So the iPad has been released into the wild here in the UK, signaling the end of the magazine publishing world as we know it, hopefully. An end to emaciated revenues, closures and lay offs.
At PIRA’s Great Print Debate at IPEX on Monday, I sat on a panel of “experts” waxing lyrical about the future of print in the iPad age. There was a universal consensus that the world’s hottest tech toy is cool but it will not kill print. We agreed, however, that the three main printed media – newspapers, books and magazines – will be affected by the arrival of digital reading devices.
Almost everyone, panel and audience alike, thought that newspapers in print are doomed, but then we sort of knew that even before the iPad was a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. Most believed that books, especially fiction, will survive because people love to read them on planes and trains and show off by leaving them lying where impressionable friends and colleagues can see them.
Magazines seemed harder to call. I think this is because they fall somewhere between “information commodities” like newspapers and “information artifacts” like books. This is certainly true of glossy consumer titles, which people buy as much to signal their lifestyle choices as they do to read.
In the business-to-business sphere, however, there is a strong argument that readers care more about searchable content; they just want to get quickly to information that helps them do their jobs better: Websites are the best place for that and the business-to-business magazine is history.
Except… almost every office I have ever been in keeps a stack of back issues of their favourite trade magazine, even although they are probably all available and searchable online. What’s that about? Why do people persist in hoarding back copies of business magazines? Why give up valuable shelf space to material that is available digitally?
I think it’s because they like the fact that they can see their professional library. They know exactly where it is. They can reach out and grab an issue, read an article they remember, copy it for staff or colleagues, avoid the distraction of web searches and the tedious results sifting required to avoid the Internet’s billions of blind alleys.
You can pick up a magazine, put it down, pick it up again and nothing has changed. It has a clean edges, a recognizable shape and this might just be where the iPad and its clones will help shape a future for digital magazines.
The economics of B2B print publishing make the long-term prospects for a hard-copy curated format uncertain at best. The iPad could provide publishers with a cost-effective platform for old-school issue-based curation alongside the digital benefits of multimedia, interactivity, connectivity and search.
None of this means the future for digital magazines is certain or secure. No one has produced a great iPad magazine app yet, faked-up demos notwithstanding. We’ve all still got a lot of work to do. But at least now it’s possible to imagine a full year’s issues sitting on a digital magazine rack on your iPad desktop. Compare that to a half empty shelf holding the skinny remnants of a shuttered print title, and I really hope that the iPad’s launch is the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.