5 Reasons Wired’s iPad App Is The Last Hurrah For Magazines

May 28th, 2010 | By | Category: Commentary

Ever since the Apple iPad was announced, I’ve waited to see if magazines and newspapers would come up with a meaningful response.

News organizations have come up with some interesting iPad apps – especially the BBC and NPR apps. But magazine apps have either been missing in action or underwhelming.

Now Wired reports that they’ve sold 24,000 copies of their first iPad formated issue. That’s fantastic for a $5 issue – but instead of the next big thing, it’s looking a lot like the last hurrah for magazines.

Here’s why.

Five Reasons Wired’s iPad App Is A Dead End:

  1. Geeks bought it, but nobody else will. The surge of sales for the Wired issue app are more a reflection of the magazines’ first-adopter audience than people embracing a new technology. There are a lot of iPad owners that have the money to try out new technologies – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those technologies have a future.
  2. The Wired iPad app is way too big. The digital magazine issue is a 5oo megabytes download. WTF? That’s because it’s basically a big bunch of graphic files. 500 MB means that you’re not going to buy this from your iPad and that you’re not going to keep it.
  3. The Wired iPad app is like a CD-Rom, instead of the Internet. In other words, the social networking stuff you can do if you browse Wired.com – commenting on it, twittering about it, liking it on Facebook, emailing links to it, quoting chunks of text, etc – is missing in action.
  4. The Wired iPad app out of date. They just updated the website – now – but you’re not going to update that 500 MB download too many times.
  5. It’s a bunch of big graphic files. Did I mention that it’s a bunch of big graphic files? That means that the designers valued their layouts more than your ability to do things like resize the text or – imagine this – support text to speech for the visually impaired.

The Wired iPad app is like the sequels to popular movies – they might be easy money, but they’re usually crappy and people eventually figure it out.

Fortunately for Wired, their initial issue is a big enough success that they’ll have an opportunity to tweak their approach.

If they want this to be around in a year, they need to figure out what the real benefits of a magazine app are.

The one big advantage a magazine app offers is fast browsing, even when disconnected. A great iPad magazine app would give you the interactivity and timeliness of the Web, but would also degrade gracefully when you were disconnected.

Beyond that, the potential for new types of interactivity, which the app currently teases you with, is definitely there.

What do you think? Is there a future for big magazine apps?

Tags: , , , ,

4 Responses to “5 Reasons Wired’s iPad App Is The Last Hurrah For Magazines”

  1. Me says:

    First the disclosures: I don’t own an iPad and although I’ve handled one, haven’t spent any time with it. I am a subscriber to Wired magazine (print version), though.

    Now a couple of observations: I can’t help but think that a goodly percentage of those that got the first issue of Wired’s iPad app were those that just got an iPad and wanted to see what it could do, like an audiophile that buys a particular recording because of some special high fidelity aspect of its recording versus the music that’s been recorded to see how good his home audio system sounds. Also, Wired has always struck me as magazine that looks good (edgy eye candy), but this aspect, its layout and graphics, often competes with following its content. Since this aspect makes surfing some websites especially difficult, when it comes to e-magazines, it will be even more so.

    I suspect that publications like Wired will offer innovations over time that take advantage of the platform (tablet), although they are not likely to invent the most innovative features – I suspect these will seemingly come out of nowhere and be by someone we don’t even know of yet.

  2. Pete Sweeney says:

    I think Lewin is missing a big part of the point. The iPad could well be the salvation of the magazine, because it solves a problem the website doesn’t, namely revenue. There are almost no magazines (or newspapers) in existence that have been able to generate much revenue from websites. All the web features that Lewin talks about (i.e. twittering, copy-and-pasting -incidentally violating copyright etc.) do nothing for magazine’s bottom line. You can attract millions of readers to your website, but you can only sell ad space for pocket change. This is because advertisers don’t like web ads. They are difficult to measure, performance-wise, they are easy for readers to ignore, and they are small. People who have been predicting that the web will kill print continue to ignore the fact that print still makes money (albeit for less people) while the web loses it. Thus for most newspapers and magazines, the web is a marketing tool … but a marketing tool that cannibalizes print readership. And web readers are notoriously unwilling to pay for content, so there’s not much of a subscription model either.

    The way to think about the iPad app is not to compare it to a website, but to compare it to a print magazine. Like a print magazine, its readership and distribution can be audited, which means that a subscriber to your iPad app counts toward distribution just like a print one does. Like a magazine, it has big, glossy ads. Like a magazine, it is easy on the eyes, with custom fonts etc. You say, so it’s a PDF, so what? Right, but PDFs don’t count as subscriptions, and PDFs aren’t much fun on standard computer screens. You don’t want to read a magazine sitting in front of a computer. You want to read it on your couch, without a burning laptop battery melting your crotch.

    But the iPad is better than a print magazine in many ways. From a business perspective, there are no production margins. Printing and distribution are expensive, but the iPad takes that out of the equation. If you make a good magazine, anyone can read it anywhere, just like a website. But unlike a website, the iPad is a powerful platform for advertisements. The iPad can tell advertisers exactly who looked at their ad and for how long. And the ad can also be dynamic and interactive. Imagine booking a ticket on an airline and picking your seat by touching an interactive ad within a magazine. Both the advertiser and the publisher will know exactly how successful a given campaign was.

    Will this be good for consumers? Depends. I think it is the beginning of the end of the free magazine website, for one thing. The main justification for the magazine website was global reach, but the iPad solves that. Why would magazines provide free websites just to attract masses of traffic that advertisers don’t value when they can provide an iPad app that advertisers will spend on? However, given the potential for selling ads on the iPad, I think magazines will be far more inclined to give their iPad issues away – more eyes, more ads, more revenue – and seal off their websites, which is more eyes, less revenue.

    • James Lewin says:

      Lots of good points, Pete, even if I don’t agree with all of them. You’re coming at this from the viewpoint of what’s good for magazines, I’m looking at this from the standpoint of what’s good for users.

      I don’t see others replicating Wired’s success with it’s first issue – and I don’t expect Wired to replicate its initial success with later issues.

      If magazines can slash prices on their iPad apps and address the concerns I raised, though, there might be some life in them still.

  3. c.michael.cooper says:

    What’s that old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. As a designer / developer of a content-based website, I find it important to recognize that when developing a new content delivery platform that you have to start somewhere and get something off the ground. The Wired app is basically a PDF reader at this point, and that is a decent start. At this point, they’ve seen that it is possible to monetize the magazine in the digital space. That will give them the motivation to update the app to solve the large file size problems, add in the social networking infrastructure, and add in a whole host of other features that we haven’t thought of yet. Other magazines will follow suite and innovate.

    Personally, I am tired of the constant doom and gloom, overly critical, attitude of the internets these days. It seems that everybody wants everybody else to fail.

Leave a Reply