Back on May 26, Wired magazine released a version of their publication designed specifically for Apple’s iPad. I promptly bought a copy for $4.99 to see what the brave new world of tablet-specific media content would look like.
The app is pretty impressive. Though there are some complaints — like trying to tell the difference between articles and ads, or the typography design used — for the most part it succeeded in what it set out to do, which was become an electronic version of the magazine that jettisoned all of the shortcomings of trying to convert content for web viewing, where multiple browsers, monitor resolutions, and a lack of standards in certain areas — like font rendering — make the look and feel of any web page something of a crap shoot.
The other goal was to try to monetize content that is currently given away largely for free online. By wrapping the content in a much more visually cohesive package (just like the magazine), the theory is that people will realize the added value of the content and be okay paying for it.
The Wired iPad app was very successful. They sold about 1,000 copies an hour during the first 24 hours of release, and continued to sell them at a decent clip for the next several weeks.
But how many copies will they sell next month? That’s the real question.
I like the app. I think the layout and navigation/table of contents are really well thought out, pleasing, and easy to use. But I’m not going to shell out $5 a month for it. And I don’t think too many other people are either. I think the initial sales burst was because of the novelty wanting to see what the “first magazine designed for the iPad” would look like. I don’t think it’s sustainable at all.
I would consider a subscription model. I’d pay maybe $8 for a 12 month subscription, but that’s about it. I can get the paper magazine for a year for $10 (plus a free hat!), so why would I pay more for an online copy?
Yes, I understand that the cost is in the production of the content and not the distribution method. That’s not the argument I’m making (e.g., that electronic editions should be given away for free because they’re “cheaper” to make. They’re not.). But neither should they cost more than their print counterparts. They should, ideally, be priced someone less than print versions to motivate consumers to switch to electronic delivery.
There’s a lot of buzz in the publishing industry about the iPad being the “savior” of the slowly asphyxiating print media. That Apple’s new gadget will create a new business model whereby consumers will go back to agreeing for content that they won’t pay for on the Internet. I think this is overly optimistic. I also think that those in charge of print media really need to understand online delivery better than they do now. Simply porting over copies of the print versions is fine, but if that’s all they do they can’t charge a premium for it and expect anyone to pay.
I really do think low-price subscription models of compelling content through devices like the iPad are a viable model. Whether it’s enough to “save” them is another story entirely.
Wired has yet to provide a subscription model for their iPad app. I’m going to be very curious to see what their sales numbers are for the second issue.