Readers have more trouble focusing on magazines' iPad editions than publishers initially predicted, according to the latest study in a growing effort to figure out tablet computers.
"We thought that of course there's a lot of activity going on on an iPad, when there's so many things you can be doing -- between email, Netflix, playing games, reading magazines -- but they're actually bouncing around a lot more than we thought," said Megan Miller, research and development program director at Bonnier, which publishes titles including Popular Science, Field & Stream, Parenting and Ski.
"If you sit someone down with a magazine, within seconds they're researching the products that they could buy," Ms. Miller said. "If they see a snowboard in a snowboarding magazine, they'll bounce over to Amazon to check the prices on it."
The study, from Bonnier and ad agency CP&B, reflects findings from 15 focus groups in three cities that were designed to include heavy print magazine readers, heavy iPad users and heavy consumers of magazine content on the web. Next Bonnier and CP&B will try to apply the results to developing new ad formats for tablets. A pilot series of these ads will appear in the Popular Science iPad app late this spring.
It's already apparent that the study has implications for magazines. Publishers have been telling advertisers that their iPad editions combine print's ability to engross readers with digital media's interactivity. The way publishers have been building their apps, however, now seems to have given interactivity the upper hand.
That might be a good thing. People want to use digital magazines as "exploration springboards" and don't like content that seems like a dead end, the study found. And marketers will obviously be happy if iPad editions trigger a lot of shopping. But it also implies that publishers need to think about their goals for the iPad edition and how to get readers back once they've bounced off to Amazon or elsewhere.
"We wanted to figure out ways to make it possible and make it attractive for people to come back to the magazine content again and again," Ms. Miller said. "And we wanted to find reasons to get people to have more touchpoints with magazine content. And we wanted to find a way to make ads more interesting. So we did this study to dig in deeply and find out what exactly are the activities people have with magazines, how they interact with online magazine content vs. magazines on a tablet vs. a print magazine."
People often mistake editorial screens in iPad editions for ads, the Bonnier and CP&B study also found. "It was really strange," Ms. Miller said. "When there was a full-bleed whole page dedicated to a product, people said, 'Yeah, that's an ad.' And we selected people who were from an educated demographic. They were not dummies. So we realized that we need to do something to make it clear."
And unlike a Kindle, which can "drop away" from readers' minds as an e-book takes center stage, iPad users seem to always be aware, perhaps first and foremost, that they're using the device. People in the study said they weren't "reading," "playing" or "surfing"; they were just using an iPad.
The decisions that lead to reading a magazine's iPad edition, moreover, are very different than the decisions that lead to reading a print edition. People traditionally pick up magazines' print editions for a specific purpose. But they often pick up an iPad with "iPadding" in mind and only then decide what to do with it.
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