Why the iPad could be the saviour of paid content
The one advantage that paper-based magazines have had on their electronic counterparts is usability and look. The ability to turn the page and take in the beauty of a well-designed magazine is something that most web sites can’t match.
Portability is the other area where magazines have had the edge. Carrying them around is lot easier than a standard computer.
As such, many have scoffed at Rupert Murdoch’s aim to get people to pay for digital content. After all, lots of online content is currently free and there’s been nowhere near enough ‘value-add’ to warrant people paying for content. However, the launch of Apple’s iPad tablet could well be the game changer that proves Murdoch right. With their new ultra-portable tablet, Apple can change the publishing industry to the same degree that they’ve changed the music sector.
The tablet version of ‘Sports Illustrated’ shown in this clip shows why and clearly demonstrates why we’ll eventually see the demise of traditional paper-based magazines.
If I had the choice of reading these articles in the normal magazine, for free on SportsIllustrated.com, or owning a multi-media version as shown above, I’d pay for the multi-media magazine. High quality interactive content on new tablet technology like the iPad will provide the tipping point where ‘pay for content’ comes to life. In my opinion, it offers a much better reading experience than normal magazines and it can look as good if not better than the printed edition.
Paper magazines simply do not have the flexibility of a well-designed electronic counterpart like the ‘Sports Illustrated’ example. Electronic publications free publishers and readers from the constraint of a 96 page format and the limited number of words and photos in each article. Readers can search for key words and find them in an instant. Content can be updated and articles can be shared via Facebook. It even allows publishers to give readers the full audio of an interview (the paid Guardian iPhone app is already doing this).
The ability to hear the unedited viewpoints of the interviewee rather than the edited selections of the journalist provides a depth to the article which the printed page cannot match. Backing up the article with relevant video and background information gives further value that also warrants payment for the electronic alternative.
Advertisers win too
The benefit that publishers can offer advertisers is also clear. Readers of interactive electronic magazines can click on ads and be taken straight to a store featuring that product. They can watch a video, or even view the product in a different colour. The interactive and direct response ability of the advert is something that paper-based magazines cannot match. One could even argue that publishers should charge more for these ads – particularly if they could be updated when readers log on to the Net.
The environment wins as well
Environmentally, it’s also the right way to go. When you end up reading magazines on the iPad and other tablets, you don’t have to chop down trees (unfortunately a lot of paper used in Australia is still not accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council).
Around the world, turning those trees into paper uses up a vast amount of energy and water. The whole process of making and disposing of paper generates many millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases. Whilst computers use resources to run and make, the overall benefit of a switch to computer-based magazines is clear.
Where to next?
A well-designed magazine will have life in it for quite a few years to come. But one has to ask how long they can continue in their current form. Publishers would do well to bring newsagents on board this push towards electronic magazines as downloading magazines with substantial video content could negatively affect people’s download plans.
One way to proceed is for electronic magazines to be sold inside a traditional magazine cover in newsagents. Nobody expects to be given content free in a newsagent and it would safeguard the publishing industry from Apple having too much control over distribution. It would also sell the new generation of electronic magazines via outlets where people traditionally buy their magazines. To that end, it would minimise the culture shock arising from a shift to the electronic alternative.
Familiarity is key
The iPad’s interface is essentially a supercharged iPhone. As such, millions of iPhone users will already feel at home with the device. But what makes the iPad really sing is its speed and portability. Turning pages on the iPad’s screen has a natural feel to it that’s a world away from Microsoft’s valiant but faltering efforts to establish tablet PCs.
In short, the technology has finally caught up with the vision of a paperless magazine. And it’s because of this that publishers will finally be able to charge for electronic titles that match the quality and depth of their printed counterparts.
Murdoch has called it correctly in the past on other media innovations. Saying he’s wrong about paid content runs the risk of underestimating how fast this technology is developing. Comparing Amazon’s Kindle to the new Apple iPad is already like comparing old vinyl discs with Blu-ray DVDs. It’s an entirely different proposition that will be a major game changer. Whether publishers can take full advantage of it though is another question.
PaperLessAlliance.com: Do Something’s Paper-Less Alliance aims to reduce Australia’s use of paper.
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