Magazines seem be overflowing at the local Barnes and Noble and Borders near me. Even so, not much money is being made. Now, attention turns to what the iTablet could do for the magazine industry, but depending on historical customer habits has its pitfalls. It's like the famous Henry Ford quote: "If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse."
The fundamental idea that's being missed is almost quantum mechanical in its nature. The act of reading a magazine on a fabulous tablet computer will change the magazine experience so dramatically that using legacy industry metrics is practically irrelevant.
iTablet concept. Credit: Jesus Diaz, Gizmodo
Here are some mistakes in thinking I've seen. Based on my experience -- having been the publisher of an Apple II magazine in the 1980s -- newsstand magazines make just about no money. It's done for market presence and customer awareness, but it's no way to make real money. As a result, trying to cast that supermarket impulse buy into a money making venture is not wise. All the money to be made is in direct subscription payments. When all the other guys are on the newsstand, you need to be there shoulder to shoulder. But as many make the leap to the readers and iTablet, it's no longer necessary. And a waste of effort.*
Second, looking at the sales of magazines on the iPhone is irrelevant. That's because the iPhone doesn't reinvent the magazine reading experience, it cripples it. Just don't go there.
Third, I suspect but can't prove, that magazine purchases will follow the same history as the music CD. Why buy a piece of plastic that clutters the house when you can have an electronic edition delivered to a decent sized screen. A lot of money (and greenhouse gases) are wasted moving magazines to book stores and home mail boxes. Then, they're discarded in the trash and sent to landfills. Apple, no doubt, is busy explaining to some magazine publishers how much money they're going to save by delivering electrons, not atoms.
What Apple will also have to do is guide magazine publishers along a path that integrates the new, 21st century, magazine user experience with Cocoa. For example, we have gestures now for the iPhone, but some new ones may have to be invented for the act of reading a magazine in way that suits the reader but also pays off for the advertiser and all those full page color ads. That may require some layout changes.
Steve Jobs seems to have an intuitive sense about how to take the mundane (PC world) and recast it into a virtually giddy experience. We all had that giddy feeling when Mr. Jobs first demoed the iPhone at MacWorld, 2007. By focusing on the faster horse instead of the motor car, many in the industry will fail to recognize how the iTablet, if designed right, will make reading magazines an exciting new experience, so fundamental, yet so pleasing, so giddy, that going back to a paper product will seem unthinkable.
I suspect this is what Apple is doing right now. So if someone rolls out a list of things that explain why magazines just aren't going to fly on a beautiful Apple tablet, you shouldn't buy it. I don't.
* A few paper copies should be archived in safe places, libraries, vaults -- just in case.