Tablets, new media aggregators & newspapers

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Tablets were proclaimed to be the saviours of the ailing newspaper & magazine industry in the US. Several newspapers and magazines have launched their iPad versions by now and not a single one has claimed success. Even the ‘designed for iPad from the ground up’ like The Daily hasn’t quite created the stir it was meant to. Of late, news aggregators which present content in a visually pleasing manner – FlipBoard, Zite et al, have created a buzz. While publishers have cried foul since such apps re-format content they seem to be lapped up by consumers. So what does all this mean for consumers & publishers?

As mentioned by several others, most newspaper brands have chosen to put a simple pdf version or a marginally enhanced pdf version on the iPad. There are a few exceptions, like the WIRED magazine which has a lot of interactive content. But even that is not  a’never-before’ experience – one has seen such sites on CD-ROMs (remember?) and on the website of such brands. In this context, pardon the cliche – content is king as demonstrated by The Economist app. It’s no more than a pdf version of the magazine – but it loads fast, is a good read and so is an exception to the rule. Some non-newspaper apps have truly taken advantage of the iPad’s features and you get that ‘aha!’ feeling when you use them. Newspapers have yet to evoke that feeling through their iPad apps. The innovations in interactivity seem to make sense for advertisers than consumers. No wonder you see ads taking advantage of a tablet’s features.

Their pricing strategy hasn’t helped either – a single issue of TIME, Newsweek or The New Yorker is priced much higher than the newsstand or subscription price. And without any perceived value addition.

As a consumer, I am torn between choosing stand-alone newspaper apps and aggregators like Zite. The former gives you a certain comfort that comes from familiarity of the brand. The content from The Telegraph’s iPad app (great writing) or even the one from Times of India (mirroring the newspaper & website, dose of sensationalism) are fair representations of the offline versions. Aggregators like Zite and FlipBoard offer the choice of reading articles from varied sources (based on topics, Google Reader subscriptions) presented in a visually pleasing manner. But sometimes I find the width of content so overpowering – like an overly sumptuous buffet – that you end up reading only a handful of articles.

So tablets have not been the happy hunting ground for newspapers & magazines. Early adopters like Conde Nast have decided to go slow instead of rushing into iPad versions of all their titles. Being unable to find that sweet spot of pricing that pleases consumers (and makes business sense for publishers & Apple) seems to be the crux of the problem. And then comes the content & design issue. Who will be first off the block? Which publication’s strategy and success will give the confidence for others to follow suit? The Bloomberg Business Week seems to be the one that’s best placed to break the mould – with $2.99 monthly subscription and good design.

So it will be a long while, especially in markets like India where the cover price of dailies & periodicals are so pocket friendly and regional preferences drive circulation, before tablets make any dent on newspapers. Or offer a truly enhanced experience of the print version.


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