Can Magazines Fix the Tablet Problem?

[responsive]adobeedition[/responsive]It’s been four years since Apple introduced the iPad and turned magazine publishing business models on their collective ears. Yet sales of digital magazines continue to slump, and the expected ad revenue hasn’t materialized. What happened?

“The tablet magazine has been flawed from the start. They were conceived based on what publishers wanted and not what consumers wanted, so there was a lot of emphasis on extending old work flows and old reading habits rather than creating new products. We had the opportunity to put magazines on computers, which should have made magazines smarter. And that hasn’t really happened,” writes Ricardo Bilton in Digiday.

Even the people who create the platform that delivers the products are critical of the current state of affairs.

“There are still a lot of issues,” said Joe Zeff, vice president of tablet app software company ScrollMotion, who helped launch apps for Fast Company and National Geographic.

“These magazines are too hard to deliver, issues take a long time to download, and Apple’s Newsstand doesn’t make them easy to find. There are just too many things that have to go right,” Zeff said.

Is it all doom and gloom? As always, there are exceptions, notes Bilton.

“There are some tremendous ones being created, yes. Wired is always a lot of fun, and Hearst, overall, seems to be doing a pretty good job at selling subscriptions, but I’d say that the success stories are few and far between,” he writes.

The bottom line, according to Bilton, is that a table magazine must be much more than just a digitized version of the print magazine.

“A tablet magazine should be smarter than the current set of publications,” Bilton explains. “They should give me options about what content I receive and how and when it’s delivered… It really should be mixed and matched based on what works for me, not what works for the publisher. Content should be tied to where I am and what I’m doing, and become much more part of my regular routine.

“That’s not happening now. Now, I’m getting a magazine that is very similar to what I can get anywhere else, and it’s not been created for me. It’s been created and looks in a way that suits the publisher, not the consumer.”

Seems there’s still a lot of work to do before digital magazines have any chance of becoming the vaunted revenue stream they were expected to be. Meanwhile, print magazine sales and launches are doing quite nicely, thank you, as consumers decide how they really prefer their magazines. In print.