We have reached an interesting point in the development of iPad magazines. Companies that had initially been hugely enthusiastic about the format, like Condé Nast, are having second thoughts and slowing down their adoption of the platform. At the same time companies like Future Publishing are citing the iPad as one of the key reasons for significant growth of its digital division.
We are also starting to see indie publishers begin to create dedicated content for the iPad, including, I should add, my own company Sutro Digital which unveiled its first iPad magazine Technode a couple of weeks ago.
Up until now almost all mainstream media companies have charged for their iPad editions. Early on those fees mirrored the price of the print versions, though this has changed a little with some publishers dropping their prices.
However, the indie sector has by-and-large offered their magazines for free and looked for other ways to fund their iPad projects. Publishers obviously lose out on sales revenue, but offering iPad magazine content gratis does have some very significant advantages over charging for it.
Firstly, the number of downloads should in theory be higher than paid for ones, especially as the new titles establish themselves.
Secondly, it means that the magazine content can be offered in a variety of options. So Technode, for example, is available on other tablets PCs as a PDF via HP’s Magcloud service, or as an online read or download via document site Scribd. This has given the title a reach it might otherwise not have had if limited to the iPad.
But how can small publishers make the free route pay? The obvious route to monetisation is via Apple’s own advertising system iAds, but this is a nascent platform and may only provide a small part of an advertising solution. Companies can fill the magazine with print style ads – like the mainstream media companies do.
However, I personally think that cramming an iPad mag with ads is a real turn off for the reader. Besides, even if they wanted to, most small companies do not have the sales teams to achieve this this. There are many great third party sales agencies for the web in the UK but very few of these are geared up for selling this type of inventory.
Which brings me to what could well turn out to be the best route for small and niche publishers: sponsorship. If a brand takes over a title it could be hugely effective for that company as well as delivering an ideal solution for the publishers. Sponsorship could be delivered in a number of ways – from subtle branding on each page through to advertorials, competitions or video content.
This would fit in well with the excellent engagement figures of iPad mags – Technode has an average engagement time of over 30 minutes per reader. From a consumer perspective a brand enabling a publisher to offer high quality magazine content for free is a powerful message, especially when the branding is subtle and engaging. The sponsorship could work across different platforms too and be effective in PDF versions as iPad ones.
At the moment there is just a small trickle of indie publishers offering free magazine content on the iPad. As technology costs fall though, many more publishers are likely to be tempted by this, especially if they can attract quality advertising/sponsorship.
The big question for the mainstream media then is: can you still be charge for magazine content? In the long run I think the jury is out on this. What I think we might see is a re-run of the cover mount/CD-ROM tactic of the 90s with companies offering additional features/downloads and freebies to entice readers into parting with their cash. Future Publishing are already doing this in a very effective way.
Personally, I think there is an opportunity for publishers to charge for iPad magazines, though maybe not at the level that they currently charge. The next two years will be fascinating.
Ashley Norris is the MD of digital publishers Sutro Digital. The company recently launched its first iPad/digital magazine, Technode, and has three new titles in the pipeline for later in the year.
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