles, and of those signed up for Twitter, most don't tweet. From this perspective, it's quite presumptuous to assume that making iPad apps more social will help publishers sell more downloads of them.

Instead, publishers should focus on four things:

The content and experience.
Whether you're selling a magazine in paper form or on an iPad, the quality of the content and the experience created by how it's presented determines the perceived value.

The platform. Thoughtlessly repurposing content for different platforms is rarely a strategy for success. If publishers want to succeed with emerging platforms like the iPad, they need to focus on the platform's capabilities, the expectations of the platform's users and how best their content can take advantage of the platform's capabilities to deliver experiences that fit in with those expectations.

The price. Price matters. Period. When the price of a product exceeds the perceived value of the product, selling is virtually impossible. Unfortunately for publishers, the perceived value of even the highest quality content is often quite low.

The business model.
Viable business models don't just magically appear, and many publishers are struggling to find viable digital models. One questionable aspect of the business models employed by publishers with iPad apps in particular is the presence of advertising. While consumers are used to paying for magazines that contain advertising, in the digital realm, consumers often have the expectation that paid content will be ad-free content.

In considering these four things, some publishers may find that some of Ingram's criticisms are spot on. However, in many cases, publishers will find that success demands more than just new features or deeper integration with the internet at large -- it demands an entirely new product.

Photo credit: Yutaka Tsutano via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 October, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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Steve Davies

Good article Patricio, you've touched on something that I've been meaning to write about myself. 

I can't believe it was nearly 20 years ago that we developed a bunch of tools to support our thinking in Value Based Management, thankfully they apply equally as well today and the one I have in mind for this issue we called the 'value quotient'. 

Put simply, a business needs to align its products or services such that the value quotient represents as close a match as possible to what would be deemed indispensible for the consumer (sounds a bit like conventional marketing eh?).  The acid test would be to ask yourself, if you stopped providing said product or service would the consumer care, or just find an alternative?  It’s the essence of a strategic competitive advantage

But there's another layer to this value quotient, and it's perhaps easier to illustrate with an example.  Imagine it's lunch time and you decide you'd quite like a pasta salad, but wherever you go, restaurants are offering the finest vinaigrettes and dressings, but no pasta salad.  Now, the vinaigrettes really are the finest around but you'd like something more filling than a tasty dressing.  Nevertheless you're happy to take a few sachets of the fine dressing which you will be able to enjoy better once you've assembled all the necessary ingredients for your lunch.   You wouldn’t pay for these sachets, even though they cost the restaurant to produce, because you came out looking for lunch not just the tasty trimmings. 

Sometimes the situation is less clear in business, the customer doesn’t know that they want lunch, they just have a rumbly tummy but when they smell your fragrant dish they know they WANT IT.  But the principle is the same, customers will pay for something that they perceive to be of value to them and that satisfies their needs, they’ll rarely pay for an ingredient unless they’re pretty sure they can assemble the remaining ingredients to satisfy the complete need.  And sometimes they don’t know exactly what they want, in which case they will be unable to place a value on your ingredient, regardless of how good it is.

So how does this relate to magazine iPad apps?  Most of them are nice shiny things that look good and make an iPad sing, but what purpose do they serve? Is it convenience? Maybe.  Perhaps it’s the whole multimedia experience they offer? Or maybe they offer a constantly updated source of information and entertainment? (very few do so yet).  Whichever it is, customers need to firstly understand which of their needs it satisfies and then in what way your magazine app will become an indispensible part of their lives.  If you can’t answer these questions then perhaps you shouldn’t be offering an iPad app.  And you certainly shouldn’t be charging for it.

Most app publishers choose to focus only on what benefits them most and rarely make a distinguishable mark on their audience.  Their focus is on looking for the fastest and easiest way to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, instead of the goal of achieving greatest satisfaction. 

I continually hear people bemoaning the fact that it’s ‘complicated’ figuring out a business model for online content, but it’s not complicated it’s just unclear.  That may seem like a subtle inflexion on the same meaning, but it makes a world of difference to how you approach the problem.

Rather than formulating complex business models to address the issue, the winning publishers will be those who can present a clear and simple proposition to their readers which enable them to see its value to them.  Price, platform and content are all ingredients in this consumer dialogue, but none of them are main meal – to figure that one out and you’ll need to focus on its value quotient.

almost 8 years ago



Interestingly the biggest issue I have with the magazine ipad apps out there (and I have a few) is that I want them to function the way the books in iBooks do. I want to flip the pages back and forth just the way I do with magazines and none of these apps do that. I'm sure there is an issue with the magazine size being so much larger dimensionally than the ipad screen but i'd like to see the whole page exactly as it looks first and then enlarge the parts i want a close up of.

almost 8 years ago


Chas. Porter

The question isn't whether people will buy the Esquire iPad app because it has a "Share on Twitter" button. It's whether they will buy the app without it.

almost 8 years ago


Gabriele Maidecchi

I think this is the reason why an hybrid app like Flipboard has tremendous success. It put *you* at the center of the content in a way that noone dared to try yet.

almost 8 years ago


Gael de Talhouet

Hi Patricio, great post !

Factors that prevent magazine iPad apps from being succesful :

1. Too soon, too quick :

As soon as the iPad was released, publishers jumped on it, like a zombie on fresh meat.
Just to relase "pdf-like" versions of the paper issues : poor first consumer experience !
Now the latest versions claim full interactivity, but what lies behind this advertising slogan ? Nobody knows, but if it is just a few anecdotical interviews, or worse, commercials, the price / value arbitrage stil carries a big question mark.

2. Price value :

Jumping from nothing to 3.99 prices looks to eager and greedy a way
 to market a new product.
Sometimes I even don't know if I am paying the full price for just an issue, or for the app itself, and then have to pay more for each issue.

Unclear pricing + above market pricing = second thoughts.

3. Try it free, buy later :

Publishers, just look at the trimmed down versions of your magazines you make me try !
By trying to keep your precious content for precious readers (not like me yet, as I am still a potential reader), you disappoint me.
Are so unsure about the quality of your content that you do not believe that by offering me a full experience, as a trial, I will be dumb enough not to want more of a unique and fullfilling experience ?
Publishers : don't sample me, seduce me !

Guys, just think about this :
- how likely am I going to want more after a first kiss ?
- how likely am I going to want more after seeing a poor photograph of you ?

The Ipad is a seduction tool, a full sensual expererience.
Don't talk to my brain, talk to my senses !

almost 8 years ago


Pauline de Robert

A lot of good points. I also think the interactive factor is missing - and interestingly enough, a recent editorial in Usability news also questioned the iPad hype.  

To me, one very good reason for getting a portable device for reading magazines, among other things of course, is that it offers a different experience, one that has something I can't get with the paper version or the web version and that justifies the cost of the device. So I get the point of a Kindle but not the iPad - yet. 

With the current form factor, opening a magazine on iPad means I don't get the full page (and I agree with the comment about wanting the full page then zooming in) - so the paper version still has the edge. As with the Kindle in fact, flicking forwards and back is easier off-line (though marginally easier with the swipe gesture - I can't skip straight to the end for example) There's also just something about photos printed on paper that a screen doesn't quite replace.

What the iPad does offer is this "interactivity" - I can't click on the magazine. But a website offers that too, and if I want to follow up a story, online I would click on the link (which would open another window in some cases) and go off surfing. If I can't do that on the iPad, all I have is portability like any magazine, but where is the interactivity?It is indeed like a glorified, portable 90's CD-Rom... 

As to Gael's post - Apple has done the seducing with the hardware...on my Tube commute, it is men who sport iPads - and women are reading on their Kindles (or other e-book readers)...

almost 8 years ago



On one side if you think, you ll find that there is some problem with the magazine publishers too, they should have predicted the thing in a better way, and if they knew that their prediction may go wrong then they shouldn't have relied much on them. It much like jumping to conclusions.

almost 8 years ago


Scott This article really makes my head spin. Did anyone notice that this article is sitting on a blog page, which supports both reader comments AND includes a "Tweet" button, which has been used 118 times? Did I read this article because of those features, of course not. But guess what, a lot of people read this article because those features were used. Twitter and Facebook link functions are marketing tools. They get you free readers through viral marketing. That's why their omission from an iPad magazine app is so detrimental. 

The problem is there is no way I can tell my friend "Hey, go read this Esquire article" and thus send a free reader over to Esquire. But this is Esquire's problem, not my problem. It's a lost opportunity for them. Amazing that someone offering "digital marketing" advice could give advice this bad.

over 7 years ago


Aj The Mauy Thai Gear Girl

Sell, sell, sell! Everyone is seduced my money. Adding a high tech gadget into the mix may be the perfect catalyst for bringing this seduction to life. If it makes both parties happy, I say go for it! At this day in age it is expected that the consumers know the game. Play, play, play!

almost 7 years ago

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