Tablets Alone Won’t Remake Publishing

Skyrocketing sales of Kindles and iPads haven?t translated into a boom for subscriptions and sales to news and magazine content. When The Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism recently examined trends in tablet use, it found that while 77 percent of respondents read news on their tablet at least once a week (53 percent daily), only 14 percent of users are willing to pay for news on their device.

Publishers face two major problems: first, consumers have been conditioned to receive free content and if they?re unable to find what they desire at one site they either skip it or go to another site; second, publishers are relying on an antiquated business model to target digital consumers.

Many magazines charge $3.99 to $4.99 per digital issue, but some cost more, or are published more frequently. For example, Time magazine sells for $4.99 an issue on the iPad. That?s nearly $260 per year. However, a print subscription (which includes digital access) sells for about $30 per year. If you don?t want the print publication, you?re out of luck?unless you want to pay $230 more per year. There is no annual digital subscription available.

A lot of this has to do with advertising. Publishers continue to make their money from print ads, which pull revenues based on the number of readers. Online publications still haven?t adapted to advertising in any effective way.

The irony is that there seems to be pent up demand for digital editions of publications?at the right price. The Pew study found that 83 percent of tablet users cite low cost as a key factor in how they download content. Still, 21 percent of respondents would spend $5 per month for each of their favorite news outlets and magazines, if it were the only way to receive them. Already, a third of tablet news users say they are turning to new sources for content on their tablet. 

Clearly, the landscape is changing. The bottom line? Publishers must adapt with new multimedia features, social media and sharing capabilities (which 85 percent of the Pew respondents indicated they engage in) and better-integrated advertising.