Spare a thought for the Publishing Industry

Article first written for Figaro Digital

Spare a thought for the publishing industry. Having shed the reticence in adopting new technology (think of the suspicion with which the web was originally regarded) in favour of gay abandon on the iPad, many are finding their new obsession is not quite the panacea they thought it was. Pouring resource into creating magazine apps so complex that many readers never discover some of the more hidden content, publishers are shouldering considerable costs and all too often gaining minimal, sometimes diminishing return.

This seems fundamentally unfair. For a traditionally risk-averse industry, the level of experimentation in such a new technology is impressive. The publishing industry can’t afford not to produce content for the iPad yet at current returns, it can’t afford to continue. Critical to achieving a balance I believe, is the adoption of new business models more in tune with content agencies than traditional advertising and cover price-based publishing models. To do otherwise I suspect will mean more and more brands will opt to redirect marketing spend away from advertising and paid media, to their own content and their own channels.

Not as bad as all that

Not another iPad Article.

Actually it is. Another iPad article, I mean. You see, I’m conscious that in the ‘meeja’ world, iPad fatigue seems to be setting in. The frenzied pre-launch excitement has been replaced by an almost palpable resignation. Where once there was enthusiasm, there now seems plain old inevitability. But look closer and it seems the feeling of, well, if not reluctance then certainly skepticism, emanates most noticeably from a particular sector: consumer publishing.

Of all media sectors, consumer publishing has borne the brunt of iPad R&D and launch costs and has thus far at least, been unable to enjoy financial benefit. This is due in no small part to the challenges in creating a sufficiently compelling app to attract repeat purchase whilst at the same time ensuring the production process is viable enough to sustain regular production.

Whilst apps clearly sell, the vast majority are those that perform a specific, discrete function. In other words, they are purchased only once. A magazine app (as opposed to a magazine-branded app) is published repeatedly and therefore assumes repeat purchase. In many ways therefore, a magazine app must be extraordinarily impressive to stand out and attract repeat, regular purchase in sustainable volumes.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the 3 things the iPad brings to publishing: confusion, opportunity and a defining moment. At the time, the confusion was due largely to the lack of clarity in appropriate business models. This has since been diminished (by default) by Apple’s explanation of their subscription policy, which, contrary to many hysterical reports, is actually pretty clear (see below for a summary).

Sadly, Apple’s clarity apparently confounds consumer publishing’s woes, prompting a deluge of incredulous comment and even triggering disapproving noises from the normally conservative Forrester. Publishers should be under no illusions; the policy is unlikely to change. With the music industry, Apple has set a precedent for their 70/30 revenue split (the so-called ‘dirty percent’). And as a consumer, their data policy is difficult to argue against.

So what does this mean for content agencies? It means the opportunity is all the more prevalent. Brands know there is money to be made and they know Apple is the gateway. With no realistic competition anywhere on the horizon, the iPad is crying out for compelling content. The confusion has lessened and the opportunity has increased.


Motorola want you to get excited? Can you feel it?

The Motorola Xoom. Excited? Motorola certainly want you to be. 

Conceding to Apple’s formidable marketing machine, it seems poignant (and perhaps a little sad) Motorola feel the need to include a ‘Get Excited’ button on their website.

Click the image. Take a look.

Despite this, there remains relatively few iPad Apps originating from content agencies. And I’m not necessarily talking about magazine Apps. As a fan of great content, and therefore a fan of content agencies, this worries me.

“The vast majority of the apps available were created for the iPhone and do not fully exploit the capabilities of the iPad. Users report higher satisfaction with iPad-dedicated applications, however, and want more of them.”

– McKinsey ‘Understanding the iPad’ report, February 2011

Just a week ago Sky announced a radical switch from printed magazines to digital solutions; Apple launched the iPad 2 (barely a year after iPad 1); and McKinsey stated Tablet devices “are set to become the ‘control point’ for consumers’ media use..”

As last years APA Content Summit promo said,”If you’re not engaging, right now, you’re disengaging, and your customers will become someone else’s..”

Apple’s Subs policy in summary

  1. App Store Apps may only use In App Purchase (IAP) technology from within the App.
  2. App Store Apps must not direct users to commerce or transactions outside the IAP system.
  3. App Store Apps must price IAP and subscription content the same as, or lower than, equivalent content offered outside the App.

Apple’s Data policy

Customers purchasing a subscription through the App Store will be given the option of providing the publisher with their name, email address, and zip code. The use of such information will be governed by the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s. Publishers may seek additional information from App Store customers provided those customers are given a clear choice, and are informed that any additional information will be handled under the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s.

Association of Publishing Agencies Article originally written for  the APA

The 3 things the iPad brings to publishing

1. Confusion

In many ways, despite the its long-anticipated arrival, the iPad came into being well before anyone was ready. Naturally, it launched great fanfare but once the noise had died down, there seemed a collective shrugging of shoulders amongst content-owners as if to say, ‘well, what do we do now?’ with each waiting for the other to make a move.

It was like the Droopy carton when a troop of Mounties is asked for a volunteer and in unison, they all step backward. All that is, apart from Droopy, left at the front, a volunteer by default..

Since then of course, there have been many different incarnations of iPad content, ranging from duplicated print publications through to bespoke built-for-the-device pieces. What remains however, is the underlying confusion about what form iPad content should take. I’m not talking about functional apps (build once, download once), I’m talking here about Content Apps, where the headline function remains the same but the content changes regularly. In other words, magazines.

Confounding this confusion is a stubborn disinclination among magazine publishers to accept that a magazine designed for one media is unlikely to work well when published in another. The emphasis here is on working well. Sure, the same content can be made available in print, on the Web, on TV, on mobile devices and on tablets as well, but it is only likely to belong, it is only likely to truly work in the media for which it was originally designed.

I make these comments not based upon unfounded theory, I make them because there are inherent mechanical differences in the ways in which consumers can interface with different media and as a result, differences in the way content should be constructed. For example, on the iPad there is no ‘mouse-over’ function whilst on the ‘desktop’ (which is destined to become a rather grey area), there is. This is not a deficiency of the iPad, it is simply an inherent aspect of the touchscreen interface which, unlike the desktop/mouse relationship is ‘normally off’ as opposed to ‘normally on.’ This is just one difference. There are many others that reinforce a philosophy of design-for-the-purpose.

Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works
– Steve Jobs

This is all very nice in theory of course but the implication is that a magazine publisher with a successful print brand must design a new product for every media. Throw in the iPad and there is not only a new media – the Tablet – there is also a new category, the device itself. Worse still, there are two design formats to consider – portrait and landscape. So in fact aside from the small matter of marketing and distribution strategies, discussed at length in this article, the print publisher must accept that the iPad incarnation of the brand is: a) a new product; b) likely to be proprietary to the iPad and; c) must be designed not once, but twice if portrait and landscape formats are deemed important to the consumer.

2. Opportunity

Predictably, the initial hysteria around how many downloads of ‘this magazine’ or ‘that magazine’ has given way to a harsh reality: few, if any, are making money yet. This will change but only as a) business models stabilise and b) compelling content can be created efficiently on a regular basis. The ‘right’ business model for a given brand will only be found through time and experimentation (although Apple will have something to say if it involves ‘free) but the ability to efficiently create engaging content that belongs on and exercises the device is the greater challenge – and a truly massive opportunity.

To date, Apple claim they have sold over 15 Million iPads. Last weekend my son’s 10yr old friend turned up with a an iPad in his bag. He’d forgotten he had one.

Over-indulged 10yr olds aside, there is an important point here. In just 12 months, the iPad has become the fastest-selling new media device in history. Yet, despite its phenomenal sales as a media consumption device, there has been precious little iPad-specific media to actually consume. Magazines have been largely disappointing, where baffling user experiences and cumbersome downloads abound. It really is little surprise the early adopters haven’t returned in their original numbers. But when Forrester predict over 20 million iPads in circulation by in 2011, just imagine what this means to the content-owners that get it right.


Forrester eReader Forecast 2010 to 2015. All figures in miilions of US adults

3. A Defining Moment

Sounds rather grandiose but the launch of iPad really is a defining moment. Why defining? because it marks a fundamental change in the way human beings interface with ‘intelligent’ devices. Touchscreen is nothing new but that’s not the point. It’s the execution that counts.

Star Trek iPad

Captain's Log. Star Date? 1990

This iPad will self-destruct. The year? 2004

The iPad is the first real-world incarnation of a well-executed touchscreen interface. As such, its significance cannot be underestimated. It is the catalyst for a completely new generation of human/electronic interaction. It will directly influence the way web content will be designed and built for at least the next decade. And just look what it started. The chart below details the Tablet devices due in the next 12 months alone. I mean just look at it. Its incredible.

Tablet Devices due in 2011

Clearly, market forces will determine which of these devices live to see 2012 but just pause for a second and take another look at the list. Amazing isn’t it? That the iPad represents a Defining Moment (deliberate use of uppercase) is frankly an understatement.

Between Jobs

Predictably, following the news of Steve Jobs second enforced absence from Apple on medical grounds today, the great man was trending faster than the Frat look in ‘09. How many other CEOs would prompt such interest for a sick note? Not many. None probably. During his last enforced absence (in the same year as the aforementioned Frat look), the stakes appeared higher. Speculation that he was not long for this World was rife. Apple stock dropped sharply. The tech World held its breath. And when the tech World holds its breath, the real World follows.

But Steve recovered and returned to his iDesk seemingly more invigorated than ever. (Not long afterwards came the iPad). I wonder whether the same will be true this time.

In Jobs’ email to Apple employees, Silicon Alley Insider identifies what certainly seems a conscious avoidance of even suggesting a date for his return to the office – unlike his email sent prior to his last absence.

Apple’s amazing success in recent years is unquestionable.  Whether this would have happened without Jobs at the helm is conjecture but most sane people would agree its pretty unlikely. What might this mean? Well, for Apple’s embattled competitors it might signal a welcome respite. But I doubt it. Apple stole the march on competitors who had no idea they were even competing. They did so by fusing great design with competent technology. Simple. So simple in fact, no-one had thought of it before. Apart from Steve Jobs. Jobs’ legacy is engrained and permeates Cupertino and will do for years to come.

A colleague recently commented, “People don’t think design is important.” Point is, they do. They just don’t know they do. Jobs did that.