Tablets *Will* Change Magazine Industry

Henry Blodget of Business Insider contradicts our last point that the iPad has a chance to alter people’s behavior. The main crux of the argument is:

To the consumer, the Internet is one vast publication. No longer are consumers limited to the particular editorial tastes and packaging of a few publishers whose “books” they subscribe to. Now, consumers can snack on content from thousands of publishers, for free, all day long. And the iPad is not going to change that.

Another iPad hallucination that print publishers are having is that consumers are going to pony up way more for a fancy iPad subscription than they do to just subscribe to the site online. (Or, in the case of sites that give their content away for free online, such as the New York Times, that consumers are going to pay for the iPad edition when they can get the regular web edition free.)

Why would consumers pay up for that? To get a sexier, more magazine-like electronic experience?

We think Henry is very wrong — as wrong as he was on Hulu and is starting to be on Bing. The problem is short-term thinking: if X is how we do things now, X is how we will do things tomorrow. This is the same mistake the big media companies were making in thinking that the web will be equivalent to traditional media. But new patterns of interaction and usability emerged, with the price of free becoming ubiquitous.

Free is further associated with self-curation: I download my individual songs, I download my individual movies, I find my individual articles, etc. The magazine experience, on the other hand, is one curated by a professional. The relevant question is not whether we can find the same content through a different medium, but whether the curation is worth the subscription. For example, downloading music through iTunes is self-curation and songs are provided individually and at a discount. But what about Pandora, which curates your stations and tastes successfully. We would love to see the numbers on paid subscriptions. When we subscribe to Pandora, we see value in the selection process of the algorithm — a task (or chore) that the user no longer has to do.

The magazine is a curated experience, similar to that of a good restaurant. Sure, we may be able to look up the recipe for a dish online and try our own hand at making it. Even more, we could probably order in through! But the experience is greater than the consumption of the one morsel of food — rather, it is the whole time-line of coming into the space, interacting with the staff, enjoying the ambiance, and topping off with the food. What the media companies aspire to is the success of the iPad, or a tablet in general, to re-create the pleasure of that curated experience. It takes no leap of imagination to understand the difference between a sit-forward clicky twitchy computer experience and the lean-back passive media consumption imagined by Steve Jobs.

Henry does point out that “aesthetes” would say this (too true!), but claims that the mass market will not. We, on the other hand, think the mass market has pretty good taste.

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