Some of this enthusiasm may be justified as it is hoped that digital replica and extended editions with multimedia content will breath new life into an industry that has been battered over the last few years. But there are potential pitfalls ahead as publishers move print into this digital environment.
Print is a passive lean back medium that allows readers to consume content in a reflective and uninterrupted manner. It's ideally suited for long-from content.
Online is a very different environment. Driven by search and social media online is an active, action oriented lean-forward medium. Users seek out specific content and information via search, they interact with content and share it among their social and professional networks. Audiences tend to scan rather than read long-form content in-depth.
The newest of the mass media, mobile, is a highly personalized medium. Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are nearly always on, always with us and are location aware. They are becoming the remote control to our physical and digital worlds.
The iPad brings together elements of all of these media and offers publishers an tremendous opportunity to build a close connection between their brands and the consumer that they were in danger of losing in the fragmented world of online.
It will be fascinating to watch how audiences interact with the iPad. Will people use it to read digital versions of newspapers, magazine and books or will they see it as a web browsing and communications device or as an entertainment device ? Will brand advertising work better on tablets than it has worked to date online ?
One thing is certain, no matter how audiences interface with the device - they can and will be measured.
So If publishers are to place a digital replica of their magazine or newspaper onto the iPad, they need to expect to be held accountable to at least similar standards of measurement that are seen online.
A wide array of key metrics will be available and advertisers are going to ask to see them. These will range from confirmed delivery of the digital edition, to unique opens, to how many times a magazine or newspaper is opened, the total amount of time spent with an issue, pages viewed, activity inside any page, what content is shared, how many issues in a row are read. And much, much more.
The availability of metrics is going to shed light on real reading trends, as well readers interaction with advertising. A big question that eventually will be asked is, "are metrics around the iPad digital versions a proxy for interaction with the print versions ?".
For some publishers, this could help support increased fees structures, due to being able to prove highly engaged readers. But for others, it may shed light on questionable circulation growth strategies and mis-matched media buys. Issue based audit companies such as ABC and BPA could struggle to remain relevant in this new environment with companies such as Quantcast or Omniture vying to replace them with their deeper metrics.
Print publishers and their trade associations such as Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) have always argued, with great conviction, that their audiences are passionately involved with the brands. Now detailed metrics on digital editions will be available to prove that or they will show engagement is not as intense as had been promoted.
It's inevitable that the metrics are going to surface. Enough publishers will put their magazines and newspapers onto the iPad for that to happen and advertisers will seek transparency. For strong brands and for titles serving passionate special interests this could be a great opportunity. Broad generalist titles with weak audience engagement will disappear fast. Publishers need to prepare their strategies and tactics for the day that metrics get revealed.
In many cases publishers might be better off thinking about taking an alternative approach to replicating one media on another and having comparison made between the print and digital replica versions.
Digital replicas of print issues just may not be the correct strategy.
It may not be what iPad audiences are looking for. Transferring the elements of an old media to a new one has never worked before so it's unlikely this time will be much different. What's important is the total user experience. Publishers really need to focus on the needs of their users and then couple that to to functionality of the device and the advantages of the medium. The ability to personalize and aggregate content may appeal a lot more than digital replicas. Distribution platforms such as Zinio and Skiff have a chance to work closely with publishers and help define the market.
However, I remain highly skeptical that a digital version of print, even enhanced with multi-media will cut it over the long-term. There may be a market for such an approach but it is likely to be relatively small and short lived. While have been some very interesting prototypes demonstrated from Conde Nast's WIRED, , Bonniers Mag+ and Time's Sports Illustrated these do not go quite far enough to reflect current online behavior.
Online is not a replica of print nor is mobile a replica of online. Most customers will expect content specially formatted for the iPad and tts touch screen capabilities, its internet capabilities including search, aggregation and social media functionality and e-commerce. Media must match the medium.
It will happen. But innovation is much more likely to take place among entrepreneurial, smaller publishers and even self-publishers. The large publishers could be at extreme risk. They tend to move slowly and are highly protective of their old business models. The iPad, while opening up some new distribution channels, will not have the scale initially to make much difference to the numbers for large publishers but could expose a lot of metrics that marketers may attempt to apply back the print environment.
Five major publishers have formed a consortium, Next Issue Media, to push digital initiatives and I await with interest to see the exact strategy unfolds. If clumsily handled the iPad could exacerbate the print industry's problems rather than helping solve them. Conversely for smaller publishers with niche audiences the iPad will offer some great opportunities.
I have little doubt that the iPad and its emerging competitors will be great content consumption devices. How the content should be formatted for an optimal consumer experience on these devices remains untested. In the interim, publishers need to carefully consider and plan for the impact of having digital readership metrics available in the marketplace.
It will be very exciting to see how really smart innovators will re-invent the reading experience and the future of publishing on the iPad.