It’s still too early for me to say “I told you so” about iPad magazines, but nevertheless I think it’s worth pointing out that the current evidence shows that this format is not doing well. The Audit Bureau of Circulations, which is sort of like the Nielsen of the print magazine industry, reported that sales of magazine apps across the board, from Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair and others, slumped precipitously towards the end of last year. More on the specifics in this article from paidContent. The bloom is off the rose, I think, and the reality that people just don’t like to consume magazine content in the monolithic, issue-centric form that these apps take has caught up with the irrational enthusiasm that we saw in 2010.
All This Help Is Hurting
A lot of people who make, read and love magazines have called me a naysayer about this issue, but I say that if you really care about the value that magazines can bring to the world (and I admit, I’m skeptical about whether they really do offer much value anymore), then it would be wise to give up the ghost on this unrealistic notion that a fancy presentation layer and rudimentary DVD extras-style bells and whistles slapped on top of content that can already be read for free on the public Web will generate any significant revenue. It’s bordering on obstinate to think that something you care so much about can be salvaged by doing more or less the same thing that has failed magazines so consistently until now: continuing to ignore the fundamentals of digital user experience design and how they diverge from analog print design.
Time to focus instead on coming up with new and genuinely different solutions to this admittedly vexing and unforgiving problem facing great print publications everywhere. So I say stop it, Condé Nast. Stop it, Hearst. Stop it Adobe. Stop it everyone who’s pursuing this all but discredited strategy. All of the money, time and effort that has gone into these misbegotten experiments amounts to a kind of neglect and misdirected focus that borders on a dereliction of duty. You’re killing the thing that you love.
Meanwhile, News Corp. is apparently readying the launch of The Daily, its much-anticipated iPad newspaper, sometime later this month, possibly in a joint announcement with Steve Jobs. I’m bearish on this particular venture too, but not knowing much about the product, I’ll withhold judgment. What’s more, there’s the added unknown of The Daily possibly being distributed via an Apple-powered newsstand, a new venue for helping consumers find and browse publications. This is badly needed and may inject a bit of life into the whole iPad magazine concept and heck, it may prove me dead wrong in all of what I’ve written here and what I wrote in my previously stated position on the subject. If anything can change the prospects for iPad magazines, an Apple newsstand can. Then again, a year ago we were saying that if anything can save magazines, an Apple tablet can.