The commonplace view within magazine publishing is that the iPad is going to save the industry. Will it? And in the process, will the iPad become a force of reaction, enclosing a free, open and infinitely connected internet within a landscape of small fences and high walls – the tallest being the ones around the iTunes store?
I had a short talk to give last week at ‘What’s on your iPad”, a well-attended event organised by the British Society of Magazine Editors and the Editorial Design Organisation. I adopted the role of sceptic and these were my questions.
What sparked them off was a couple of conversations with @bobbyc and @malbonster against the background of a loud hum of optimistic speculation buzzing up from the magazine industry on both sides of the Atlantic. You can see it here, at Conde Nast, busy iPadding up with Wired and GQ. What sparked them off was a couple of conversations with @bobbyc and @malbonster against the background of a loud hum of optimistic speculation buzzing up from the magazine industry on both sides of the Atlantic. You can see it here, at Conde Nast, busy iPadding up with Wired and GQ; here, with Sports Illustrated (you’re not allowed to watch the swimwear section**); and here’s Interview on iPad, a magazine of pages on a screen (see four below from the iPhone app), with a little video thrown in.
It’s like going back to 1990 in the days of the CD ROM and the ‘electronic magazine’. So what is it about the iPad that sets editorial lips aquiver?
I think there’s five key things:
- Top of the list is People Will Pay. Iphone apps have demonstrated that in a special environment (on the move or within an application) people will pay for a better experience- Top of the list is People Will Pay. Iphone apps have demonstrated that in a special environment (on the move or within an application) people will pay for a better experience
- Advertising: it looks good!
- The form factor: it’s handheld, relaxed, lends itself to consumption as much as production
- There’s a hugely rich design potential: nothing points up the poverty of point and click internet browsers (thank you Microsoft) like iPad or iPhone apps. Take a look here, for example: at some interesting experiments by Bonnier R&D and BERG into the promise of the haptic interface.
- And last but not least, you can create a complete and self-contained experience in an application: no distracting links taking you elsewhere and lots of control over visual and behavioural aspects of the interface and the path taken through it.
It all sounds a lot like a magazine, doesn’t it? Sit back, turn the pages and read. Just as we thought we were entering a web of data, of synchronised, personalised content shooting freely around through APIs, along comes the self-contained application; and just as we thought we were moving from mass media to social media, making and treading our own path, along comes Interview as a linear, editorially driven page-by-page experience on my iPad (with a couple of token sharing features chucked in).
And if this is an experience for sharing, how are we going to share? Must we all have an iPad to share the iPad experience of Wired or Sports Illustrated? The answer has to be yes, unless we share through proxy URL schemas pointing to poor-cousin web pages (have you tried to tweet articles from the Guardian iphone app? Impossible). The iPad’s cheap, but it’s also very proprietary.
Must we all have an iPad to share the iPad experience of Wired or Sports Illustrated? The answer has to be yes
I feel like I’ve got to make a public affirmation now: The iPad’s going to transform many people’s experience of computers and extend the reach of digital into homes its never been before; it will restore high design qualities and condemn web browsers to obsolescence (or push them forward into innovation).
But it also might spin us backwards into a web of pages, paid content and idle, private consumption. There’s proof already that this will be at least the temporary effect (one step back, then two steps forwards?) quickening the momentum of existing trends such as Rupert Murdoch’s pay wall construction programme (fellow speaker Jon Hill, design editor of The Times couldn’t show his site’s re-design, frustratingly, because it’s in pre-launch purdah and after launch we’ll have to pay – although he did show some sumptuous dataviz).
I see in these publishers’ videos a position of denial. They believe you can pour a magazine (and its business model) straight and unadulterated into a new medium that works in an entirely different way. The threats and opportunities magazine publishing faces are more profound than this approach addresses and the response must be equally profound, more innovative. At BSME/EDO I showed four examples of editorial innovation that looked forward instead of back and didn’t rely on an iPad as the killer app.
The first was Burberry’s artofthetrench.com, which I put up for any number of reasons. First, it disintermediates publishers: it comes not from a traditional fashion publisher but a luxury brand that once had no choice but to advertise in glossy magazines. Now Burberry talks directly to its audience. The budget that went on AOTT would not long ago have gone into double page spreads in Vogue or Harpers’ Bazaar (and Burberry, by the way, spent nothing on paid media to market this site, but pulled in 330,000 visitors from 191 countries in the eight weeks after launch). Unlike Interview or Wired on the iPad, Artofthetrench.com is a collaboration between Burberry, professional bloggers and photographers and – most importantly – its customers too. The audience, as event chairperson Juliet Warkentin pointed out, is prepared to take the huge trouble to be styled and photographed and upload their picture for consideration to be included in the site – it’s an incredibly intimate form of engagement. And thirdly, artofthetrench is not a pile of pages, it’s a grand array of images that can be filtered and blown up and commented on and shared. Not a magazine, but packed full of both inspiration and community.
Next was Quatro Rodas, like artofthetrench.com a genuine example of brand innovation but this time coming in the opposite direction – from a magazine publisher. Quatro Rodas (four wheels – not a Made by Many project) is a car monthly published by leading Brazilian publisher, Abril. The magazine’s very profitable, and Abril had its’ best ever year for print magazines in 2009, with credit crunch effects more than compensated by a soaring literacy rate and a growing middle class – but Abril is also a very smart company and thinks differently. A major piece of income derives not from the print mag, but from the annual Quatro Rodas Experience when Abril takes over the Interlagos racing circuit in Sao Paulo for a whole week, invites all the manufacturers to bring their cars, which the Paulistas pay handsomely to test drive around the track. Car sales rise up to 20% in the month after.
If print magazines have a future it must be like this, as the spearhead of a wider brand adventure with new business models that don’t necessarily rely on either advertising or paid circulation. This is a model embodied in Made by Many’s work for Five and the creation of the Five FWD brand, which was the third example I showed (disclaimer: our original 2008 design has been somewhat adulterated).
Five.tv/fwd is a web channel that gathers together Five’s male-skewed technology shows such as The Gadget Show and Fifth Gear. The site connects up the television experience with a bingeworthy library of shortform video, product reviews, viewers’/users’ opinions and ultimately with shopping. FWD moves from ‘magazine’ as product to magazine as service. It’s a collaboration between the TV channel, the production company North One, the Republic editorial company providing reviews, a picture library and a shopping price feed and – critically – the audience, who comment on and rate products and say what they own and want. It’s their interactions that generate the most valuable and interesting data on products.
Five.tv/fwd combines inspiration and community with utility. These three essential properties don’t necessarily have to involve a big budget affair with the huge kinds of visitor traffic that TV can drive to the web. Oolamoola, my fourth example, has a tiny budget and targets a hyperniche. We launched Oolamoola with Hearst last year in the depths of the crunch and well under the radar. It’s a small experiment, no more than a massively hacked WordPress blog, with a part time editorial team being set challenges by the readership to live as well as they did before the credit crisis, on less money.
This is one approach magazine publishers should be taking, trying out new brands, extending old brands, seeing how they work together, discovering what works well on the web that might not work in print, experimenting with new business models, collaborating with partner companies with different skills and assets, engaging closely with their audience (like the week Grazia produced itself form Westfield) and creating collaborative, creative toolsets that generate useful content and valuable data. It’s not easy because it takes a new set of skills, a new culture and a different more agile attitude to development. That’s a world away from pouring pages into iPads, but it looks like we’re all going to have live with that for a while. Welcome back the electronic magazine, hello 1989.
** There is one really cool piece in the Sports Illustrated video, but it’s an afterthought at 2 mins 43 secs., near the end.