Monday, August 30, 2010

iPad Magazines

After much disappointment with Amazon, and their inability to offer a comprehensive magazine portfolio on the Kindle, I had high hopes for the iPad.  And while the iPad is still fairly new, the magazine experience up to now has been pretty disappointing.

Like so many others I tried the first issue of Wired in their iPad app and I haven't been back.  (I have a print subscription, btw.)  I've also tried Zinio and subscribed to PC Magazine in it.  Nothing remarkable.  I was optimistic when I downloaded the Sports Illustrated iPad app but there again, I'm sticking with my print subscription and see no reason to pay for the same content in the app.

Over the weekend I saw an ad in a recent issue of ESPN The Mag saying they're "going mobile in September."  More importantly, the ad says the products will be "available to everyone, free to ESPN The Magazine/ESPN Insider subscribers."  That's consistent with this recent article on Ars Technica.  Magazine publishers are wrestling with Apple to determine who owns the customer, whether Apple should get a cut of the transaction, etc.

I realize there are some dangerous precedents that could be set here and I admire the fact that ESPN is willing to reward their existing print subscribers with free access to the same content on their iPad.  In fact, according to that same Ars Technica article, it looks like Time is about to offer the same deal on many of their magazines, including Sports Illustrated.

That's great, but what's not noted in all of this is how long print subscribers will get free e-access.  I don't expect that to last forever and neither should you.  Here's why: Right now these iPad magazine apps are simple, quick-and-dirty conversions of the print format.  A couple have tried some clever tricks but I have yet to see one that's considerably different than the print edition.  That will change over time.  At some point the magazine publishers are going to realize they'll have to make the investment in richer content on the apps.  And when they do, they'll be able to charge for them, above and beyond a print subscription rate.

So although I refuse to pay Wired, Sports Illustrated or any of the other magazines more for the privilege of app access to the same content I'm already paying for in print, I'll gladly open my wallet further if they add more value to that app content.  For now, though, it will be nice to not have to lug some of these print editions on the planes I find myself trapped in every month!

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