Turns Out That The iPad Won't Magically Bring Back Scarcity For Magazines

from the shocking,-i-know dept

Back in 2010, we suggested that the mad dash by various publications to build fee-based iPad apps was completely misguided, reminiscent of the belief in the 90s that publications could sell CD-ROM versions of their magazines. As we noted, there’s nothing that special about the iPad format that takes away the natural abundance of the internet, and pretending that it was really any different than a portal to the wider internet with all its options was a fool’s errand. In particular, we called out Rupert Murdoch’s obsession with creating an iPad-only publication. In fact, we were confused why all the publishers investing so much in apps didn’t put that same sort of effort into improving the features on their websites. A few months ago, the editor-in-chief and publisher of MIT’s Tech Review more or less made the same point, saying that the future was on the web, betting on HTML 5 to make the site “look great on a laptop or desktop, tablet or smartphone” and then killing off the apps it had developed.

While others aren’t going that far, there’s more and more evidence that betting on apps was, in fact, the exact mistake that we predicted. Mathew Ingram summarizes how both The Huffington Post and Murdoch’s The Daily have failed with their fee-based iPad app strategy. He makes the same basic point that a winner of our “most insightful comment” (by Robert Weller) made recently: that people get their news from lots of sources, so paying for a bunch of apps just doesn’t make sense. In fact, it takes away from the value. As Ingram notes:

Whether media companies like it or not (and they mostly don’t), much of the news and other content we consume now comes via links shared through Twitter and Facebook and other networks, or through old-fashioned aggregators — such as Yahoo News or Google News — and newer ones like Flipboard and Zite and Prismatic that are tailored to mobile devices and a socially-driven news experience. Compared to that kind of model, a dedicated app from a magazine or a newspaper looks much less interesting, since by design it contains content from only a single outlet, and it usually doesn’t contain helpful things like links.

What he’s basically saying is that the publishers focusing on apps are trying to create artificial scarcity by building digital silos. But that actually takes value away from those publications. People interact with the news in all sorts of ways that go way beyond “reading.” But individual apps often make that more difficult. It involves extra effort (and cost) while providing less benefit. All because publishers are looking for something (anything!) that resembles some fencing so they can build a gate and go back to pretending they’re in the gatekeeper business.

Hopefully publishers will finally stop looking to recreate the past by building artificial walls, and start looking at ways to make money that embrace the internet and what it enables.

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Companies: aol, news corp

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Comments on “Turns Out That The iPad Won't Magically Bring Back Scarcity For Magazines”

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In my experience, most of the apps missed the important difference between the Internet age and the print days. Print media was aimed at “Consumers.” Most of the magazine and newspaper apps still think in terms of consumers. But now people want to interact with their media more. Comments are a start,but most of them are poorly implemented and don’t get any actual interaction with the author. People want more interaction and also want to link via Reddit, FB, Twitter, Pinterest, and a host of other services.

What amazes me is how most publishers have ignored the smartphone market. Most of the “mobile” news sites are still aimed at flipfone viewers. Lots of them do not even have ads to generate revenue. They also tend to put out information in very small bites which means that you have to download the story in multiple pieces.


I was interested in replacing dead tree versions of Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker with e-versions delivered to my Galaxy tablet, only to find the app bundles both magazines with a bunch of magazines I don’t want to read and costs almost $200 a year… much, much cheaper to just continue with the dead-tree versions of both magazines. So no thanks. And I’m letting EW lapse when the subscription runs out in September. It occurred to me that I can read similar stuff online.

Why are they following the cable model and bundling a bunch of magazines this way? Why not just give me the ability to pick the magazines I want, and for a lower cost than I’d have to pay for printed-paper-version delivery?


The Huffington iPad app will continue to be found in the App store with a free subscription, whereas the Daily is still trying to find a way to sell their app subscription.

It’s interesting to read the comments after the HuffPo article linked to in this post. These claim that the reason the paid Daily and Huffington are failing is because of poor quality or unfocused journalism, not because they have the wrong business model. Of course some of these commentors are writing for other publications, so naturally they believe/hope their own periodical has the right magic that will sell.

Lawrence D'Oliveirosays:

People Want Apps

A separate study I saw reported that people prefer custom apps to websites. I guess web browsers can never offer a UI quite as slick as a properly-coded native app.

But certainly, there doesn?t seem to be much money in apps. It is probably better to give them away as a promotional tool to sell something else, even if that is done as an in-app purchase, or in-app advertising, or something.

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