There’s no shortage of discussion on how to save the publishing industry, in particular, newspapers and magazines. The Atlantic Monthly’s piece goes in-depth into what Google might do — for better or for worse. But a lot of talk has been about Apple and the iPad. Will this “magical and revolutionary” device be manna from heaven or the bane of the publishing industry’s existence?
A month in and a million sold later, many have called the Apple iPad a “savior” to publishers, giving them a silver bullet lifeline to prevent them from going out of business. Its large, bright screen, familiar interface and snappy gestural interface are excellent tools for providing rich new experiences and to get away from traditional navigational paradigms. As some 50+ million iPhone/iPod touch users can attest, the iPhone OS truly represents new thinking from the ground up and naturally, the best apps are those that embrace the new.
So if that’s the case, can traditional publishers take advantage of this platform and resurrect their industry? At first glance, there are some media players that get it — ABC’s iPad app, along with a handful of others take advantage of the new format. But others, notably Time Magazine, get it so, so wrong. Here’s why.
Revenue model is outdated. Time Magazine is a newsweekly that has existed for decades. You can subscribe to the print version for about $20/year, but the digital versions of the same content vary tremendously. You can subscribe to the Amazon Kindle version for $2.99 per issue, but if you want the iPad version, you’ll have to cough up $4.99 per issue each week, or about $250/year for ostensibly the same content. Why would anyone pay up to 10x as much just to have it in digital format? Almost as bad is the Wall Street Journal. You can subscribe to the full online + print version for less money ($16.41/month) than the iPad-only version ($17.99/month). Again, why would anyone pay more for the same content in that is accessible from only one medium?
User experience. Again, Time hasn’t figured out how digitally savvy customers want to consumer their content. In order to purchase the Time iPad app, one must do so each and every week, purchasing a new, separate app each time. After a year, your iPad will have 50 icons of nothing but Time magazine issues cluttering up your screen. It’s a very odd and unusual way of increasing mindshare. It will more likely annoy users and get people to stop purchasing future apps.
So what to do? Here are a few considerations when trying to stake a claim in the still nascent world of mobile applications.
- Cut the cord. Don’t try to replicate an old business model in a new environment. People have very different expectations of what constitutes a successful user experience. Simply taking essentially a PDF and putting it onto an iPad does not equate to something new. People on mobile devices consume content differently and thus, your content needs to be appropriately created and presented to reflect this. A great example is The Elements, a whole new way to explore the periodic table. The creators threw out old textbook notions of what it ought to look like and generated arguably the most engaging learning application for the iPad.
- Think value before revenue. Before you charge a penny for your app, consider what consumers can already get for free. Unless your offering is a) substantially better in quality, b) more timely or c) a whole new way to enjoy it, then chances are, you’re just replicating the past. Think hard about creating something that can only be experienced on that particular device.
- Change the cycle. We live in a new era where news breaks and it’s old after a day. Week-old news can seem antiquated, especially in this era. Get your news out the door fast. Yes, as 48 Hour magazine has shown, it can be done.
- Be smart with location. The beauty of mobile devices is their ubiquity. With that, you can deliver highly relevant and contextualized content that simply isn’t possible with other devices. Show that you deliver value and consumers will reward you.
I’m very excited and curious to see which companies are willing to bite the bullet and plunge head first into the new game where the rules are still being formed. Better to try hard and fail fast and get back up, than fail slowly and never recover.