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.