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Why the outlook for tablet magazines is getting better

by Doug Drinkwater

May 6 2013

Another year of declining print sales for magazine publishers seems inevitable, but the digital future looks brighter. New research from Adobe suggests that not only are tablet magazines growing quickly, but that readers are even willing to pay for them.

Adobe has been on a mission over the last year to better understand where digital publishing is headed. As well as working with publishers using its Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) to push out tablet editions, Adobe has been meeting with these partners to get a feel of the state of tablet publishing.

Now, 12 months later, Adobe has compiled the results of its research that should be of particular interest to magazine publishers, advertising agencies and media ad buyers.

“The momentum we’re seeing in digital publishing is that publishers are actually able to make money off these magazines. They are coming to realize that these [editions] have business value,” Lynly Schambers-Lenox, Adobe’s group product marketing manager for digital publishing, told TabTimes.

Adobe has also benefitted from publishers’ appetite for digital content on mobile devices – Schambers-Lenox says that the Digital Publishing Suite has gone from publishing 170,000 digital issues a week in May 2011 to 1.8 million by the end of February. The Adobe exec added that magazine downloads (for editions using DPS) now stands at 75 million.

“It shows more and more that people are coming into the digital franchises of these publications, and consuming magazines and newspapers on smartphones and tablets,” she said.

Tablet readers will pay for content

Adobe’s study further details that readers are increasingly prepared to spend money on these tablet magazines.

When looking at the consumer’s willingness to pay for digital content, Adobe found that this stood at 65% of consumers in February last year before rising to an “all-time high” of 80% figure a year later.

“It is also interesting to compare subscriptions against single issues,” said Schambers-Lenox. “A year ago, that ratio was at 2:1 but now it closer to 3:1. People are definitely seeing value in digital magazines and want to have a long-term relationship with publishers.”

Adobe’s research found that total digital readership has grown an average of 30% across all publishers in the last year, with some publishers seeing that figure rise as high as 150%.

“We think that tablets are driving this growth. The iPad mini came in the fall and that’s definitely driving a huge number of readers, but there’s also a bit of movement around Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7.”

PDF rendering is a thing of the past

Some publishers are having more success with tablet publishing than others; case in point, the BBC's car magazine Top Gear.

Just three months ago, the magazine was reliant on using PDF replicas for its tablet magazine, something Hearst and others have previously admitted to using, but it has since moved to using Adobe’s DPS.

The results have been staggering. Adobe says that total tablet magazine downloads have since risen 48% with paid-downloads and single-issue sales up by 62% and 79%, respectively. Ad revenue has also increased by an impressive 200%, while the reader time-per issue has quadrupled from 10-12 minutes to 40 minutes.

Top Gear's success is the latest evidence to show the popularity of PDF rendering is fading, just as TabTimes forecast almost a year ago.

Asked if publishers were coming to realize that PDF replicas were limited, Schambers-Lenox as good as agreed, saying that the format worked well…three years ago.

“Three years ago it was a smart move. The risk was really low and you could take a PDF and transform it into a pseudo digital format. But now publishers realize they have to do more,” she said, adding that publishers are increasingly looking at offering digital bundles and tablet-first strategies.

Not that Adobe intends to stand still with DPS. The company says that publishers can now publish personalized push notifications to their readers (Men’s Health uses this feature to detail when the next issue is available) and adds that other new features include digital blow-in (the ability to offer subs within an issue) and greater support for social networks.

But perhaps the biggest improvement is the new ‘First Issue Free’ feature, which allows first-time users to download a free copy of an edition when inside the publisher’s container app.

TabTimes asked if reader frustrations with these container apps, which essentially only allow access to subscribers or one-off buyers, drove Adobe and publishers to make the change.

“I think that’s an accurate representation of the user experience in the past,” said digital publishing evangelist Colin Fleming. “It was not user friendly.”

Adobe says that it will go on to support Android smartphones and Windows 8 devices in the second half of the year (it already supports iPad and Android tablets), and sees smartphones as an “add-on” to tablet reading.

“We’re starting to see more publishers publish on smartphones,” said Schambers-Lenox. “National Geographic sees 75% of its readers on ‘lean back’ tablets, but also sees 20% of content being consumed on smartphones. The takeaway here is that the smartphone will contribute to readership.”

Good news for advertisers

Adobe’s report also shed a positive light on the future of tablet advertising, noting that readers are increasingly attracted to interactive ads.

Studying how readers responded to 10 different ads, Adobe research showed readers are increasingly shunning the static ads of yesterday.

“Advertisers are starting to step up and now blend and match the capabilities of the publication [with their ads]”, said Fleming. “For example, there’s a Jaguar ad on my iPad where I can swipe to revolve balance or bring the car to the forefront. This kind of interactivity is fun.”

Other brands, like John Varvatos, are experimenting with interactive ads that show videos. Adobe execs says they expect tablet ads to catch-up with other platforms, but admit that this will take time.

“TV ads have the best pull, but tablet ads only represent 2% of all ads so this is early days,” said Schambers-Lenox. “We’ll see the percentages shift around. Interactive ads are great, but there are not a lot of them out there at the moment."

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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