Posted by:Srini Bhopal November 1st, 2011

Newspapers have been badly hit by internet propagation. Magazines have fared better because publishers do not make content freely available on the internet. You have to subscribe for full access to the filtered, quality content that comes out of magazine houses. Even so, the sector has suffered in the recessive economy.

Tablets are a boon to the publishing industry. The screen estate is ideal for magazine reading along with the tab’s support for video and quality graphic rendering. Surveys reveal that the more successful digital magazines (with paid subscriptions) are those that have used the tablets’ technology to give online readers an edge over print readers. For example, digital magazines can include inline videos to support content, detailed images that readers can zoom into for more analysis, links to related information, timely updates, and more.

Besides, the digital distribution of paid content requires lesser investment as it cuts down on postal and delivery charges, packaging and distribution costs, and printing resources. Easy, quick, and timely access to current and archived issues is driving the adoption of digital magazines.

Despite the advantages of digital publishing, a number of magazine publishers hesitate to make the jump. This is mainly because of the lack of an ideal digital content monetization system. While free works great for higher adoption, it doesn’t get bread on the table for publishers. The revenue for traditional magazines typically came from advertizing rather than circulation. However, if pages on tablets are filled with advertisements, it can put readers off.

Magazine publishers are trying different approaches to boost their revenue in the soft economy. While they too bank on ads and subscriptions, some publishers such as Time offer full digital access to print subscribers, others such as Hearst offer separate plans for digital and print editions. Conde Nast offers free digital access to print subscribers along with a separate annual subscription for digital issues. Ruth Reichl, ex-editor of Conde Nast’s failed Gourmet magazine, believes digital publishing cannot work on an advertising based model. She is trying a new approach – combining e-commerce and digital content – with Gilt Taste.

The debate goes on.

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The road ahead for magazine publishers is to go digital. At the same time, it is necessary tomake the content enticing enough for readers to be ready to pay for it. Social media integration is a must to get real time feedback from readers and enhance the user experience. Integration with other customer services also boosts adoption. For example, movie reviews could be followed by the option to book a ticket without disturbing the background.

Magazine publishers have dedicated apps to deliver their kind of experience. However, composite apps are also gaining momentum such as Apple’s latest Newsstand that brings together digital magazines and Zinio. These apps work great for publishers as well as consumers.

iPad, the leader in tablets, is the principal launch pad for all magazine publishers despite Apple’s strict rules of a 30% cut and limited sharing of subscriber details. Here too there is a change as publishers explore the HTML5 route – web apps versus native apps – to minimize mobile app development and distribution costs, and break out of the restrictive control of tablet manufacturers (read Apple). We can look forward to extensive growth in digital publishing over the next year as tablets become more conventional media devices.

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