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United Business Media (LSE: UBM) CEO David Levin has taken many publishers to task for trying to shoehorn their existing publications in to…

David Levin
photo: Robert Andrews

United Business Media (LSE: UBM) CEO David Levin has taken many publishers to task for trying to shoehorn their existing publications in to iPad.

“I think it’s a hopeless approach, actually,” Levin told paidContent:UK. “The business models are still hokey.

“Publishers have got a long way to go. Some big brands are getting some bits of it absolutely right – but, at heart, all of the broadsheets don’t have a functional business model yet. It’s all experimentation while the core business shrinks. There’s not yet one publication that’s in a great place.”

Levin said the FT‘s cross-platform freemium model was the best iPad business method, whilst The Times‘ iPad app was strong. But he criticised publishers for replicating old print brands in the new device…

“This is wonderful one-to-many, but you’ve got the ability to talk back and social media. The product isn’t the same product (as print). Most iPad apps, you can’t even email the page, you’ve put yourself in a perfect walled garden where you can’t share the content.

“The first wave of people saying ‘I’m going to take my magazine on the web’ was a disaster because you use the web differently from a magazine. Now, everybody’s saying ‘I’ll take my magazine or newspaper on to the tablet and the use cases are all identical except there’s touch and video – but they still haven’t embraced social media.

“Everybody presumed this was a replacement for print but they hadn’t really seen it as a vehicle for things like moving image.”

Of course, Levin is speaking from a particular vantage point at UBM, which, by virtue of being a B2B publisher, can begin to reconsider buyers of its publications as cross-platform professional communities, regardless of the print title from which they originate.

“I’m less worried about ‘do you distribute a magazine?’ than the broader question of ‘how do you create value for a community?‘,” Levin asks. “If you do that, you’ll be able to monetise it.”

Some UBM products including drug directories and a Chinese consumer magazine, FashionBaby, have iOS apps.

  1. To an extent I agree with David Levin although I believe there remains a sweet-spot in balancing efficient, viable production with sufficiently compelling content. Without this, ‘magazine’ apps remain expensive and cumbersome.

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  2. Ashley Friedlein Monday, March 21, 2011

    I’m glad someone in senior in media has sensible views on tablets / iPad. I’m tired with hearing media execs trumpeting tablets in the hope they might somehow fix their broken business models. All the research, and hard data, I’m seeing suggests that it is the *mobile web* that is really taking off (and m-commerce) and apps might ‘burn brightly then fade’ for many.

    Did you know that the Telegraph has 3X as many people looking at its website on an iPad than using the iPad app itself? Tablets are encouraging ‘casual surfing / premium personal time browsing (evenings)’ but principally to *surf the internet* not to use apps. A recent Piper Jaffray survey of newly-minted iPad 2 owners found that 38% of them planned to use their iPad to surf the web, the most popular activity. Only 17% plan to use apps and play games.

    Add to that the complete loss of business control, and customer data ownership, that ‘app world’ entails, along with the cost and complexity of maintaining apps on different platforms (iOS, Android etc.) and I’m just not as excited by apps as many seem to be.

    In most cases, before anyone worries about iPad/tablet apps, they’re probably better off creating a better website in the first place, and then doing a mobile optimised version. Much more traffic, much less cost, much more control, in doing that than in going into apps?

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