When the iPad was first released many people were skeptical of its potential, and a lot of that was driven by the platform’s lack of content to differentiate it from the iPhone. As time passed, so too did that hesitance, because Apple sold many, many iPads and developers soon followed. The same process is currently underway for Android tablets, which are very cool to look at but need more apps before they have the kind of instant plug-in experience that the iPad 2 provides.
But, apps are not necessarily what I’m talking about. Really, it’s a question of content and how the tablet format is forcing traditional media to change its approach to publishing to stay viable. The Daily is an interesting experiment on the iPad. It’s attractive, it’s timely and it’s well written, but it’s also fairly short and limited in its approach to the news. Can a tablet only content product work? Does the content industry need to rethink their approach as developers have via the App Store model, or is a hybrid of the two more appropriate?
Other platforms have tried to port their content to tablets. The New York Times is still working out the kinks in their app while CNN has a moderately successful app for both Android and iOS that provides all of their online content and video to tablet users. Other newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have tablet versions as well, with varying levels of success.
Then there are magazines. Seemingly perfect for the tablet format, we still haven’t seen magazines take off in the digital space as we might expect. Part of that is the high cost of admission. Until recently, all magazines sold on the iPad required single issue purchases of $3.99 or higher, the same as a newsstand issue. Sure, the technology behind an issue of Wired was pretty, but no one wants to spend that much for a tablet-only magazine, especially when print subscriptions are so much cheaper.
Another part of the problem here is that magazine publishers have yet to determine if a magazine without any special features or fancy formatting will be successful on the iPad. Many magazines released specifically for the iPad have been revved up with multimedia that costs a lot to produce and the app price goes up in turn.
With the Android platform finally offering a viable alternative for the tablet market and companies like Conde Naste taking advantage of it, plus Sports Illustrated offering one of the first universal subscription plans (web and tablet access for a single rate) on Android and the HP TouchPad later this year, the tide is shifting. Apple’s new subscription tools will also help.
In the next few months, content production will ramp up because there are so many new tablet owners and so many opportunities to tap into that growing market. The real question becomes – how do you produce content optimized for a tablet? Does it need to be formatted and priced differently from print media and if so, what’s the best method to drive sales?
There is definitely a market for increased digital content, but finding the right balance between quality, price, and ingenuity will be an interesting process as the format evolves. What do you think – are we on the precipice of a digital content explosion? Or do magazine publishers need to seriously rethink how they produce content to be successful in a market shifting slowly from print copies to digital devices?