Is There a Market for Magazines on the iTablet?

| Editorial

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.

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Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, I’m not sold on the magazine thing. I think in a meta way, this magazine hypothetical is like magazines on the news-stand. The money and the business case for the mythical iTablet is to be made elsewhere.

One trend I’m very aware of is colleges trying to shoehorn educational content onto mobile devices. It’s a lot like shoehorning a existing website desktop layout onto mobile devices. That just doesn’t work well. What does work well is redesigning that content into drill down lists. In fact, that works so well that many people wonder why their desktop Twitter app, for example, can’t be more like the one on the iPhone. What I’m starting to see in colleges is a bit of an undercurrent that flows against mobile phones and with netbooks. Cost, rather than form factor, is the primary driver. But form factor nudges the steering wheel. At CES, we should see all sorts of WIndows and Linux tablets that might meet the cost criteria, and would prove a better form factor than smart phones for content delivery. If Apple waits much past CES to release its mythical iTablet, it will likely be just another tablet option, albeit one from Apple.

Mike Weasner

I’m also not sold on electronic magazines.  Currently, I subscribe to two (paper) magazines: MacWorld and Sky & Telescope.  An issue weighs a few ounces.  They are easily held for reading.  Yes, they take up room on the bookshelf (as my wife complains about with my 47+ years of Sky & Telescope magazines!).  Would I like to have an electronic search capability on these magazines?  Absolutely.  But not at the expense of a high priced reader or significantly greater weight than the paper versions.

John Martellaro

Mike:  I understand.  You want a faster horse.  grin


Currently, I subscribe to two (paper) magazines: MacWorld and Sky & Telescope.

Interestingly I used to be the same. I subscribed to S&T as well as MacWorld (later MacAddict & Macweek) Science News, and several others. Starting about 6 or 7 years ago I started paring them down. I haven’t subscribed to a paper magazine in about 4 years. I will buy several if I have a long flight coming up but on my trip to China/Japan last summer I only got 2 and relied on my iPod for something to do on the flight.

IMO Magazines are going the way of newspapers. They are a great 20th century technology, but are becoming obsolete. I dropped my Mac magazines for TMO. I dropped ScienceNews for, I dropped Sky&Telescope; for and A paper magazine (or newspaper for that matter) with it’s month old data is just not something I’m interested in.

47 years of S&T?!?
They’ve got to be a blast to look through. If they’re in good shape, just tell your wife that’s part of your retirement investment plan. LOL)

John Martellaro

Bosco: You may be overlooking the tremendous research, talent, design, and technology that Apple can bring to bear on the iTablet.  Once we see it, I predict that all the other readers and tablets will be unmasked for what they really are: a simple slate device running some OS that doesn’t have the smarts underneath to make a tablet a compelling new experience.  No company except Apple & Microsoft has the experience & money to design & build a next gen. tablet that will blow us away ... and I’m not holding my breath that Microsoft can sweep the market off its feet in a fit of consumer joy.

Marc Elson

?Is There a Market for Magazines on the iTablet??
I’m pretty sure that’s not the question the people running these magazines are asking themselves.
I think it’s more something like ?Is there even an iTablet??

I don’t mean to be annoying but I really don’t see the point of talking about a market on a product which doesn’t even exist!

Lee Dronick

Magazines will never work on an iTablet. What are they going to use as a substitute for “lap fall” subscription cards that clutter the coffee table, or the pesky 400# paper advertising American Spirit Tobacco that hinders page turning? smile

As much as I like holding a magazine or book in my hand I can be weaned off them, I have long since cancelled my newspaper subscription in favor of reading it online. However, iZines should be more than just a PDF version of the physical edition, search ability not withstanding, audio, video interactive features and so on. If Apple has a tablet in the offing and are working with publishers I am sure the content format will be something insanely great.

John Martellaro

I don?t mean to be annoying but I really don?t see the point of talking about a market on a product which doesn?t even exist!

I do.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Yes, I am definitely and deliberately underestimating the wonderfulness that Apple can bring. A $1000 price tag doesn’t get it into this mainstream college IT game. One-to-one campuses (as they’re called), where each student is required to own a computer, and may get them as part of a technology fee system, are still niche and primarily private schools.

Smart phones and netbooks get there on the price point or colleges that can’t justify the one-to-one expenditures or fees. That’s why they’re in the discussion and so much shoe-horning goes on to bring desktop content their way.

Put it this way… If the iTablet were available for Christmas this year and were just $800 (a low estimate by all accounts), that’s 4 Coach Purses. Or 6 pairs of Nike SB Dunks. Or 4/5 of a grey market Tag Heuer automatic watch. Yeah, the mythical iTablet is beyond cool. It’s just not $800 cool for most people.


Here’s a question
My biggest complaint about Magazines is that the information is out of date by the time I get it.
One of the biggest advantages of being online is that the information can be updated as needed, not just once a month.

What is the difference between a Magazine or Newspaper that is online and updated continuously and a web site? Why would MacWorld Online Magazine be any different from TheMacObserver?

Could it be that online magazines are just going to end up being websites?

John Martellaro

By the way, here is a video that tries to define the essential elements of magazine reading and advertising on a tablet-like device.  Stick with it, it’s slow to start and get going, but gets more and more fascinating.

Frank Lowney

It should not be difficult for Apple to make reading eMag/eBook/eText content both different and better.  Sure, the physical form factor is somewhat important and Apple gets that but it isn’t the leading consideration.  Content is what will differentiate what Apple purveys from paper magazines.

I believe that Apple has already tipped its hand with the concepts undergirding the Tunes Kit and other mobile frameworks.  The rich, interactive content enabled by this simple HTML + Javascript + CSS formula will help make the reading experience very different and, I think, better than paper.  Thus, I predict that Apple will deploy a Reader Kit that enables content to be attractive, readable and interactive.  The reader will be able to interact with typography, still imagery, video and audio as well as read.

The big problem here is with those publishers whose thought processes are thickly interwoven with the fabric of paper.  Unfortunately, that’s quite a few publishers.  They do not yet see how these things can be anything more than an embellishment.

John Martellaro

What is the difference between a Magazine or Newspaper that is online and updated continuously and a web site?

The video I pointed to above goes a long way towards answering that question.


I agree with the general direction of this editorial.

I think another angle to look at this is the demographic that electronic magazines will be marketed too.
1. Generation Y and Millennials
2. People who get most of their information online (rather than newspapers or magazines)
3. Public transit commuters
4. Heavy travelers
5. Techno-gadget lovers

The feature set also has to be compelling enough to compete with blogs. Slowly, newspapers and magazine publishers will make their online content through subscriptions. The features have to allow people to do the same things they do with magazine now, but more.

1. Rich multimedia experience
2. Exclusive and compelling content
3. Easy to use
4. Easy to buy (both single issue and automatic subscriptions)
5. Accessible through multiple devices
6. Scrapbook (saving articles or pictures from multiple sources into ‘binders’)
7. Robust search feature though a single magazine, a magazine title or all of your magazine.
8. Light and convenient to travel with.

And the reason people will buy the hardware? Because it will also let you surf the web, do your email, watch videos, listen to music, play games, and do whatever all the other plentiful apps that will be developed for the platform will let you do.


Lee Dronick

By the way, here is a video that tries to define the essential elements of magazine reading and advertising on a tablet-like device.? Stick with it, it?s slow to start and get going, but gets more and more fascinating.

Thanks for that link John, it looks like it could be the format that Apple would use.

Another thought, we would buy content from the iTunes Store.

Marc Elson

I do.

OK. Well, that was enlightening. grin


By the way, here is a video

Thanks. That really clarified one good way to put a Magazine onto a portable device and not lose the quintessential “Magazineness”. A device such as that might be something I would look at getting.


I agree with the general direction of this editorial.

I second that. While I would not be interested in purchasing a device that strictly enables me to read magazines and books on this device (hence, my decision not to buy a Kindle e.g.) I like the idea of using this device for the purpose of reading. Therefore, in addition to teh other tasks that I envision doing - email, websurfing, simple presentations, documents, spreadsheets, games, etc., I also see the advantages of reading. While I still like to sit and read my morning paper over breakfast, I think I am ready to cancel the paper in favor of reading an electronic version. The same with all of my magazines (about 6 per month). When traveling it would be great not to stuff my computer bag with all of my unread magazines and instead have just this iTablet. Depending upon my travel for work, the price of this device, etc. I may be willing to go from a MacBook Pro to an iMac and iTablet.

Frank Lowney

With regard to competing with Blogs, the key term is “curated.”  This is what differentiates juried, disciplined writing normally found in print pubs from Blogs which can vary widely in veracity, honesty and clarity.  In other words, there is an editor or three to keep writers true to their craft.


“7. Robust search feature?all of your magazine.”

Make that all your digital reading media - ads, brochures, magazines, newspaper, books, individual stories, web page captures. All material that you control/own with no recalled volumes or redacted pages. I think this is what makes a tablet, perhaps as adjunct to a computer, inevitable.


One of the more compelling visions for an e-magazine was produced recently by Sports Illustrated.

If this is the type of content Apple and publishers will bring to a tablet we are going to see a major disruption of print media as we now know it.
I think people would gladly pay for this type of dynamic content just like they do now with iTunes music, TV shows, movies and apps.

Mark Lough

For the same list of reasons already shown in above comments, I have not subscribed to any paper magazines for about four years. This past year, I subscribed to a popular photography magazine on Xinio. It appears on my desktop just as the paper version.
Using a mouse to click to turn pages has not traumatized me.
Sitting on a chair in front of my computer instead of another chair somewhere else has not crippled my sense of freedom.
When I see an ad that appeals to me, one click takes me immediately to the advertiser’s website for more information. The next potential is, of course, to make a purchase.
I’m wondering, just based on the immediacy of advertising leading to website visits and sales, why publishers seem so skittish.
I’m very satisfied to trade the paper version for this electronic version. I don’t think I need magazines to provide music and voice and movies to augment the magazine experience.
There are no longer any boxes of dead trees piled in my basement. The magazine past issues on on a hard drive, taking up no physical space.
I am grateful for this improvement. Why all the hand-wringing?

Constable Odo

The trouble with most humans is that they don’t even realize they need something until they’re holding it in their hands and somebody tries to take it away.  What Ford said about humans asking for faster horses is very amusing.  I don’t doubt it.  Even funnier were humans who were frightened to death of the first automobiles.  Nobody needed a car.  Yeah, right.  They didn’t need the telephone, the radio or TV, either.  They just continue to make up all the reasons why they don’t need this or that and let’s just stop coming up with new ideas or trying new things. 

I hope that all the naysayers here never buy a tablet because I’m sure they really don’t need it.  Too bad, because I’ll be using a tablet whether I need it or not.  I just want it.  I want it to be useful.  I want to whip it out and ignore the people that tell me “You don’t need that.”  I remember when I got my first Apple computer back in 1984.  My friends were telling me that nobody needs a computer unless you were a scientist or accountant or something.  Most of them all have computers now.  Some humans just take much longer to catch on to where the future is headed.  Why?  Because they see no real need for it.

You buy a device, you use it and see if you have a need for it before you blow it off.

I see two scientists in a lab.  One says to the other “I just came up with a great idea.”  The other quickly says “It’ll never work.  For every reason you give that it’s good idea, I’ll give you a reason why it isn’t.”  The first scientist says, “Okay, I’ll just forget it.”  That makes for some sweet progress.

Mark Lough

Hey Constable
As an iPod and iTunes fan who streams music all over the house and studio via Airports,(No vinyl molding in the basement.) I eagerly await whatever Cupertino delivers in the way of a tablet for all of the glorious stuff we haven’t even thought of yet. But I already don’t need THAT to enjoy digital publishing.
My surprise is that publishers seem so reluctant to make use of the internet to replace the trees and trucks necessary to do business as they have been doing it.
When you add in the costs they have to pay analysts to tell them how effective their advertising is, and how clicks will tell them that immediately, it looks like costs will evaporate and potential will expand like never before. I thought business would be all over it quicker!


Ahhh, finally there is hope for no more smelly ads for cologne like you get in the paper versions of magazines like Esquire.

Lee Dronick

Nobody needed a car.? Yeah, right.? They didn?t need the telephone, the radio or TV, either.? They just continue to make up all the reasons why they don?t need this or that and let?s just stop coming up with new ideas or trying new things.?

Generally I am an early adopter, and adapter, of new technology, but I am still using CRT analog TVs. I will probably flatten out in the “Spring” and also get some HD channels.


I am grateful for this improvement. Why all the hand-wringing?

For many people, especially those with poor eyesight, part of the reason is that looking at text and images on a computer screen that has a very low resolution compared to that of a printed page is intolerable.


To see what an online magazine could look like,  check out “Winding Road


Two points I think you didn’t quite connect on, John:

1. It’s all speculation at this point, but the concept videos - and your dismissal of the iPhone - miss a major point: going from print to electrons, you’re making the move from a static, physical format to a flexible medium. The concept videos are cool, but they’re essentially showing animated articles on a single device. Whatever Apple may be doing to try to alter publications, I do not believe is intended to start and stop with the supposed iTablet. Subscription based, very likely; but also a pervasive format that can be transferred to your iTablet, your iPhone - or even a Kindle if other content delivery providers will agree on a universal format.

2. You don’t appear to have connected the dots on how iTablet/e-zine is supposed to provide market presence in place of news stands. Regardless of where the real revenue is, having been a publisher you of all people should know that you have to advertise your goods. I’m not saying that news stands will be around forever, but - as with the app store - I think it’s going to be too easy for publishers to become lost in the glut of competing (and in many cases, free) publications.

In any event, I’m very interested in what will be coming in the future for publications. Regardless of what device Apple may or may not release to the market, it’s inevitable. Although, I will be very reluctant to tote along my e-reader for some quality bathroom reading… another downside is that I won’t be able to repurpose bad articles. smile

Frank Lowney

To see what an online magazine could look like,? check out ?Winding Road?

This is Flash-based so is far too heavy for mobility.  The so-called mobile Flash is too lacking in features and still too heavy.  Moreover, Flash is proprietary (not open) which creates too many accessibility issues.  The emerging HTML 5 open standard will soon obviate the need for Flash in many, if not most, circumstances.  Flash, in its current forms, will not fly in this environment. 

This example, like the Sports Illustrated demo, is simply “old wine in new bottles.”  The traditional, conservative publisher mentality will not succeed here.  This is not a technical problem, it stems from a paucity of human imagination and courage.

Frank Lowney

So far we’ve focused on the commercial use of this technology but let’s not forget that publishing is now also in the hands of everyman.  Desktop publishing gave us the digital superior of a printing press whereas Web 2.0 gave us the ability to syndicate our content. 

People who want to go beyond blogging can now create and publish their own pamphlets, magazines, books and texts.  I suspect that there are more individuals and small, collaborative groups like this than we currently imagine.

Frank Lowney

How might subscriptions be handled in the iTunes Store?  I see a slider that the subscriber moves to determine the number of issues and time period of the subscription vs the fee.  Presumably, longer subscriptions would have a lower per unit cost.

This would also generate interesting metrics that could be used to convince advertisers of the persistence of one magazine over another.  More longish subscriptions would indicate greater customer loyalty and faith in the publication.  This might also apply to books as in a book club.


I subscribe to Winding Road Weekly.  I find it a very efficient way to read and store info over the paper version.  As far as purchasing a dedicated reading device goes, I wouldn’t.  The much hoped for iTablet would have to offer the same capabilities as a laptop as well as being a mag reader.

Mark Lough

Hey Westcoast Bob
Thanks for the link to “Winding Road”. I’ve subscribed because it’s beautiful, written in some depth, and I like the Adobe format.


Am I the only one who cringes at the idea of replacing the stack of Newsweek magazines beside the john with an expensive piece of electronics?


Well at least it wasn’t a stack of Playboys.  Merry Christmas!!!


Am I the only one who cringes at the idea of replacing the stack of Newsweek magazines beside the john with an expensive piece of electronics?

No; I made a comment to the same effect two days ago.

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