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Executive Report - By Thomas Baekdal - April 2010

Debunking The Digital Magazine

The iPad has arrived, and the media industry is saved. Of course, when I say it has arrived, what I really mean is that it is now available in the U.S. And when I say that the media industry is saved, I really mean they think they're saved.

One thing that is immediately apparent though is that the media industry is pretty far from being saved. Just look at The Wall Street Journal for the iPad. They have literally taken the printed newspaper, converted it to the iPad format, and ...well, really nothing else.

They are completely ignoring everything that has happened to the media industry in the past 10 years-namely, the internet. Just look at the screen below, which is divided into newspapers per day!?!

Here is a tip. We don't want newspapers; we want news! Deliver "news," not "papers"

It was the same when Sports Illustrated showcased their magazine for tablets (and possible the iPad.) The first thing they said was "We hope you like the cover". The cover??? Why would I even be remotely interested in that? Why are you even showing me a cover-haven't you learned anything?

A cover is what we on the internet call a splash screen. It was something that many websites used a long way back, and everyone hated it. Everyone! So today, you no longer see any "cover pages" online.


Note: GQ goes a step further and let you browse the covers-as if they are something magical.

The first question people want answered is "What great stories do you have for me, right now?"

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One issue per month

The other problem is that many of these apps are taking their print distribution models to the iPad, and forcing people to "have it delivered to them every month."

You actually have to buy and download each new magazine every month. Want the new issue of GQ magazine? Well, go into the app store, find it next to all the other magazines, buy it, and wait for it to download.

This is just like the good old days where you had to go to the newsstand to pick up your copy of the latest magazine.

It is just insane. This is 2010. We have this thing called the internet!

And, on this internet thing, we don't have to wait a whole month to get new content. Every new article can be delivered mere seconds after it has been written-and it can update completely automatic.

Instead of spending huge amounts of marketing dollars to remind people that your new magazine has "hit the street," you can keep people engaged by delivering exciting content every day. You don't have to remind people, because people never have a chance to forget.

There is no distribution online, and there is definitely no distribution on the iPad. Forcing a distribution model upon it is just insane.

Coca Cola actually explained this brilliantly in their "Coke's 'fans first' approach in social communities." Digital magazines that think in terms of monthly editions, are not creating sustainable relationships.

Magazines need to forget about the old print distribution model. They need to start delivering articles as a stream.

The digital world is all about content

Another problem facing magazines going digital is that they need a completely different focus on how and why they create content.

In the print world, magazines are in the business of providing "access to information." People do not buy articles. They buy a box of news, so they can keep up-to-date.

To give you an example. If I go down to my local newsstand, to know something about Apple, I have only two choices. I can either buy MacWorld, or I can decide not to buy it. Those are my only choices. I can either get access to information, by buying a magazine, or not know what's going on.

That's how the magazine industry looks at things. They are in the business of providing people a package of general news, because without it, people would be out of the loop.

They are not actually focusing on creating remarkable articles. Each article is, to them, not what it is about. To them, it is about giving people access to information. They sell packages, not individual articles.

The problem here is that in the digital world, their main competitor is the internet. And on the internet, we have access to information by default. We don't have a problem "getting" information, we already have too much of it.

The problem is instead to make sense of all that information. How to get the big picture. We need to have the details explained to us, and put into perspective. We need to know the social impact of things. Other people's reactions. And we need the professional opinion.

E.g., we don't need articles telling us what the iPad's specifications are-we can see that on Apple's website. But, we do need articles like David Pogue's "Looking at the iPad From Two Angles" because it helps us understand.

The main problem for print magazines going digital is simply that they are moving into a completely different industry. One where we don't need "access to information," but we do need help.

Every article has to be worthwhile. The last thing we want in a digital world is another package full of random news.

Motion and interactive ads

Another really puzzling concept put out by the magazines, is that they say that people are really into motion graphics and interactive ads.

I was shocked when Wired Magazine presented their tablet/iPad concept. And not in a good way. They actually said that "people come to Wired for the authority of the edit, and the richness of the experience. To learn about new products and services that our advertisers provide"

That is a load of dingo's kidneys. Show me one person who has subscribed to Wired Magazine because of the authority and richness of the advertising. Just one!

Same with video or interactive ads. People hate those things online, so why would they suddenly love them on the iPad?

The iPad is brilliant in the way that you can create a more compelling article. But, to pull it off, the interactive elements have to augment the story and not just be used for flashy page transitions. This is, by the way, another thing we learned from the web.

...and what about ads? Well, all the advertising we have seen so far, is deeply focused on the traditional "presentation" model-just with beautiful images and an interactive twist. They look really nice, but it's not what people want.

Advertisers have to stop presenting, and start communicating. Think "how do we communicate on Facebook," and then use the same thinking for advertising.

Notice: BTW isn't Wired Magazine supposed to be "one of us"? I mean, one of their editors is Chris Anderson, a brilliant guy who wrote The Long Tail and Freemium.

Social, sharing, or just plain linking

The biggest problem however, is that these magazine and newspaper apps live in a closed environment. Publishing in a digital world is not something you do. It is something that other people do for you. You merely make it available for being shared.

But most of these iPad magazines cannot be shared. There is no way to forward articles to a friend, there aren't-in most cases-even a way for me to say that I have just seen something interesting.

This is a massive mistake.

Just a little comparison. In 2009 I had roughly 2.4 million unique readers coming to this site. Of those 1.7 million came via a shared link. That's 70% of my traffic. On top of that, about 24 million people were, in some way or another, exposed to (what we call passive brand exposure), all of which because of the link.

When magazines create a closed app, with no social interaction, they are essentially limiting themselves to a very small market. They are limiting themselves to only the people who find them directly-by themselves!

Magazines need to enable sharing on the iPad, which is a bit of a problem. It's really hard to share a single article to a magazine app that groups every article together into a monthly box with a cover on top of it.

Maybe it isn't such a good idea to deliver your magazine that way. How do you link to an article inside an app?

Note: The same goes for pay walls. You need to allow people to share and link to your content, even when it is behind a pay wall (more on that later.)

What Magazines and Newspapers for the iPad should be like

The iPad, and devices like it (in the future), will be a game changer for publishers. I have no doubt about that. The tablets allow us to have the convenience of a screen, without having to sit down behind a computer. And they can provide access to all the content in the world, real-time, wherever we are, with no real effort on our part. It's brilliant.

But magazines and newspapers need to get it right before getting any hope of tablets being "their savior."

What you do is:

  1. Stop thinking print! The iPad is not a digital version of your printed magazine. It is a really impressive version of your website. That's where you should look. What works and doesn't work on your website-and how can you then extend it into really impressive articles on the iPad?
  2. Stop thinking distribution! The iPad is connected. You are in direct contact with your readers. Instead of thinking "we have to deliver this to our readers as an app." There is no distribution unless you make it up! Make you content available, and add it to the stream.
  3. Stop thinking magazine! Think really amazing articles. You are not selling a magazine. You are selling truly amazing stories.
  4. Stop thinking animation and effects! Start thinking a better way to tell a story.
  5. Start thinking sharing!
  6. Start thinking social engagement! Can people comment, can people collaborate, do you allow people to be a part of the articles, instead of merely readers? Do you base the rank of each article on reader interaction, or do you limit it to "editorial decision making"
  7. Start thinking "getting content to where people are"!
  8. Start thinking "linking content together" (as opposed to "tables of contents")
  9. Start thinking niche! It is much better to write five really good articles, than one good one and ten not very interesting ones. If you want to cover five wildly different topics, create five widely different magazines. But reuse your resources.
  10. And finally, stop thinking that you have to deliver something big. The future of publishing is like social media-It is not an event. It is a process! (Thanks to Seth Godin for that quote.)

For magazines: The iPad is not the next "print." The iPad is the next "web."

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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