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Why the tablet worsens the magazine industry’s headache

Many on this blog have proclaimed the tablet to be the publishing industry’s savior; however, I’m skeptical as I have watched my own and others’ usage of content on the tablet. We now hear of Conde Nast slowing down on iPad development and, with circulation piddly everywhere, the writing is on the wall.

Tablets will hasten the demise of magazines and not save them because:

1) Competition for attention: When a magazine appears on an iPad it happens to be one of many icons in a sea of icons that I can select from, including Angry Birds and Kindle books (when offline) or Facebook and Twitter (when online).

2) New definition of content: Professional content creators have always thought that it was their content that was cool. Taking nothing away from their skills, I believe they made their money through a tight choke hold on distribution, the ability to bundle many articles into a magazine and charge for the bundle, and limited content creation options for others. But now we do not have to buy a magazine to get an article, postings by friends or “passonistas” are as valid as those edited by experts and the only choke hold is what the future has around the throat of legacy publishing.

It is time to recognize that there is a new mindset for digital magazines as shown by Flipboard and others, and it is not just porting over printed content with some multimedia add-ons and the ability to retweet and share. The future does not fit the containers of the past. The magazine is a great way to bundle things in print, but a magazine on a tablet is just not going to make it.

So what should magazine companies do?

1) Double down on print by making the magazine a truly tactile artifact (like Monocole), which people are willing to pay for or even pay more for. The subscription/advertising split will start to skew more to subscription.

2) License their particularly evergreen content to marketers who are working to buttress their “owned” media properties. (If you think your content is so cool why is it that only you are allowed to distribute it?)

3) Recognize that their circulation data is just a tip of the iceberg and there are many other forms of data that can be monetized. Advertisers want audiences, not spaces.

4) Revisit culture. Stop being scared of founders, chief executives and some ghost of the past. Magazine companies think they are some temple where one has to be a believer. Hire iconoclasts and challenge the dogma.

5) Partner with technology companies by doing either joint ventures or riding along with them. They have the tools, the talent and the speed that magazine companies do not. On the other hand, magazine companies have some complementary skills, such as a different set of talent, ability to promote and scale (old media still can scale very well).

6) Go to journalism schools and pay them and their students to invent the future with a clean sheet of paper. If they had magazine company assets, what would they do in digital media? Don’t just ask how would they put a magazine online!

This post is adapted from my personal blog.