|As 2012 winds down, magazine publishers have plenty of reasons to be bullish about tablets and the opportunities that lie ahead to transition their business models into the mobile age.
There are plenty of caveats that temper the hype around tablet publishing, but the raw numbers continue to impress. McPheters' latest State of the App report says more than 9,000 magazine apps were in the market as of October, twice the number from a year earlier. Adobe says more than 2,000 apps have been produced using its Digital Publishing Suite, accounting for 40 million issue downloads as of August.
The Audit Bureau of Circulation (recently rechristened the Alliance for Audited Media) said digital replica editions surpassed 5.4 million for the first half of 2012, more than double the previous year's period. Game Informer led the titles reporting digital editions, with 1.2 million digital replica editions, accounting for more than 14 per cent of its total 8.2 million circ.
Overall, however, digital replicas accounted for just 1.7 per cent of total magazine circulation. Some see that percentage as a reason to keep expectations low. Others see a huge runway for growth.
"For publishers, it's no longer about whether or not to develop for mobile devices, it's about how best and how quickly we can get there," said Linda Wakeham, international director of marketing and PR at Mag+, the Bonnier spin-off that sells a tablet publishing platform. Since opening up its platform to non-Bonnier titles in April 2011, publishers have built nearly 800 apps using Mag+, publishing more than 4,000 issues.
Expect 2013 to be a big year for tablet editions (as well as native tablet magazines) as publishers tweak their offerings, vendors improve their platforms and tools, and a more stable tablet publishing ecosystem emerges. Here are three key areas where we can expect to see plenty of activity and, hopefully, innovation:
The first phase of tablet publishing involved digital replicas - straight translations of print versions into a digital environment. The next phase consisted of digital "enhancements" - video, audio, other animations and some original content. The third phase - already being pioneered by some tablet-only publishers - involves what designer Craig Mod calls "subcompact" publishing. In a wonderful manifesto that's well worth reading in full, Mod makes the case that publishers need to stop adding to their digital editions and instead think about minimizing their presentation.
In product design, the simplest thought exercise is to make additions. It's the easiest way to make an Old Thing feel like a New Thing. The more difficult exercise is to reconsider the product in the context of now. A now which may be very different from the then in which the product was originally conceived.
He attributes the problem of heaping features onto an existing product to "business skeuomorphism."
Business skeuomorphism happens when we take business decisions explicitly tied to one medium, and bring them to another medium - no questions asked. Business skeuomorphism is rampant in the publishing industry. The simplest example is with magazines. Just look at the covers in [Apple's] Newsstand: Not a single cover is readable.
To create digital magazines that are free of legacy constraints, Mod recommends that publishers adopt a subcompact ethos highlighted by eight qualities:
• Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
• Small file sizes
• Digital-aware subscription prices
• Fluid publishing schedule
• Scroll (don't paginate)
• Clear navigation
• HTML(ish) based
• Touching the open web
The poster child for this type of design in a tablet publication is "The Magazine" from Marco Ament (creator of Instapaper).
In one gesture Marco ... designed and programmed one of the first truly tablet-indigenous subcompact publications. The Magazine doesn't need a how-to, an instructions page, or a fancy video. This app mimics the intuitive usability of a printed publication as well as anything else we've seen.
Here's another example that drives home Mod's point: An animated cover from the British Journal of Photography (created with Mag+).
Subscriptions were the big issue among media companies when Apple first launched the iPad. There was much hand-wringing over Apple's 30% revenue cut and its unwillingness to share customer data with publishers. Those early concerns seem to be a distant memory, with most publishers now offering in-app subscription plans and reporting healthy numbers.
Time Inc., one of the last holdouts, began offering digital subscriptions through Apple's Newsstand in June, and launched subscription options for its titles in Amazon's app store last week. A spokeswoman said the publisher will release digital subscription data for all its titles through the AAM beginning in January.
One of the more innovative subscription platforms to emerge is from Next Issue Media. The joint venture of Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp. and Time Inc., in April launched a service with a Netflix-like pricing model that allows consumers to access any magazine in the Next Issue newsstand - currently 72 in all - for a monthly fee.
To date, about 70,000 customers have signed up for the service, with 40 per cent choosing the $9.99 "unlimited basic" model, which includes monthly titles, and the remaining 60 per cent opting for the $14.99 "unlimited premium" model, which also includes weeklies. Publishers get a cut based on the percentage of time spent with their titles.
Early engagement has been positive: Next Issue says unlimited basic subscribers spend an average of 70 minutes a week with the app and unlimited premium subscribers average 90 minutes per week.
Expect more experimentation in the coming year with pricing models, especially if renewal rates on traditional subscription plans lag.
Limited inventory and high engagement rates are enabling publishers to charge premium prices for tablet ads. Research released in July by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and ABI Research found that 77 per cent of tablet users said they have had some interaction with tablet ads, and nearly half (47 per cent) said they interact with ads on their tablets a few times a week or more.
Ad networks are now getting into the act. In October, mobile ad network provider Mojiva launched Mojiva Tab, targeting tablet-specific inventory.
Publishers are also dabbling in e-commerce enhancements to their digital editions. Integrated commerce functionality could be the killer app of tablet editions, given emerging trends about how consumers are using the devices. A 2012 survey by Keynote Competitive Research found that 62 per cent of tablet users purchased a product from their tablet.
The latest publisher to dip its toe in the tablet-commerce water is Britain's Bauer Media, which just released an iPad edition of Grazia, its women's fashion magazine. The app includes a Shop feature that lets readers purchase items directly from Grazia's editorial pages.
"We know [women] buy products recommended by Grazia, so the new iPad edition offers them the ease and simplicity to buy a product as soon as they see it in our pages," Abby Carvosso, managing director of Bauer Media's lifestyle magazines, said in a press release.
Expect more of these types of product integration and other "native" advertising solutions that open new revenue doors for publishers as they seek to build a sustainable business off the backs of a burgeoning tablet industry.