Will the iPad Save the Magazine Biz?

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We started hearing rumblings that magazine publishers were looking to get content on the iPad, even before Apple officially admitted there was such a thing. It was almost sad, as it seemed the magazine industry was in such bad shape that it was looking for a savior. On the surface it seems that a hot slate device would be the perfect medium for magazines. What could be a better fit than a device with a nice size color display, interaction via touch; the iPad is tailor-made for digital magazines, right? I’m not so sure.

I’ve been reading magazines on slate devices for years. The Zinio system works well and comes as close to duplicating the glossy magazine reading experience as anything can. The pages are exact duplicates of the print versions, and even the ads are links to online advertisements. It sounds like a match made in heaven, but the reality is it falls a bit short.

I may not be the typical magazine reader, but I rarely read a print mag from cover to cover in the order it is published. There’s something about the ability to jump around, grabbing a stack of pages and skipping a bunch of stuff, that makes for a fun reading experience. That is not easy to do with a digital magazine. Sure you can jump around with a navigation bar of some kind, but finding your way back later is not easy. There’s just no way to fold the corner of the page of a digital magazine to mark your place for later.

Publishers of digital magazines are going to quickly run into a major obstacle — the lack of store checkout counters. Why do stores often have racks of magazines there at the checkout spot? Because people buy issues on impulse when they see the cover. Where are they going to do the same with digital magazines? Where can publishers display the flashy digital magazines so folks will see them when they are likely to buy them? Sure, they’d rather sell subscriptions, but that’s not always the way consumers buy magazines and it’s not likely to change.

Electronic magazine readers are going to be susceptible to one problem that hasn’t occurred to anyone yet. The wet screen syndrome. How many people are going to call the support line after constantly licking the finger to turn the page on the digital magazine? It’s habit, after all, and not likely to change just because the page is now electronic. I see major failures on the horizon due to the wet screens.

OK, I was just having fun with that last bit. But there is a real benefit to paper magazines that can never be had with the digital versions. How many times have you thrown a magazine or two in a bag pocket when heading out the door. I often fold up a magazine and toss it in the bag for reading on the plane when traveling. The digital magazine means I have to bring the reader with me, even if I hadn’t planned to do so. And there’s no way to read a digital magazine on the plane during those times when you must “power off all electronic devices.” Can’t say that about old school paper magazines.

Don’t get me wrong, I love gadgets and I’m usually first in line to use them. I’ve been reading e-books for a decade, long before we had fancy readers. But I’m not your typical consumer; you don’t have to sell me on a new concept where a gadget is involved. You do most folks though, and therein lies the rub.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Can Skiff Be a Lifeboat for Beleaguered Print Media?

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