I won’t bore you by chronicling the decade-long decline of the traditional publishing industry. Magazines and newspapers that have been fixtures on the editorial landscape for decades ??? in some cases for more than a century ??? are disappearing every month. Many of the few that aren’t completely disappearing are going digital only.
Newspapers and magazines have been in what seems like a decade-long hibernation. Most have been slow to morph their business models in order to allow them to survive in an increasingly digital world.
Then along came the iPad
It’s clear from the comments by Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson that he, and others, think (or maybe hope) that the runaway success of Apple’s iPad will spawn an ecosystem of similar tablet devices that will usher in a new day for publishers, providing them with a dynamic platform through which they’ll be able to stop the bleeding and save their businesses. I’m typically the most optimistic guy in the room but call me cynical on this one.
Here are 5 reasons why:
Reason #1: Sharing is caring
For starters ??? and I acknowledge that it’s early ??? most of the print industry’s early attempts at iPad ???friendly formats of their publications have essentially sought to do nothing but recreate their printed versions. For obvious reasons, readers of the printed version of those publications do not expect to have any social functionality embedded. However, once those same readers encounter content in the digital realm, they have every expectation of being able to share that content via popular social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Publishers need to build social features into every digital publication they create. No exceptions.
Reason #2: With digital, it’s not a one-way monologue
With social tools, users expect to be able to join the conversation after reading an article, by posting comments. Some of the popular blogs that have created iPad versions of their sites, i.e. Mashable, tend to get this right. But iPad versions of popular newspapers like the New York Times and USA Today, as well as magazines like Wired, do not include the ability for user feedback.
Reason #3: Missed opportunities
Over the last decade, online startups like eBay and Craigslist slowly (and then rapidly) ate away at traditional publishers’ classified revenues until there was almost nothing left. At no point over the last decade did the major publishers decide to partner with either of these juggernauts, and they completely missed the opportunity to purchase them outright when either company was small enough to be had. The industry cannot afford to miss future opportunities to innovate or to purchase potentially disruptive technologies. Will the Times Company or News Corp decide to purchase popular startup Flipboard, the iPad sensation that aggregates content created by your friends in various social networks and displays them in a beautiful magazine style format? Could we see them purchasing or partnering with popular apps like Instapaper or Read It Later, applications that cache content from online sources and allow readers to read them offline? My guess is we will not.
Reason #4: It’s all about apps
For the longest time, publishers have focused on the entire publication, erroneously thinking that readers buy their papers or magazines because they all want everything contained within. In truth, different readers want different things in different sections. Some newspaper readers primarily buy the paper for the sports section so they can keep up with their fantasy league players. Others flip directly to the horoscopes while some instantly thumb to letters to the editor or the Op Ed section. Most publishers continue to force users to dig deep into the iPad versions of their publications whereas apps provide users with streamlined access to the content they really want in the first place. Some publications get this right. ESPN provides users with a variety of apps that cater to their individual needs, rather than force them to download 5MB of information, most of which they may have no interest in. Publishers need to consider productizing existing sections of their publications ??? innovating sections that do not exist in their print versions ??? and providing them as applications.??
Reason #5: The price
Most magazine publishers charge users a premium ($3.99 and up) to purchase the iPad versions of their publications, often charging $1-3 more for the iPad version than for the print version. The reason? They don’t want to cannibalize their rapidly dwindling print sales. This makes no sense whatsoever. If anything, the iPad version should be CHEAPER than the print version. In the app universe, there are many great applications and games that are available for between 99 cents and $2.99. By contrast, paying $5.99 for the iPad issue of a magazine seems extremely high. Most iPad owners would agree that in app-land, $5.99 seems like $50! I routinely find myself debating whether to purchase apps that cost $3-$4 because it seems so out of whack compared with what’s available.
Of course, there could always be some miraculous turnaround by the publishing industry and, overnight, they might become extremely digital, innovative and ??? finally – aware of the way people want to consume their content in 2010. But I doubt it; and I don’t think many of them will be around for long as a result.