Switching consumers to digital books is hard enough — get ready for magazines

Russ Grandinetti, vice president for Kindle content

When it comes to bringing magazines to the Kindle or iPad, some of the trickiest competitors aren’t fellow digital platforms — it’s the actual print products themselves. Paper magazines are still pretty good, Amazon told publishers on Monday.

Russ Grandinetti, vice president for Kindle content for Amazon, spoke Monday in San Francisco to magazine publishers and editors with the Association of Magazine Media about the challenges and rewards of bringing magazine content to the Kindle, which he said can be slightly different than digitzing books, although that also seemed like a challenge at first.

“Even books, which is an easier transition for people, is a difficult task. When we started, we didn’t look at who was selling digital books at the time, we looked at the print book,” Grandinetti said. “Because it’s lightweight, it’s resilient, it’s inexpensive. And the print magazine is also very very good at what it does. And the digital experience only approximates a small amount of that in many ways.”

He said the consumers love many of the things that have made books great for 500 years, and many of the challenges in getting them to adopt digital are even trickier with magazines. They tend to rely more on large glossy photos and less printed text, things that don’t always transfer as well to a variety of digital formats and devices.

But Grandinetti said he thinks the future for digital magazines is bright, even if the print product itself still has a good deal to offer, mainly because digital platforms give consumers the opportunities to bring the content with them anywhere they go.

“The strenth of the Kindle platform, which has led to our success in books and what we can help do in magazines, is that customers don’t plan out which devices they’ll use for which continent,” he said, noting that they were surprised by how many consumers said they were reading entire novels on their phones.

Grandinetti also noted that digital magazines offer greater potential benefits for monetization, because they’ve found that consumers who get trial subscriptions for magazines are extremely likely to then convert to a paid subscription, and because the platforms put advertisers even closer to points of sale with the consumer.

“There are many advertisers out there who want to get as close to a transaction as they can,” he said. “And on the device that we build, it can literally be just a matter of a click or two with a trusted source between them.”

The transition from totally print to totally digital is still in progress, he said, because, “Print is so good, that this is going to be a nice, long, slow transition.” But Grandinetti said publishers will have a huge advantage in accessing more and more data about reader patterns, which is quickly becoming more of an asset, as long as they use the information responsibly. He said Amazon learned the power of recommendations with its “People who bought this book also bought” feature.

“People were freaked out by that in 1998. Freaked out,” he said. “So I think publishers have that same opportunity.”

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