This Week in Tablets: Are tablets the savior of print magazines?

by George Jones

November 2 2013

George is a founding editor of Tabtimes, and now works as Chief Consultant at Hit Detection


The short answer? No. The long answer? No. Magazine publishers need to make sure that Flipboard and/or Zite are their new best friends.

Early this week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave a talk at the Magazine Publishers Association where he optimistically discussed the future of magazines.

"Tablets are now more popular than PCs," Schmidt said. "You can read it, it knows where you are, it has an accelerometer. There are all sorts of stuff [publishers] can do in tablet magazines [that they] couldn't do in print magazines."

All of the above sounds reasonable and true. But, if you’ve been following the magazine industry, it’s beginning to become clear that tablet adoption of magazines is sluggish at best. In August, Ad Age reported that the entire universe of digital magazine subscriptions totaled 10.2 million subscribers in the first half of 2013, and that, on its own, the gaming magazine Game Informer accounted for one-third of these subscriptions.

That’s not healthy. Particularly when you consider that over the same period of time—the first half of 2013—Flipboard’s total audience size netted over 50 million regular users.

How to explain the disconnect? Well, for starters, the Flipboards and the Zites of the world are cannibalizing magazines outright. Why would anyone buy a single magazine when they can have access to all magazine content via aggregators on their iPad or Android tablet all the time?

(Don't miss the Tablets in Media & Marketing panel at the upcoming TabletBiz conference & expo in NYC on Nov. 13. If you manage a tablet or mobile project, you probably qualify for a complimentary pass.)

Part of the blame lies with publishers, however. To date, most digital publications are just as static as their online counterparts. You may see videos periodically embedded onto the page, but Eric Schmidt’s dream of magazines doing all these magical things in digital versions that print can’t do? It’s just not happening.

Having worked as an editor in chief at multiple magazines, I’m holding out hope that someday soon, publishers figure out a formula for gaining subscribers.

The secret might just be in partnering with the Flipboards and Zites of the world instead of competing with them. Late in the week, Time Inc. inked a deal with Flipboard that brings People, Time, InStyle, and Fortune magazine content to Flipboard’s mobile apps.

The deal revolves around more than content. Gucci will be the advertising launch partner for InStyle magazine when it makes its debut on Flipboard.

That’s hardly an optimistic leading indicator for tablet magazines. Barring a titanic sea change (which some might call a regression), it’s hard to imagine static, linear-format magazines thriving in an age where everything we consume comes in aggregate, dynamic form.  

Smart publishers will realize this and begin to ensure that their brands are attached to the future of new media outlets like Zite.

(For more insights about how tablets and apps are transformng the media lanscape, sign up for TabTimes' free Tablets in Media, Marketing & Commerce newsletter)

This week’s winner: Us

Travelers have waited for this moment since the turn of the century. This week, the F.A.A. cleared the airplane-flying public to use electronic devices on flights in the 10-minute window prior to takeoff and landing. What’s crazy is that 20 years ago, this wasn’t even an issue. There were so few electronic appliances that it didn’t matter. And WiFi existed only as a concept.

This week’s loser: Apple

The world’s leading electronics manufacturer recently declared that it expects to lose $900 million in revenue because of its decision to release future OS X upgrades and the iWork suite for free. That’s no small amount of revenue.

George is a founding editor of Tabtimes, and now works as Chief Consultant at Hit Detection

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