Friday, July 23, 2010

Publishers typing with fingers-crossed for iPad rescue

Newspapers, magazines and other print-media publishers have been hard-hit by the abundance of free material made possible by the Internet.

When I think back a decade or two I recall that I subscribed to at least a dozen monthly periodicals which were either delivered to my mailbox or kept for me by my local bookshop.

I would eagerly await the arrival of Byte, DrDobbs Journal, Scientific American, Australian PC, RC Models and Electronics, plus a number of other titles which contained a plethora of interesting articles and an avalanche of advertising.

They were good times for the print publishing industry with advertisers' dollars flowing in like water.

Oh how things have changed!

Now it would be a very brave (or stupid) person who opted to launch a print-based technology magazine (or any magazine for that matter) in today's "connected" world.

Long delays between the time that an article is written and when it finally reaches the reader means that print is all but dead for tech-industry news publications. Readers expect to be able to log in on a daily basis to get the latest news and happenings. The normal four to six week turn-around for print is no longer acceptable.

Many print publishers have done their best to move their periodicals to the web but few are making anything like the money they did in the pre-IP era. Online advertising just doesn't command the same price as print advertising and advertisers can see just how (in)effective their ad-spend is today, something that often surprises them, and not in a good way.

However, the launch of the Apple iPad in NZ this week has seen print-media publishers getting very excited. It's almost like the second coming, the buzz is so great.

At last, there is now a platform that offers the ability to deliver a real print-magazine format without the limitations of online browsing.

When used as an e-Mag reader, the iPad allows users to enjoy full-page colour ads and longer, in-depth articles with almost the same comfort and convenience as offered by a glossy magazine.

This re-opens the doors for those magazine publishers who were worried where their next meal was coming from.

Now they can go back to a subscription model, charging readers for each issue downloaded and commanding a new premium for the ad-space contained in those iPad editions.

Or at least that's the plan.

Whether it actually works or not, a surprisingly large percentage of mainstream print-media publishers are jumping aboard with all fingers crossed.

Whether readers will warm to the idea of once again having to pay for content is another question.

Once the novelty wears off their shiny new iPad, will they just go back to a PC and web-browser for their news, information and entertainment? Or will they continue to stump up cold, hard cash for the iPad e-version of their favourite print magazines?

I really don't know.

Will the iPad audience be large enough to support this publishing model?

So many questions, so few answers -- yet.

Would you pay for the iPad version of a periodical you currently get for free online?

Would you pay for the iPad version of a print publication you currently subscribe to or buy regularly from the local dairy or book shop?

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