Here’s why the rush to iPad for the print industry has been slow

by: dermdaly

When the iPad came out, I was one of the many people who were quick to gush. I’ve got one, and I use it pretty much every day. I stand over all the original gushing.

But after a twitter conversation with @topgold and @shaneymac, I thought I’d flesh out some points into a blog post. I’ve said publicly plenty of times that the iPad is to the print media industry what the iPod/iTunes was to the music industry: It is the single piece of technology that if you choose to ignore, you’d go out of business. I still believe this.

So, why then are most magazine apps little more than PDF readers ?

Before I answer, I should probably clarify. Yes. There are amazing iPad apps that have already crossed over from print; Marvel is a good example, and Wired probably the gold standard. But, after the really big names, why isn’t pretty much every magazine available on my newsstand available on iPad?

Don’t worry. It will be. And in the not too distant future. Just not immediately.

The first reason is obvious to me, and the second, I believe is more subtle. Lets start with the easy one.

The big reason why your average magazine is not on the iPad (beyond in an embedded PDF) is all about investment in workflow. It goes like this:

  • The magazine company invested in workflow over the last number of years.
  • Those with their act together have a great content management system which allows writers to contribute, editors to edit and approve, and I guess typesetters and layout people to do their magic.
  • The output is a print-ready pdf, and in those more advanced cases – some form of auto-publish to the web; be that full articles, or tasters to ensure the print edition still sells.
  • This workflow is based around industry standard software, with local customisations such that it meets the needs of the individual publisher.
  • This cost of a lot of money, and took a while to bed in.
  • But today, it doesn’t do iPad.

Even the print-ready PDF is not really a good target for iPad. The print-ready PDF includes margins, bleed areas, etc. The web edition is not iPad ready; or rather it is, but not iPad enhanced.

So, in order to be able to produce useful, enhanced, “made-for-iPad” editions, the changes have to occur in the existing workflow. More to the point, the companies who supply such software to the newspapers and magazines etc., are the companies who are going to have to make the changes. This is high-end, expensive software. In many cases, it is bespoke, or at very least has had the aforementioned, customer-specific modifications made as part of the deployment. Enhancing this software is not going to be simple, and you can bet that purchasing it is going to cost a packet too.
There’s an added difficulty – these software companies speak PDF fluently; they are probably dab hands at CSS and HTML output too, but developing the “skeleton iPad app” to receive the weekly edition is likely a stretch for them too. I’m not suggesting the capability isn’t present, just that the skillset is not at their core (yet).

So here’s how I see it panning out. Firstly, the process of having workflows in place that can also produce high-end iPad editions is going to take a while, and is going to cost a packet. Wealthier publications will invest, and get on the iPad train soon. Smaller publications will either make do with limited functionality PDF renderers, or will not get into the iPad market (this could eventually kill them though).

I think there’s a second reason though. The iPad offers the chance to have much better “print advertising”. Imagine reading your favourite publication and seeing an ad which is now more interactive. The iPad can offer this. The ad could zoom bigger when tapped, or allow in-ad call to actions (e.g. “yes send me a free sample – and allow you to enter your details there and then). Taking it further, the advertising can be targeted based on country using GeoIP location, or better, with opt in from the user, even better targeted advertising.

In this view of the iPad world, the advertiser gets better targeting, and the end user prefers it, because, frankly they are more interested in a Honda Civc Hybrid than Mercedes Benz SEL500, so they aren’t seeing irrelevant ads. And, we can now get ad traceability and statistics just like on the web. I can see it now. The advertiser would love this:

Wait. Ad stats like the web? In my “print advertising” ? I like the sound of that

– A.N. Advertiser.

This will be terrible for the print industry. Because what this will do is bring to the fore how ineffective print advertising can be. It will highlight why web advertising is so much cheaper than print advertising. That’s because

Print advertising isn’t really that effective

There’s a big problem for the print industry here. The economics of the industry is about to be turned on its head. The industry relies on advertising revenues. The value to the client of this advertising is about to plummet to fair levels.

The music industry is still crying about their tumbling revenues. I remember when a new CD was the order of €20.00. Now its about half that. I think this is a correction. They’ve reacted by doing lots of silly things. Examples are

  • Suing their customers
  • Installing Malware onto their PCs in an attempt to shoehorn DRM
  • Turning A&R into TV competition shows to lower the failure risk of new acts
  • Churning out rubbish music aimed at my kids in an attempt to get the parent to open their wallet (this work I’m afraid)

I suspect the print industry is in for the similar shock. I wonder how they will react ?

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  1. Matt Johnston

    I don’t really see the music-print comparison.

    For the last few decades, the music industry has been inflating revenues by selling us the same stuff on different media formats (media shifting is still illegal in the UK – if you needed any more evidence that our laws are archaic). Digital downloads, unencumbered by DRM, will kill that. They are the 21st century equivalent of the mix tape. but whatever happens, we’re paying for the music (and the promotion, shipping, exec time and whatever else)

    However, the print industry moved itself to a model from the customer paying for the content to an advertising supported revenue model with the cover price being an incentive for stores to stock the newspaper. As the content has become increasingly more banal, people continue to buy papers out of tradition more than anything. You would think that, considering the newspaper is a throwaway item which only had a second life in wrapping chips, the Internet would be a logical step for the news print industry but this has not been so.

    The first problem is pricing. Some of the major costs in news is the printing, storage, distribution and eventual disposal of wood pulp-based matter. Whether or not a journalist gets paid, the truck drivers always get paid. With the Internet, you’re dealing with a commodity whose distribution price trends to zero and a customer base which will judge you on your content. Feeling entitled to charge even a fraction of the previous cost feels like a rip-off to me. Newspapers are excessively regional – and they don’t appreciate the potential benefits of selling to global markets – mostly because they address only local markets. Wired or the FT can manage this because their readership is global anyway. But the Spectator (a small paper run from Bangor, Co Down, which serves the Ards peninsula) may find hard times ahead as their advertisers desert them.

    News- which could have once described itself as breaking, is now delivered free of charge via the Internet. What’s more – journalists have proven themselves incapable of dealing with the internet, of having critical minds when dealing with headlines which are Internet-based hoaxes. And the impact of having to change an Internet-based article as opposed to printing a retraction or correction is considerable.

    One of the tabloids my wife would visit on a Sunday morning recently moved everything behind a pay wall which was not significantly cheaper than the print paper. Her reaction was that she knew she was reading trash in the first place and she refused to pay to read trash. This same woman bought herself a Kindle two weeks ago so she’s certainly in the target market for the print industry (being a ‘reader’).

    We’re not going to see a newspaper bailout, no-sir. We are going to see a killing of a few titles. I don’t believe that local newspapers will convert and I don’t think they’re going away for a generation. I still buy the Belfast Telegraph on a Friday for the jobs section (because online job websites are ripe for someone to do it right) and reading the job section in print is a hundred times easier. The rest of the paper is immaterial, I never even open it.

    I would project that an enterprising company could do a ‘flipboard

  2. Keith Bohanna

    So the format dies? And we move to curated content on digital devices.

    I guess the physical form of a single edition (daily, weekly or monthly) is a direct product of print and will probably be abandoned within a generation. Along with the disciplines and controls which it enabled.

    I still enjoy and hanker for good content. Well written, informed and either neutral or with an explicit bias.



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