Don't Let Your Website Ruin Your Magazine's Tablet Edition

Plus Other Advice on E-Readers and Tablets From Industry Meeting

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A couple of weeks before people start receiving their iPad orders from Apple but months into publishers' period of great expectations for the new platforms, the magazine industry met this morning to talk about electronic readers and tablets.

Holding a tablet to flip through a magazine site might not be that much worse than holding a tablet to flip through an issue.
Holding a tablet to flip through a magazine site might not be that much worse than holding a tablet to flip through an issue. Credit: Apple
There's still as much speculation as planning and development going on, but some new advice emerged from magazine and technology executives at the event, a Magazines 24/7 conference dubbed "The E-Reading Revolution" by its organizer, the Magazine Publishers of America.

Re-examine your web strategy
If a magazine's website and its print edition share much of the same content, some recalibration may be necessary before its tablet edition succeeds.

So far the pleasantly tactile experience of reading a print magazine, not to mention print editions' convenient portability, has helped many titles avoid being cannibalized by their own free websites. The same content often just isn't as appealing on desktop monitors or cramped laptops.

But tablet editions will run on tactile, portable devices that also pack web browsers.

Holding a tablet to flip through a magazine site might not be that much worse than holding a tablet to flip through an issue -- especially if Sports Illustrated Group Editor Terry McDonnell was correct today when he approvingly declared: "The platform itself becomes part of the content."

If selling tablet editions is going to work, companion sites probably have to diverge from their print forerunners more sharply than ever. "You can't put free content into a paid app and expect a good outcome," said Monica Ray, leader of digital paid-content strategy at Time Inc., where she is senior VP for strategic planning and corporate development.

Design the dream before you sweat the technical stuff
The tablet editions being developed and shown off so far include so many advanced, demanding features that James B. Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics, asked whether they're like concept cars -- pointing a possible way forward but basically impractical for the near term.

A panel on the 'e-reader ecoystem' at Thursday's Magazines 24/7 conference, with (from left) moderator James B. Meigs, editor in chief, Popular Mechanics; Cheryl Goodman, director of marketing, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies; Gilbert Fuchsberg, president, Skiff; and Nick Bogarty, senior business development manager, Adobe Systems.
A panel on the 'e-reader ecoystem' at Thursday's Magazines 24/7 conference, with (from left) moderator James B. Meigs, editor in chief, Popular Mechanics; Cheryl Goodman, director of marketing, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies; Gilbert Fuchsberg, president, Skiff; and Nick Bogarty, senior business development manager, Adobe Systems. Credit: Doug Goodman
But the harder and more fundamental challenge is conceiving the edition in the first place, argued Nick Bogarty, senior business development manager at Adobe Systems, which is working up Wired's tablet edition.

Tablet editions will have to occupy a sweet spot between traditional print issues and all the interactivity and the internet, neither duplicating print and underwhelming tablet owners nor becoming websites and losing their magazine identity.

"I would figure out those concerns first," Mr. Bogarty said. Once publishers get to that point, they can figure out the technical stuff, he said.

Don't get hung up on color
Just because color is coming, notably with the iPad but also eventually to electronic readers, publishers may not want to overlook the opportunities in monochrome.

Some are calculating that there's not much reason to play in black and white. Time Inc., for example, only offers Time and Fortune on Amazon's Kindle, partly because the Kindle doesn't do color. "We've said all along we don't believe the Kindle, in its current incarnation, will be a substantial distribution channel for magazines," the company has explained. "We look forward to the introduction of color readers with advertising capabilities."

But the "paralysis" among some publishers regarding black-and-white platforms presents a risk, said Gilbert Fuchsberg, president of Skiff, the e-reading and advertising company backed by Hearst. "The black-and-white phase will end, but don't ignore it," Mr. Fuchsberg said. "It's where a lot of people are today and where a lot of people will be for several years."

It should be noted, of course, that the first e-reader from Skiff delivers content in -- you guessed it -- black and white. But Kindle sales, not to mention black-and-white devices from Sony and Plastic Logic, suggest Mr. Fuchsberg has a point.

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