A Recipe for Hotcake-Selling Magazine Apps
OK, we get it. iPads are selling like hotcakes but iPad magazines are not. Here's why: 1. Publishers have opted to compete against themselves. There's not enough product differentiation between the iPad and print versions of most magazines. It's an either/or decision for the consumer — buy your favorite publications on the newsstand or through iTunes. Yes, the iPad version sings and dances, but the table of contents is pretty much identical. The result: cannibalized readership.
2. Old habits die hard. We've been reading magazines on paper for nearly 300 years; it's likely to take more than nine months for those behaviors to change. In recent years, consumers have become accustomed to paying for content at the newsstand, gorging on it without cost over the Internet, or acquiring it cheaply through subscriptions. Which brings me to my next point . . .
3. Digital magazines need a subscription model. Bad. Without subscriptions, consumers are required to pay full price for new issues and take the time to download them. That's asking a lot when a discounted print version shows up in your mailbox every week or month — with the flexibility to grab it on the go, share it with a friend, or leave it on your coffee table for a leisurely reading experience.
Nos. 2 and 3 will come with time — the subscription model may be only a few days away with the much-anticipated launch of Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only newspaper. But No. 1 is at the top of our list for a reason — the sales figures will continue to disappoint as long as publishers are singularly focused on republishing content for as many new devices as possible.
The recipe for hotcake-selling digital magazine apps?
Think of digital publishing as a complement to your print operation, not as a replacement. Create new products that leverage new technology instead of simply recycling existing products to run on tablets.
Follow the example set by O, The Oprah Magazine. Its newest app, SketchBook O App for iPad, is a free drawing and painting app created in partnership with Autodesk, as an extension of the magazine's annual "Creativity" issue. The print magazine contains creative assignments that readers can complete on the iPad and submit to the magazine's editors through the app itself. This is the kind of thinking that benefits both operations — print and digital — without sapping the strength of either.
One of the projects we're working on at Joe Zeff Design involves another type of reinvention. We've been approached by a large publishing company to create a sample app from its marquee print product. Our mandate: Show what's possible.
It would be easy enough to rearrange its parts to fit a 768x1024 screen, and then rearrange them further to fit a 1024x768 screen. But that's not what we're doing. We're dissecting their best-selling book like a forensic examiner, tearing apart every page and creating an inventory of its content. Then we're rebuilding the book from scratch to make best use of the iPad interface. What we're finding — and what we'll share with our client during a two-day workshop — is that what worked well in print isn't necessarily the best approach for a multimedia app. We've replaced paragraphs of text with dynamic layers of information that allow the reader to interact with the content. We've gone so far as to commission entirely new content to bring to life the words and pictures from the print edition.
We've created something new instead of redesigning something old. Our prototype takes advantage of the iPad's internet connectivity, in-app purchasing, sharing capabilities and multimedia players, all powered by WoodWing's Digital Magazine Tools. The target: more than 8 million current iPad owners worldwide — a number expected to swell to nearly 30 million by 2013.
To reach new audiences, we must create new products. Over the next few years more tablets will find their way into the classroom, already filled with iTunes account holders thanks to the popularity of the iPod and iPhone. Their likelihood to embrace digital books and magazines will increase as they become accustomed to reading schoolbooks this way. Every publisher should be focused on this audience, with products specifically created to appeal to youth. Not only do they represent the future, but their buying power can be tapped immediately.
If not new products, then new business models. Instead of forcing the consumer to purchase and download an entire book or magazine, let them pick and choose which articles and sections they want to buy. Think of it as a la carte publishing. Your audience is used to picking individual songs instead of buying the whole album. Why should their publications be different? It may turn out that the parts are worth much, much more than the whole.
New habits must be forged, and old habits must be broken. Not only consumers’ habits, but publishers’ as well.
It is not enough to redesign. It is imperative that we reinvent.
Now let’s make some hotcakes.