TheMediaBriefing team had an illuminating day at the annual Specialist Media Show in Birmingham last week (where, incidentally, we picked up a gong at the Media Pioneer Awards). There was some thoroughly useful and practical advice on tablet strategy. However this iPad publishing is a subtle business, so here's part one of two posts all about it.
PDFs - the future of publishing? Really?
Rebekah Billingsley, publisher, mobile devices, at Immediate Media, publisher of BBC Good Food and many other titles, told the conference that her company now either publishes its titles through Apple's Newsstand iPad subscription service or is waiting for approval for the rest. It has had 700,000 downloads to date (she didn't reveal copy sales), although mobile is still less than 10 percent of the company's circulation.
But is interactivity over-rated? A rational pragmatist, Billingsley is passionate about the iPad but she's not one to put function above content in the hierarchy of needs. Her message is to not over-think mobile publishing.
"Unlike building expensive websites where you need to bring in expensive HTML developers.... creating periodicals (on tablets) is not an expensive business.
"There are companies out there who will create this for you, all you need to do is give them the PDFs."
"PDFs!? What is this - 2002?", as the platform-neutral, HTML5, agile development, FT-fancying crowd might cry. Re-purposing magazine and newspaper pages onto a device, often complete with awful, cringe-making page-turning sounds, doesn't sound impressive in an age when content is made available on great-looking aggregation magazine apps like Flipboard and Zite.
But for Immediate, the numbers stack up: It sells 10,000 PDF-based app single copies a month, representing 66 percent of its sales portfolio. One-off purchases are supported by advertising, while free copies are offered to encourage pre-subscription sampling. And advertisers are keen - the engagement rate for ads is 20 percent on some issues, says Billingsley.
And the assumption that PDFs suck has been costly, she says: "Our biggest surprise are that PDFs have been selling well. 12 months ago I would have said that PDFs are not what tablets are for - but we lost six months' worth of sales because of that strategy."
PDF-based editions often miss out on the funtionality and extra benefits of tablet publishing - which is, to go beyond the written word. But if that's what readers and advertisers want, then you can't really blame publishers for giving it to them.
Bookzines, one-off longer titles usually comprising already publisher content from a specific mag brand, are also currently booming for Immediate - it launches four a month.