How print publishers can win with iPad
As everyone knows excruciatingly well, print publishers blew Digital 1.0, because they thought they could get away with simply shoveling the usual words, pictures and ads onto the web or, later, scrunching them into often-clumsy iPhone apps. They can’t afford to make the same mistake with tablets or they will be toast.
This is the latest in a series of Newsosaur posts providing publishers with actionable revenue and content strategies for the tablet platform. The entire collection of articles, which has been packaged in a convenient 10-page PDF, is available here for immediate download at the nominal charge of $1.99 (the cost of a single app).
Fortunately, print publishers have a distinct edge over their digitally indigenous competitors in the race for tablet supremacy, because they have a depth of content that will work to great advantage on tablets.
If magazine and newspaper publishers execute smartly, their unparalleled advantage will make them hard to beat. Because Tablet Land is virgin territory, traditional print publishers have a near-equal chance of crafting winning products for readers and advertisers alike. And, to be clear, any successful products must satisfy both.
With successful execution in a compact timeframe being the key to success, publishers have to seriously master the several elements this transformational platform demands. And it is not too extreme to say the iPad is transformational, either. Here’s why:
While print, the web and mobile platforms each have their own unique set of strengths and limitations, the tablet is transformational because it actually combines the strengths in a way that neutralizes all of the respective limitations. Think about it:
The strength of print – as illustrated in Figure 1 below – is that it enables deep and subtle exploration of a subject. When pictures, audio or video of a compelling or emotional event are not available, words can recreate the drama. Print gives journalists room to spread out and tell a story, making it by far the most substantive of media. It also represents a comparatively quiet, personal activity, where the user typically is forced to concentrate on one article at a time to derive full benefit from the experience.
The strength of print also is its weakness when it comes to online publishing (Figure 2), which demands shorter, more graphic content. While it is a luxury to be able to read a long, well-written article in print, it is a pain to read the very same thing on the web. The web works best as a graphic medium, enabling the quick consumption of bite-sized bits of information, preferably conveyed in pictures or videos instead of long, gray blocks of text.
Print, by definition is a static, lean-back medium. You can choose a publication and flip through it, but the experience is limited to the four corners of the page. The web, in the other hand, is a lean-forward medium that lets consumers infinitely customize their reading experience. Because the web is interactive, users can comment on what they see, buy something they like and even create their own content.
Far from being a platform for passively acquiring information, the web has become a form of self-expression and an active social medium. Natives of the print world, who are experts at telling people what they think but not always great at listening well, have a difficult time understanding that the digital media are all about audience participation. The best digital media – Facebook, Aardvark, Yelp and many others – don’t merely engage readers but also encourage them to invite their friends. The viral nature of Facebook is why the number of visits to the addictive site recently surpassed the number of visits to Google.
The easiest way to think about mobile media (Figure 3) is to imagine the web on speed. Screens are smaller, so information has to be presented more concisely and, ideally, more graphically than on the screen of a laptop or PC. Connections generally are not as fast or reliable as on wired computers, so downloads have to be quick. These factors make it all but unbearable to read long articles on a mobile device, leaving you to wonder why even some of the most sophisticated print publishers think it’s OK to dump full-length articles into the mobile apps they give away for free.
The mobile media, of course, have the advantage of being pocket-sized and portable. Further, the GPS capabilities of the growing number of smart phones makes it possible to locate the position of the user within a matter of feet. This powerful capability means that individuals don’t have to do anything other than switch on their phones to get targeted and actionable information from publishers and advertisers. Services like Loopt and Urban Spoon get this concept in spades.
Both the web and mobile platforms readily enable such transactions as finding plumbers, rating restaurants, communicating with friends, getting directions, comparing camera prices, buying theater tickets and so much more. While transactions may be a major component of the web experience, they are the essence of the mobile experience, which is all about getting things done. Here. Now. Fast.
As illustrated in Figure 4, the tablet combines the strengths of print, web and mobile into a satisfying – and, yes, transformational – experience.
The device is large enough, light enough and comfortable enough to hold for such lean-back activities as reading a book or a magazine article.
The wireless connectivity of the iPad and most of its imitators makes it possible to take active – or should I say interactive? – command of the media experience by clicking to new sources, downloading updated information and consuming audio and video presentations. Connectivity also means that the devices are fully equipped to perform all manner of transactions, a capability near and dear to most advertisers.
Add GPS into the mix and this single device wraps together for the first time all the powers of print, web and mobile, while eliminating each of their respective drawbacks. (Early accounts suggest the iPad is a terrific gaming platform, too.)
The tablet represents a fresh opportunity for traditional publishers, because it is the first digital platform that turns hard-to-match, print-style substance into a strength, instead of the weakness it has been for most web and mobile applications.
But book, magazine and newspaper publishers cannot win by simply lobbing their traditional fare onto an iPad. Unfortunately, the new $16-a-month app from the Wall Street Journal does little more than that. As demonstrated toward the end of the video below from my friend Chris Hobbs, the ad for a credit card company demonstrates a lot more creativity and interactivity than anything produced by the newspaper itself.
Publishers who want to take full advantage of the iPad will have to do better by creating content that is media-rich, interactive, viral, transactional and mobile. In other words, this is no time to cut corners.