Magazine publishers are doing well with tablet publishing, but must start innovating

May 23, 2012

Just a week ago, Hearst Magazines revealed that its’ collection of tablet-based magazines were attracting 600,000 sales each month, a significant number given the infancy of tablet publishing, irrespective of the fact the firm also claims to sells around 22 million printed magazine per calendar month.

What was truly surprising about these tablet magazines, was that Duncan Edwards, CEO of Hearst Magazines International, openly admitted the publisher does nothing fancy with most of the magazines; in fact, most of the tablet magazines simply copy the print edition in terms of design.

This approach isn’t exactly unique; Future Publishing’s T3 added some videos and other features to its tablet magazine, but editorial content remains a copy from the print edition, and in reality, this approach makes sense to publishers who want to retain the magazine’s brand image while keeping app development relatively simple. To date, most readers subscribing to a tablet edition don't seem too fussed either, and at this stage seem to just want the convenience of downloading their magazine onto their tablet.

You have to wonder, though, how long that particular desire will last. When the initial buzz over tablets and tablet magazines dies down, will tablet subscribers demand HTML5 interactivity, more videos and 360-degree images, or will they be happy with a version that simply mirrors the printed mag?

That question leads onto another conundrum on when (and if) publishers will be forced to take tablet publishing more seriously, spend more money, and employ more people, to push out new features, new content and even unique deals for the tablet edition, perhaps even as a priority over the printed edition. 

Tablet magazine sales are improving all the time

These are all changes faced today by magazine and newspaper publishers, and if recent figures are anything to go by, they need to be thinking about these things sooner rather than later.

A senior director at The Financial Times (arguably a pioneer of HTML5 apps) this week said that its digital subscribers could overtook those buying the print edition later this year, while Future pushed out its own data detailing iPad magazine sales have topped £3 million ($4.7 million) in revenue, with digital revenues jumping up by an encouraging 37%.

In fairness, while tablet magazine features may still look fairly samey, the likes of Hearst, and Conde Nast are beginning to address this market, and the move by the MPA to introduce guidelines for publishers to provide ad buyers with tablet metrics last month is a step in the right direction for taking tablet publishing seriously.

We can only hope that publishers begin to see the tablet in its own right, and not just as a secondary platform with which to boost revenues.


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