Are Tablet-Based Magazines Really Working?

Digital magazines for the iPad and other platforms hold promise for the publishing industry, but the format’s still experiencing some growing pains.

Tuesday’s announcement introducing the one-pound iPad Air may have you excited about Apple’s tablets. But if your association has made a bet on tablet-based magazines, this story might excite you a little less.

According to a new AdWeek piece, tablet magazines remain a tiny part of the market. Though the segment is seeing growth, it may not be enough for a larger industry in transition.

The issues at play:

Are tablets small potatoes? The big problem for the industry is that, even with their inherent advantages, tablets only make up 3.3 percent of total magazine circulation—and just one title, Game Informer, is responsible for almost a third of that. And while tablets are most certainly a growing segment, reading magazines is far from the most popular reason to use the iPad, according to a Mequoda report cited by AdWeek. The report shows that only 6 percent of users said they read magazines on tablets daily, and only 23 percent do monthly. Still, all isn’t lost. As MPA–Association of Magazine Media noted earlier this month, ad units in the tablet format jumped 22 percent. But will that growth be sustained as the format matures?

Fragmentation and marketing: With the number of devices, screen sizes, and app stores available, it’s tough to get those apps out there, with the right marketing and the highest-quality experiences on each platform for both readers and advertisers. Many publishers, as a result, focus their energies on the iPad, with secondary formats getting more-basic products. While popular apps, such as Flipboard, can expand reach with their magazine-style apps, they may not have the same kind of ROI as a dedicated product.

Are ad standards too rigid? Though industry groups such as the MPA and the American Association of Advertising Agencies have been involved in trying to create standardized engagement metrics for the tablet age, some publishers (most notably The Atlantic) have avoided putting their digital issues into the circulation bin with their print subscriptions because they’ve found the metrics for paid circulation counts creatively limiting on tablets. This is something AdWeek suggests is encouraged by the Alliance for Audited Media’s requirements that digital products use the same styles of advertising and content as the print products to be included in paid circulation figures.

Does your association release a magazine in app form? Tell us about how things have worked out for your organization.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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