Magazines may not have the best track record when it comes to adopting the newest technologies, but when the iPad launched, it was hard to find a magazine chief who wasn't excited.

Print publishing is particularly tough these days, and the iPad represented hope. As a result, many magazine executives were eager to give the iPad a try. That was a good thing.

Unfortunately, businesses don't run on hope, and despite the fact that the iPad and tablet devices are still very nascent, magazines have thus far found that tablets aren't a panacea for their industry's ailments. Some are even cutting back on their iPad plans.

There are plenty of reasons the iPad hasn't worked miracles for magazine publishers. Pricing, device-centric business models, an overestimation of the value of their content and Apple have all contributed to the disappointment.

Right now, recycling existing content with the goal of producing incremental revenue seems to be the most viable strategy for publishers.

But how long will that be the case for? When will the iPad be capable of paying dividends? According to Jann Wenner, the founder and publisher of Rolling Stone, it's going to take "a generation at least, maybe two generations, before the shift" to the iPad and tablets is ready to bear real fruit.

As Wenner sees it, magazines that rushed to jump on the iPad bandwagon were making decisions based on "sheer insanity and insecurity and fear" -- not solid business sense.

Wenner told AdAge:

Magazines that depend on photography, and design, and long reads, and quality stuff, are going to do just fine despite the internet and cable news. Because in those areas there's a real advantage to getting a print product and having something you can hold and that of course is portable and has a luxurious feeling and is comfortable and immersive and you can spend time with it and it's organized for you.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and the availability of the internet you have to focus on those qualities in your magazine even more. Really you have to deliver quality more than ever. And unless you can deliver something that's quality and really compelling there's just too many f****** media choices around now. Unless you're really good you're in trouble.

While one might debate whether "photography, and design, and long reads, and quality stuff" is enough to cut it today in some verticals, Wenner's observation that there's "just too many f****** media choices around now" rings true.

Magazines putting out mediocre content, or charging significantly more for their content than the market is willing to bear, can do very little to stem their declines. The iPad isn't going to change that.

This said, it seems somewhat cynical to believe that it's going to take generations for new computing devices to make a meaningful impact on the magazine business. Some print publishers are finding success with the iPad, and we can expect to see more figuring out how to make the iPad work in the coming years.

But Wenner's comments about the rush to jump on the iPad bandwagon is worth taking seriously given the disappointment and outright failure that has followed.

These comments should serve not as an indictment of the value of experimenting with new technologies, but rather as a reminder that first mover advantage isn't necessarily what it's cracked up to be when your business suffers from more fundamental problems.

Patricio Robles

Published 1 June, 2011 by Patricio Robles

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

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Comments (5)


Ted S

Obviously it's difficult to argue against someone this deep in the industry and I think Wenner does bring up a good point that the shift will take time, however, how much time is something I think is much more in the magazines control than they seem to admit.

Rolling Stone is a very widely circulated publication so while they need serious adoption throughout the consumer market, that's not the case for most. When you think about more targeted books, whether it's scuba diving magazine or serious DIY improvement you're talking about audiences that are already seeing high penetration rates of tablet devices. The more small books that turn, the more people will shift how they consume print, opening the door for the bigger ones.

What's lacking is a motivation to try the digital version -- there are few ads in magazines for digital versions, little support in media campaigns for reputable apps. I hadn't subscribed to a magazine in decades but after a colleague suggested Zinio for my iPad I snagged up a half dozen publications for airplane reading and have had many friends following. And yet the publications seem to be fighting their own future by keeping costs of digital higher than that of the [more expensive] analog just like the music and movie industries have done at times. Part of the transformation of "old media" continues to be the re-evaluation of what it's worth is in a world where so much information, good or bad, is out there.

It's never a wise move to run just for the sake of hype but at the same time, as with so much of the print industry, excuses turn into the standard... Rolling Stone says this and half the editors take it as a reason to wait for a few more years. Jumping to a 100% digital market is not going to happen for publication today but putting the tools in place to encourage it happening as fast as possible is taking fate into your own hands, and for this industry that's the attitude needed.

about 7 years ago



i'm in mags (or rather was) and i was never blinded by all the tablet hoo haa. the desparation in the industry that this was going to be the savior was almost tragic. the reasons for the decline in magazines is a complex perfect storm of events that I won't go into in depth here (retailers screwing the margins out of publishers, advertising going online, readers adopting other mediums to read stuff, consumer boredom of the me-too habits of publishers all putting out the same shit, narrow minded retailers controlling the market which means the moron in charge of mag buying for WH Smiths was probably in charge of buying Twixes last week and so launching something interesting is nearly impossible because its survival depends on the whim of a chippy young girl in Swindon). One of the few plus points of publishing a magazine is that you end up with this beautiful tactile product that you can shove under your bed or in the glove box or next to the bog and read it again when all the corners are curled. this is why tablets were never the answer. the physical magazine is everything and if its good and the publisher is lean then they'll survive. but there wont be any billionaires!

about 7 years ago



Having worked in periodical publishing for a number of years, I would suggest that the issue is with the actual format of a magazine. Readership is falling across printed media, and i believe it is down to a change in the way people prefer to access information. People want to access information more quickly, they want specific types of information, they want to compare pictures and they to explore a topic, via web search or alternate sources. The table therefore would need to offer something more than just the magazine.

about 7 years ago


Magazine Design

Finally, a voice of thoughtfulness among major magazine publishers when it comes to the dramatically overhyped tablet magazine format. I haven't personally seen any solid, lasting proof that magazine readers really even want to "consume" (blech) information regularly on tablets. And while print magazines are certainly facing challenges and fighting headwinds from the Internet, the failure of tablet mags to catch on in large numbers so far only tells me that the format will be a much, much harder sell — and that magazine readers still prefer print over the still-too-small screens of e-readers (not to mention the expensive hardware cost that print magazines don't require). In five years, when oversized tablets are cheap and plentiful, then maybe a true movement toward digital mags will emerge. But for now, I'm not buying it.

about 7 years ago

Niranjan Sridharan

Niranjan Sridharan, Digital Auditor at ABC

It is not hard to see why the print dinosaurs are struggling. I totally agree with Ted S. There has been a paradigm shift and I can still see attitudes from the last century prevalent. Unless we see changes in this I can see more than a couple of publishers going out of business.

about 7 years ago

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