If you don't know how to leverage a technology platform, don't blamethe platform.
Print publishers are screwing up what could be their biggest opportunity. Many continue to botch their Web strategy, and are now doubling down by getting their iPad strategy completely wrong.
The core of the problem lies in how publishers think about the iPad. Just look at the headlines: "Will the iPad save print?" asks one; "Savior crucified" proclaims another.
These headlines make two huge assumptions, both of which are totally wrong.
The first mistake is the belief that print should be "saved."
"Saving print" is the wrong goal, and chasing it will almost certainly kill publishers. Survival in the face of new technology often requires us to abandon our old ideas. We don't need a print experience on the iPad -- we need a better content consumption experience for the iPad.
How to Leverage a Platform
The second mistake is to think of the platform as a solution, rather than a tool.
The iPad isn't driving more digital magazines for the same reason that the Amazon Kindle isn't selling more terrible books.
Magazines are not apps. They are purchased for different reasons, on different buying cycles, and set very different expectations.
The iPhone and iPad provide incredible distribution, as evidenced by the more than one billion dollars Apple has paid app developers in a few short years. For publishers to ever see dollars of this magnitude, they need to leverage this platform entirely differently than they do today.
The Road Ahead
If you are a print publisher, there are five things you'd better get your head around, fast:
1. Apple is right: opt-out is gone. Get over it. For the last 50 years you filled our mailboxes with crap. Even better, we rarely realized you were the culprit.
Now publishers are afraid no one will opt in. This fear is totally justified. You have spent decades giving people countless reasons not to opt in. There was no benefit, and guaranteed annoyance. If you want people to opt in, then the onus is on you to figure out how to make them want to (hint: establishing trust would be a good start).
Google, if the rumors are to be believed, is willing to cave to publishers and supply targeting data. Don't confuse Google's desperation with a winning model.
the iPad succeeded where other tablets failed is simple: user experience. If you start your discussions with the idea that you should be able to own and sell user data, instead of how you create an
incredible user experience, you are destined to fail.
2. You desperately need a subscription model. Ignore Wired's one-off success. Buying magazines at the newsstand is an impulse buy. Buying them with a subscription is a thoughtful decision. Without subscriptions, you are doomed. I predict that digital sales of single issues will be less than 20% of total digital revenue within five years.
3. Stop arguing margins. You have no clue what the tablet ecosystem will look like in five, let alone 10 years. Publishers are wasting their energy negotiating with Apple on the revenue share, when they have no leverage. More important, the ecosystem will look very different in a few years anyway, so spend your energy diving in early and getting the advantage of an early-adopter education.
4. Start thinking like a developer. Developers think about features and experience. Conversations start with "wouldn't it be cool if" or "the customer is looking for this capability." Publishers need to start with a clean slate, and imagine what a great content consumption experience would look like on a tablet.
The current Web content experience on the iPad leaves much to be desired. How could you take advantage of running a native application with an Internet connection to create something more compelling?
People buy magazines for two reasons: to be entertained or informed. If you entertain users for a few hours each month, they will keep coming
back. Trying to replicate page turns and the visual experience is a waste of time. People like your content, not flipping pages.
5. Learn from crack dealers:The first hit needs to be free. New customers need a taste; existing print customers need a reason to switch. Give away a free month to new customers, and let existing print customers get their first online year free. Next year, let them pay one price for online or print only, or a higher price if they want both. This way you can hook both your existing customers and new ones, before your competitors do.
Don't Let History Repeat Itself
All of us remember Steve Jobs dragging music publishers kicking and screaming into selling at a fixed price per song. No, it didn't "save" their traditional CD business. It did, however, give them billions of dollars in revenue, where they otherwise would have had none (it was a Napster world back then).
Make no mistake; the iPad will not save print publishing. Nothing saved the telegram, either. Technologies die for one reason: because something better replaces them.
You need to be the one to kill print, by building a user experience so compelling that no one looks back.