Tablets will not only give consumer magazines a new lease of life - they are the saviour to an industry besieged by falling ad rates and declining newstand sales.
That's the gospel according to two of Condé Nast International's most senior executives - digital director Jamie Jouning and GQ Loading... publisher Jamie Bill - who told the WAN-IFRA Expo's Tablet and App Summit in Frankfurt on Tuesday they are in no doubt that the iPad and its tablet cousins hold the key to success in new revenue streams and in old dead tree publishing too.
"Tablet publishing ensures our future and we have to be energetic in ensuring that happens" says Bill, who adds that a focus on tablet publishing has increased GQ's total circulation by nearly 10 percent since launching an iPad edition in October 2011.
He also revealed that Condé chairman Jonathan Newhouse has charged the company with creating "enhanced" tablet replica apps for all magazine brands by the end of 2013:
Some more big stats:
-- Condé publishes 124 magazines globally and reaches 49 million readers a year.
-- The company publishes to a 43 different devices - Jouning adds that mobile will become increasingly important, just as demand for 7" and 10" tablet editions grows.
-- That breaks down to 520,000 digital replica copies vs 1.5 million print copies a month.
-- Vogue has a total print and tablet audience of 2.13 million while GQ's total reach is 804,000, as Jouning's slides show below. Bill adds that these figures are comparable to that of a mainstream TV show like Mad Men.
The theories and practices of Silicon Valley pervade many aspects of modern publishing, from agile "scrum" development to hack days. Digital consultant Martin "Currybet" Belam earlier opened the summit with an impassioned plea for iterative, responsive and nimble development run by small teams within big media firms.
But be in no doubt that Condé's vision is one of big media doing big things with big technology partners. Adobe is the platform(s) of choice here and Bill mentions that he feels "fortunate" to be working with them - not least because of added benefits like analytics packages.
Bill also says that while Conde is exploring all the tablet and mobile options under the sun, he's "grateful to Apple for allowing us to get to where we are today," which isn't something you hear very often.
The key for Condé is not, it would seem, the cost or ease of publishing but the final product and its resemblance to the spirit of print.
Don't worry about technology, worry about people
"The biggest single challenge in this whole process - it's not monetisation, it's not technology, it's managing the people," says Bill, clearly speaking from bitter experience.
Condé's staff have to reproduce, by hand, each enhanced edition in a one column design template - quite apart from the traditional three-column print mag design. These are not pdf page-turners, these are flashy, multimedia products.
Bill then unveiled a paper-based representation of just how big a tablet app is:
Both Jamies were adamant that the real key to all this is sticking to the same editorial and production values that made the print magazines market leaders.
"We are unashamedly editorially and content-led," says Jouning. Journalists love to hear that - advertisers too, probably. But does it stack up from a business perspective?
As Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester put it to the New York Times last year: "They want to replicate every page of the magazine — ads included — so they can justify advertising pricing. Partly, they are trying to make this new product work on an older business model." Condé doesn't dispute this - it's giving longevity to the old model on a new platform.
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