Where next for tablet publishing?

Last week Apple unveiled its latest two iPads - the ultra-thin iPad Air and the revamped iPad mini which now boasts a high definition retina screen.

Although neither tablet featured a significant technological breakthrough industry analysts predicted that they would continue to help push sales of tablet devices this Christmas. The latest figures from analyst Gartner are that worldwide tablet shipments will grow 53.4% this year, with shipments reaching 184 million units.

In the UK too expect a seasonal rush on tablets with retailers Argos and Tesco launching their own budget tablets to compete with the iPads, Google Nexus, Amazon Kindle Fire and others.

In the same week Marketing revealed research from Weve - Vodafone, O2 and EE's joint mobile marketing network - that found that 46 per cent of 18 to 34 year-olds said mobile (including tablets) was their first screen. The findings placed mobile ahead of laptops or PCs (chosen by 30.6 per cent) and TV (12.4 per cent) as the first and most important screen in the lives of people between the ages of 18 and 34.

Google predicts a positive future
Google chairman Eric Schmidt has this week being predicting big things for tablet publishing.

‘Tablets are now more popular than PCs,' he told a Magazine Publishers Association conference reported here. ‘You can read it, it knows where you are, it has an accelerometer. There are all sorts of stuff [publishers] can do in tablet magazines [that they] couldn't do in print magazines. Five years from now, the world will have "powerful, tablet-looking things" - [devices] that look roughly like a tablet - as a substitute for traditional media,' Schmidt predicted.

It seems a tad ironic then that there are still critics who are predicting that tablet publishing is going to struggle to establish itself. Some, like Bauer Media's UK MD Abby Carvosso, argue that ‘digital can't replace the relationship people have with a glossy magazine.'

There are others though who think that there are issues with the whole concept of tablet publishing itself. In an article for influential US media website Giga Om, provocatively titled ‘Why tablet magazines are a failure,' Jon Lund, COO and partner at knowledge-sharing startup memit, argues that tablet users are getting app fatigue, that editorial apps struggle to achieve viral status as they are difficult to share via social media and that punters just aren't buying tablets in the way that the industry had hoped.

An article in the UK site The Media Briefing also pointed to the way in which Newsstand, which was presented as a panacea to publishers by Apple has ‘become a place where apps go to die.'

Others have suggested that the popularity of responsive (or adaptive design) which works out which format the content is going to be presented on (mobile, tablet or PC) and tailors the page to suit that device's requirements has meant that publishers have been less inclined to push tablet magazines.

Where does the content marketing industry stand?
So where does this leave the content marketing industry and its approach to tablets?

One of the most encouraging signs in the US has been the huge success of Game Informer, which is owned by video game chain GameStop and boasts nearly 3 million digital subscriptions. Cleverly GameStop includes a digital subscription with purchase of its ‘premium' $14.99 loyalty cards, which also offer discounts on video games.

It is a classic example of how a company has incorporated content into its overall strategy using the tablet magazine to encourage footfall into stores and increase customer loyalty. It does underline that brands can achieve huge success with tablet magazines, but only if they tackle the key issue of distribution. The days of brands producing magazine apps and hoping that customers will find them and download them from Apple's Newsstand have gone forever. Brands need to have compelling content, but also a route to helping consumers finding that content, whether it be through the brand's own websites, or through link marketing using companies like Outbrain, or promotion in social media.

Brands also have a huge advantage in that many offer their content for free. One of the biggest obstacles to tablet publishing success for mainstream publishers has simply been that users seem reluctant to pay for apps.

There are still huge questions that brands need to ask themselves before they commit to tablet publishing. Should they focus on one platform - the iPad? - or produce a tablet magazine that is less technologically impressive but works across different operating systems? Are there significant advantages of choosing a tablet over a responsive design revamp? Might the brand be better off incorporating long form content in innovative ways into their websites.

There is however clearly an important role for branded magazine tablet apps, especially in the content marketing arena, and the next few years are likely to see their role become clearer. 

Posted by: The CMA

Posted in CMA blog
29thOct 2013

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