At SWIPE, the Magazine Publishers Association conference on “tablets, e-readers and smartphones,” held at the Grand Hyatt on March 20, tablets dominated the discussion. Not surprisingly, the “new iPad” was the focus of much adulation – especially given magazine publishers’ delight at how well ads looked in the pixelated screen. But there was also concern that, for the near future, apps would have to be created for both the “new” screen, and the iPad and iPad 2 screen.
Magazine publishers have had a hard time of it, with print sales disappearing, advertisers reluctant to pay for digital ads, and consumers resisting paid subscription models. But, as tablets gain momentum, screen quality improves, and multiple newsstand platforms and “social magazines” offer ways for publishers to monetize their content, some optimism is returning.
Paul Verna, Senior Analyst at eMarketer, gave some interesting stats: depending on the category, up to 40% of digital single copies sold are backlist issues; 70% of readers want to purchase directly from the editorial and ad pages of the magazine they’re reading; already 52% of readers purchase something from magazine pages every week (and that’s before those luscious new iPad ads have flooded the market). Digital magazine ad sales will grow 67% over the next five years.
Panels on digital newsstands and social magazines (like Flipboard, Yahoo’s Livestand and Google Currents) showed what a plethora of opportunities publishers are presented with, including the ability to agglomerate content from different magazines around a consumer’s interest, like business or cooking. Eventually, functionality – as in shopping lists created from recipes – will travel with the content when one user sends it to another user. As most of the participants were on the advertising side, they hastened to mention that ads could travel too, and even feature the shopping lists in those ads.
But two panels brought the audience to content. In one, best-in-show apps were showcased. These included Martha Stewart’s gorgeous Cookies apps, created for the new iPad with Calloway Digital Arts; National Geo’s April issue, which includes a 360 degree view of the Titanic, and Backpacker’s latest issues, with interactive maps and you-are-there videos. All the assembled agreed that a lack of standards in apps means that consumers are often stymied as to how to make them work. Adobe’s Bruce Bell told the audience that focus on usability is key, even at the expense of the editorial voice. “Cue the user on how to use the app,” he urged. Backpacker’s Anthony Cerretani mentioned that 70% of readers want their magazine to be accessible in both vertical and landscape versions. MSLO’s Gael Towey told the audience to “experiment.” She said the editors create stories around functionality, like the video of a puff pastry that, when tapped, opens up to reveal its secrets. For National Geo, it’s all about “storytelling,” which sometimes means telling the story only with pictures. On certain pages in the Titanic app there is just a photo, with no text — though the user can click on the button for the caption. All urged the use of audio/video, and slides. Of course, such rich features don’t translate to smart phones, so have to be stripped down (though smart phone users are “reading like crazy”). Smart phone readers like short pieces, and tablets tend to be read at night, so articles in those formats can be longer.
The final panel was assembled to compare and contrast Kindle Fire with Apple iPad, but Macworld’s Jason Snell and Consumer Reports’ Paul Reynolds agreed on almost everything – Kindle’s better for reading and Amazon presents the customer with a better, more standardized user and service experience. But Apple is ahead with anything that has “bells and whistles,” or requires high quality resolution. Size matters – though can be a positive or negative, depending on what the user want to get out of the device. Nook appeals to women and has found a good niche as a reliable, less expensive alternative. And when Windows 8 comes out, it could kill off android tablets (which everyone seems to agree are not that impressive as a class, in part because Google hasn’t embraced tablets).
The conference was upbeat and provided some useful perspective for text-based content providers looking at the digital future. There was no argument with one panelist’s comment:
Tablets will get faster, slimmer, cheaper. Print won’t.