|To many publishers, the iPad has looked like the cavalry coming over the hill - a last-minute rescue for a threatened industry. Surely this is no less than a glorious new start for the printed product in all its carefully crafted packaging and design beauty?
Well, the relief may be short lived, at least for publishers who have not yet grasped that the key to digital survival is continued innovation. Because all the signs are that tablets are not dutifully preserving the printed artefact in digital form, but starting to change digital content consumption in a way which creates whole new challenges. And some interesting opportunities.
Let's not forget the really good news in all this. The tablet has proved that people will indeed pay for digital content, something which remained in doubt until the iPad came along. What a breakthrough. Suddenly, loading up a PDF of the printed magazine meant you had a low-cost path to new distribution, a way to reach new paying markets around the world. What's not to like.
Well, the problem is that it now looks as if tablet users will skip past the two-dimensional PDF magazine replicas and go for something more exciting, if given the chance. They want something with sizzles, which utilises the functionality of the tablet. And they are starting to want their digital products served up in different-sized packages to suit their convenience.
What have we learnt? A Publishers Insight
Future is a UK-US publisher of over 80 special-interest magazines, websites and tablet apps. When the iPad was invented this looked like an ideal route to reach people with our passions in all corners of the world - and on a scale we could never achieve by printing and shipping printed magazines. We were pioneers in getting our content into iPad-ready form. Today, we have more than 70 digital titles on tablets and are the biggest UK publisher on the Apple Newsstand. Right now 13 of the top 50 titles on the UK Newsstand are from Future.
And what have we learnt? Take our T3 tech/gadget title, the UK's top-selling iPad magazine. We were doing just fine with a straightforward page-turner, a replica of the glossy mag. Then we launched a fully interactive version which has got more inventive with every edition. A typical edition of T3 on the iPad now has over 300 interactive elements, including embedded videos, photos which spin around when you touch, writers who speak to introduce their pieces, link buttons to let you buy cameras, phones or laptops, funky review buttons which let you drill down for more information.
We still sell the PDF version of T3 - but its sales have stagnated while the all-singing and dancing version now sells more than two-thirds of our 30,000 sales a month.
We had a similar experience with another popular title, Total Film. This was selling just fine in basic magazine format. In May, we launched an interactive high-def version, with embedded film trailers, video interviews with stars and all kinds of whizzy moving graphics. Sales more than doubled in a month.
We are finding that enhancing a digital magazine, either with full-blown interactive elements or even just some suitably embedded graphics and video, is a sure-fire way to accelerate sales. Hey, the guy on the cover of our Guitarist magazine now plays a riff when you download the mag - that sells.
We are also finding that innovation in packaging and chopping up the content pays off. Put simply, a lot of iPad owners just don't want to sit down and plough through a whole magazine or newspaper. They want to graze a bit, read a bit, then go do something else. So we are launching bite-sized weekly apps like Cycling News, for fans who want a regular quick, multi-media summary of the latest Tour de France, Giro d'Italia or local race-fest news.