Commentary

Publishers Still Waiting For The Tablet Revolution

In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad. Suddenly, the idea that people could actually read things on a portable digital device — with an experience similar to and possibly exceeding that of a paper magazine — seemed possible. Magazine publishers started developing digital editions of their magazines. Many in the media business thought that the end of the paper world as we knew it was near. 

Fast forward to 2014, when almost half of the U.S. population has jumped on the tablet wagon. By and large, magazine publishers have made comparably little progress in convincing their readers to consume their publications on the tablet, and few are able to derive significant revenue from their tablet apps.

So what happened to the revolution? Let’s take a closer look.

Consider that when a magazine subscriber downloads, say, an app for a fashion magazine, it’s not as if that particular magazine app is just competing with other digital versions of fashion publications for the subscriber’s attention. It is actually up against any number of the 500,000 iPad-specific apps that Apple has authorized, hundreds of which have something to do with the fashion world. (I just did a perfunctory count and found that there are 37 starting with just the letter “A.”)

It’s quite possible that publishers never foresaw this crowded scenario when they took the plunge into digital, and it clearly changed the playing field.

We know from GfK MRI’s research that digital magazine readers are an attractive audience for advertising messages. Our studies show that 52% of US adults who read magazines on digital devices are between 18 and 34 years old, and 48% have household incomes of $75,000 per year or more. We have also determined that digital readers are receptive to advertising messages and not just swiping past the ads contained in magazine apps to concentrate on the editorial content. We found that ad recall in 44 digital magazines measured was equal to print — and that enhancing ads for the digital experience did not necessarily make a difference.

One of the biggest challenges publishers face is convincing advertisers to pay to reach their digital audiences. Given their financial investment to date and the allure of being able to reach future readers who may never sign up for the paper print experience, publishers are not about to abandon their digital efforts. They also want to reach existing readers without the huge costs of printing and distributing paper publications. 

Research companies are providing new solutions to capture the nature of the emerging medium in the best possible way.

For example, research is under way combining the benefits of more traditional audience and reader studies with the highly granular data collected passively within magazine apps. Early results show that this blend of approaches increases the understanding of what and how users consume content on these new devices and across different platforms. The remaining problem at this point is still that the audiences on the tablets are too small.

Again, numbers tell the story. For a glossy magazine that over many decades has painstakingly managed to build an attractive audience of millions of monthly print readers, the addition of 50,000 digital readers — many of which are the same  — is not yet a game changer. The revolution is still waiting.

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3 comments about "Publishers Still Waiting For The Tablet Revolution ".
  1. Henry Blaufox from DragonSearch , August 1, 2014 at 10:01 a.m.
    Florian's penultimate sentence may explain why tablet versions still contribute only marginally to publishers' revenue and profits. The readers base for print was built over decades. Tablets showed up just a few years ago. There is no such thing as instant success.
  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc , August 1, 2014 at 3:47 p.m.
    Another reason for the slow conversion to tablets is the fact that most magazine audiences are puffed up by so-called pass-along readers who do not live in homes where somebody actually buys the publication. If a magazine is averaging a per- issue reach of 6.5 million adults, chances are that 4.5 million of these readers are people who encountered the issue more or less by chance, often in an out-of-home, quick perusal situation. Of the remaining 2.0 million, the odds are that only 1.0 million are subscribers or single copy buyers of the issue while the others are members of the same household who look at or read it with varying degrees of interest. So who are the publishers trying to convert to tablets----the "total audience" , which seems like a large number but includes many casual readers----or those who actually pay for the magazine---a much smaller number of readers who constitute its "core" audience?
  3. Geoffrey Kidd from None , August 5, 2014 at 12:39 a.m.
    The biggest drawbacks are: 1. You need a different app for each magazine. 2. You cannot collect the issues or save them in your collection to be read later. My response to all of this has been to abandon a number of subscriptions and give up reading them in any form. Magazines are a luxury, and I've got better things to do with my time than put up with publisher abuse like this. If I can't choose WHAT I read, WHEN I read, WHERE I read, and HOW I read, I haven't actually bought anything.