Magazine publishers have a tablet problem. According to one designer, they always have. Four years after Apple introduced the iPad, tablet apps are stagnating. A combination of design, pricing and discovery issues has made tablet magazines a hard sell, both for publishers and the digital readers they’re trying to reach.
“There are still a lot of issues,” said Joe Zeff, vice president of tablet app software company ScrollMotion, who helped launch apps for Fast Company and National Geographic.”These magazines are too hard to deliver, issues take a long time to download, and Apple’s Newsstand doesn’t make them easy to find. There are just too many things that have to go right.”
There was a time, not so long ago in the grand scheme, when the iPad was thought to be the savior of digital publishing. Magazines rushed out digital editions, many of which were flawed in both their pricing and in technology. The promised manna did not materialize. And now tablet sales are plateauing.
Zeff said that while publishers still have a lot of work to do with tablet apps, hope isn’t lost. Digiday spoke to him the magazine app’s successes, its failures, and why publishers should think of themselves as utilities.
Tablet magazines were supposed to save publishing. What went wrong?
The tablet magazine has been flawed from the start. They were conceived based on what publishers wanted and not what consumers wanted, so there was a lot of emphasis on extending old work flows and old reading habits rather than creating new products. We had the opportunity to put magazines on computers, which should have made magazines smarter. And that hasn’t really happened.
Are there any success stories?
There are some tremendous ones being created, yes. Wired is always a lot of fun, and Hearst, overall, seems to be doing a pretty good job at selling subscriptions, but I’d say that the success stories are few and far between.
Is this something that publishers can turn around? What are the opportunities?
There are some real opportunities to rethink the idea of a tablet magazine in order to recreate something that’s compelling. A tablet magazine should be smarter than the current set of publications. They should give me options about what content I receive and how and when it’s delivered. To do that, content has to be more modular. Today content is wrapped up in a magazine format, where everybody gets the same product. It really should be mixed and matched based on what works for me, not what works for the publisher. Content should be tied to where I am and what I’m doing, and become much more part of my regular routine.
That’s not happening now. Now, I’m getting a magazine that is very similar to what I can get anywhere else, and it’s not been created for me. It’s been created and looks in a way that suits the publisher, not the consumer.