iPad expectations for content companies coming down to earth

I was always sceptical that the iPad would dramatically change the economics of digital content. Well, more accurately, I called content execs “delusional”. We’ve now got a few months of data under our belts, and Brian Morrissey of AdWeek comes to many of the same conclusions that I did after looking at some of the early apps and pricing strategies:

Despite the optimism that greeted the new device, there is a danger that publishers are squandering an opportunity with clunky apps, bad pricing strategies and unsustainable ad tactics.

Yes, and unlike when I wrote the post back in April, we now have months of user data, interviews and sales figures.

The first month, Wired sold more copies on the iPad than in print. After that promising first month, the designer was described as a cross between Jesus and Pele. There was lot of messianic talk around the iPad. I still love the line from Mathias Döpfner, head of Germany’s Axel Springer, who said:

Sit down once a day and pray to thank Steve Jobs that he is saving the publishing industry.

I wanted to see what the sales were after a few months, after the early adopters that read Wired had a chance to use it and decide whether static images of print pages was the digital experience that they wanted.

Wired: 100,000 iPad downloads for June; July, August, September averaged 30,300.

It looks like the early enthusiasm is cooling. iPad sales from other titles are even less impressive. When I listened to the magazine and newspaper industry talk about the iPad, they talked about how close it approximated the paper experience. As a digital consumer, I said it then and I will say it again: I don’t want a paper experience. Frankly, on a recent flight, I was frustrated trying to wrestle my print FT into submission in an economy seat. I can’t search it. I can’t flick between sections. I have no problem reading on a screen. I want to save and share what I read. As designer Khoi Vinh says in AdWeek:

The magazine app experience, according to Vinh, is akin to a “remote, suburban cul-de-sac” while the digital world is moving to a real-time chaotic city.

In a lot of ways, publishers thought that the iPad was the future that could take them back to the past of the fat profits of the print era. It doesn’t look like it’s as simple as replicating the print experience and waiting for the money.

It never was going to be that simple, and it’s a bit disappointing that the leaders in the industry believed a single device was going to overturn years of experience and expectation from the web. In the end, it just reinforces that we’re in need of a fundamental rethink. There is no magic technology that will transform print into digital success. Think digitally and commercially and then we can start building sustainable digital businesses.

2 thoughts on “iPad expectations for content companies coming down to earth

  1. Kevin, couldn’t agree more. Too much wistful thinking about the iPad – and largely around the idea that it was just like paper, as if that was a real advantage. To be sure, there are ways that tablets will change the way to interact with media and information, but it makes no sense to assume it’ll be the same way we interact with paper – or that we would want to. As with all new platforms – media – we need to find ways to optimize each one so readers/users truly benefit from it. Reg

  2. Reg, I think you’ve hit on one of the key issues afflicting media and journalism right now which is that we need to think in terms of value and optimisation for our readers/users. It challenges a lot of what we do as journalists, publishers and content creators, but it really is the only way that we can hope to make this transition.

    Did you follow the Newspaper Next project in the US? It was a fascinating project by the American Press Institute that involved a number of very good people – Steve Buttry and Steve Yelvington. It’s a blueprint for disrupting your own business before someone else does. It’s well worth a look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.