This Revolution Will Not Be Tabletized

revolution1The year is 2010, and Apple launches the iPad. The publishing industry, still reeling from the economic downturn, scrambles to engage a digital audience and looks to magazine apps as “the next big thing,” revolutionizing the way magazines are read. Industry pundits have a field day with the whole “print is dead” thing.

Money was poured into the digital side as publishers made huge investments to engage the lucrative digital reader.

Fast forward to the present, and the revolution hasn’t materialized. Even with close to half of us in the U.S. owning a tablet, “magazine publishers have made comparably little progress in convincing their readers to consume their publications on the tablet, and few are able to derive significant revenue from their tablet apps,” writes Florian Kahlert in MediaDailyNews.

Why not? What’s going on with the revolution that never happened?

“Consider that when a magazine subscriber downloads, say, an app for a fashion magazine, it’s not as if that particular magazine app is just competing with other digital versions of fashion publications for the subscriber’s attention. It is actually up against any number of the 500,000 iPad-specific apps that Apple has authorized, hundreds of which have something to do with the fashion world,” Kahlert continues.

Meanwhile, publishers are still working frantically to convince their advertisers that the small digital audience is worth their time and trouble. And, “they also want to reach existing readers without the huge costs of printing and distributing paper publications,” Kahlert reminds us.

While advances in big data and user research now make it easier to figure out how the digital audience is actually consuming its content, “the remaining problem at this point is still that the audiences on the tablets are too small,” says Kahlert.

He summarizes it nicely:

“Again, numbers tell the story. For a glossy magazine that over many decades has painstakingly managed to build an attractive audience of millions of monthly print readers, the addition of 50,000 digital readers — many of which are the same  — is not yet a game changer.

As one astute reader notes, “The reader base for print was built over decades. Tablets showed up just a few years ago. There is no such thing as instant success.”

Looks like the revolution is on hold. To the barricades, but don’t hurry.