Why publishers are choosing their tablet moment very carefully

Over at The Media Briefing, Guardian writer Peter Kirwan has penned an interesting blog entitled ‘Data shows magazine publishers are failing to join tablet revolution’. I’ve worked with Peter before while commissioning for Wired and he’s an incredibly thorough journalist, this latest piece an interesting read full of stats and insight. However, it seems to be missing a fairly major point – one which I’ve commented on the article, but thought I’d also post here (it works best if you read Mr Kirwan’s words first).

Publishers, if they have any sense, will be focusing on porting magazines over to iPad that are aimed at the main demographic of the iPad user. The stats show that this is 35+ men, early adopters and opinion formers, into technology, film and design, with plenty of money. Hence you regularly see GQ, The Economist, The Week, Wired, The Guardian, Wallpaper, Creative Review, Empire, Attitude, Gay Times and, yes, my magazine T3 near the top of the charts.

So while there are some major holes in content currently, if you compare the physical newsstand with Apple’s virtual one, there are compelling demographic, economic and production-based reasons for this which the article doesn’t address.

First, TV listings. There are lots of EPG-style apps that provide this function for free or a very cheap one-off fees if what you want is TV content listings, as a lot of men do. What TV magazines provide on top of this is the gossip, interviews with TV stars and context, which are predominantly aimed, in different ways, at females and elderly people, neither of whom are in the iPad’s main demographic yet.

Music magazines face major licensing issues for musical content. Spin in the US is fantastic, but I presume the UK magazines have hit walls in this area – still no Kindle Fire over here due to content problems, lest we forget. At my old iPad mag PROJECT, the NME’s Mark Beaumount did a great interactive music page that had you manipulating a variety of audio tech – from vinyl players to cassette decks – to hear a 10-track selection of new sounds, but they were always by niche outfits or small, up-and-coming artists – really valuable, but not content that’s going to command App Store sales.

In which case, if you can’t licence music and video that’s compelling to all, you may as well stick with Zinio or a PDF replica. At T3 a key to our iPad Edition is that we produce all our own video for T3.com and stream it in. Interesting that The Word has not long launched, but that has no musical content whatsoever – in fact, it’s gone the opposite direction, is almost like Safari Reader in its simplicity and works really well thanks to the very small file size this offers. In this space, Kerrang! and NME are also aimed at teenagers, again not the iPad market. I would imagine the best ones to launch would be Q or Mojo, and I’m sure Bauer will move on to this once it’s established Empire more.

Next up: celebrity magazines. Well, almost all of these are predominantly aimed at females, and no women’s magazine has proved there’s a significant female market on the iPad yet. Vogue – which taps into the high-end demographic that the iPad is aimed at – sold poorly. Circumstantial evidence: I know very few females who own iPads; almost all those that do work in the technology industry in some capacity, too.

To conclude, there’s no need for these publishers to rush in yet as the market hasn’t matured enough yet to accommodate all of their titles, so why waste money forcing it? As the market for iPads grows over the next couple of years, and you would think they become more affordable or perhaps even smaller, I’d expect many of these publishers and brands to join the party.

It’s telling that categorisation and search within Newsstand on the App Store are so poor, because at the moment most magazines are only catering for one demographic: the iPad’s. Magazines are just magazines, there are no sub-genre classifications or ways of searching by country of origin, for example. For both Apple and magazine publishers’ sake, this needs to change before major investment is viable.

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