The iPad Won’t Save The Magazine Industry If Magazines Won’t Save Themselves

Dec 30th, 2010 | By | Category: Apple iPad, iPods & Portable Media Players

There’s a lot of discussion today about iPad magazine sales plummeting, based on a report from WWD Media:

Remember when Wired’s debut issue for the iPad sold more than 100,000 times in June? It looks like it will be a while before that type of performance is seen again. Digital sales dropped toward the end of 2010 for all the magazines that make those figures available to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

After Wired’s enormous debut month, the magazine averaged 31,000 digital sales between July and September, but even that fell in October and November, with sales coming in at 22,000 and 23,000, respectively. (For comparison, the magazine sold 130,000 total print editions for October and November.)

Remember that this is Wired – other iPad magazines are selling in the thousands.

Mashable offers 4 reasons for the decline:

  1. Price: It’s difficult to persuade current subscribers to pay for individual issues when they’re already receiving the same content at a fifth of the price in print.
  2. Lack of Exposure: It’s not easy to browse for magazines in the App Store, which are stowed among hundreds of thousands of other apps.
  3. Failure to Innovate: Part of the reason the first iPad editions of magazines sold so well is because they delivered truly novel experiences for the device, from animated covers to interactive graphics. The problem is that the experiences haven’t evolved since then.
  4. Large download size: Magazine apps need to slim down. Wired’s first issue was half a gigabyte, or nearly one-thirtieth of the smallest iPad’s 16 GB storage capacity; the first issue of The New Yorker, a weekly, came in at 173 MB.

Mashable and others are missing the point, though.

The first generation of iPad magazines are old media dressed in new media clothing. If this is the future of magazines, magazines are doomed.

The current generation of iPad magazines is fat, out of date, anti-social and harder to use than the Web. They don’t deserve to sell.

iPad magazines have to answer the question we raised when the Wired magazine was introduced:

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.

Do you think the current generation of iPad magazines has a future? Or will new media apps like Flipboard drink their milkshake?

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7 Responses to “The iPad Won’t Save The Magazine Industry If Magazines Won’t Save Themselves”

  1. Brad Carter says:

    RSS feeds are the new magazines. Magazines are old and stupid. Turning magazines into digital magazines just makes them stupider than before. They should just give up because even if Wired was 25 cents per digital issue, I’m not going to pay that when I can read CURRENT news and articles for free on Google Reader.

    • James Lewin says:

      Brad –

      Yes – it is hard to understand is why magazine publishers think that there’s a future in selling periodical news that’s fixed in time. If the idea of a magazine is going to survive, they’re going to have to get more creative than that.

  2. Ed Lazor says:

    RSS readers are still limited by the quality of content that magazines are generally better at providing. I don’t care about wizbang; it can add to the experience, but I’m perfectly fine reading a PDF. The problem is the ridiculous prices.

  3. “The first generation of iPad magazines are old media dressed in new media clothing.”

    I had discussions with two leaders at Deloitte last week about this very thing. What they found in their research is that consumers want the magazine format on their devices, that they think it’s already a great format for consuming content.

    • Terry says:


      Didn’t Henry Ford say that if he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse?

  4. Robert says:

    “Wired’s first issue was half a gigabyte”

    This is EXACTLY the reason I cannot fathom why anyone at all bothered to purchase it. HD space is cheap, sure. But half a gig for a magazine is pretty over-the-top.

  5. Pierre Bourgeois says:

    Have see,
    Seen a lot of these articles of late. None of which consider Zinio which is very significant

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