Tablet Mags: Where Are They Now?

Young businesswoman drinking coffee and reading news from digital tablet with feet up.

Are tablet magazines, the innovation once trumpeted as the saviour for waning print circulations, dead already?

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

Shane Mitchell, CEO of app development company Reddo Media, says the jury is still out. “Opinions are mixed and some claim the concept is dead. Others say it’s just beginning,” he says.

“In our opinion, magazine apps have a good future as, despite the relatively slow uptake, user engagement is incredibly strong – much stronger than comparable content published online – and it’s only a matter of time before that strength is capitalised upon.”

The rapid pace of technology sees a struggle in getting people to buy the virtual copies, however it opens up new opportunities for advertisers and expansions onto different devices.

Pacific Magazines’ implementation manager Chai Lim says because technology is evolving so quickly, the options available for magazine publishers are extensive.

“Things are changing,” he says. “It’s become such a broad option industry. That’s why I think in many ways the jury is still out on that, there’s no indication of where this is settling out yet.”

Looking at the Audit Bureau Circulation numbers, there are two different versions of magazine apps, the exact replica which is often in PDF form and an enhanced version which includes many points of interaction such as links to other pages.

Getting people to buy them

One issue facing magazine publishers is getting people to actually buy tablet editions. While consumers may be aware that these versions exist, Mitchell points out that many people don’t visit Apple and Google’s virtual newsstands where these copies reside, or do so infrequently. And for those that are visiting the newsstands, the issue of sales conversion also rises its head.

“Browsing and trial behaviour is limited as it is sometimes difficult and time consuming to download, install and start reading a magazine,” says Mitchell.

“This leads to major discovery headaches for publishers and compares unfavourably with other ways of browsing digital content, or indeed print browsing at the physical newsstand.

“It takes on average 66 days of daily repetition to form a new habit. So if you’re only going to think of magazines in terms of a restricted monthly product, you’re going to find it tough.”

Traditionally, owned media channels such as social media platforms have been used to drive consumers to download tablet editions, says Mitchell.

CEO of NewsLifeMedia, Nicole Sheffield, says: “We use a combination of owned and paid media to drive trial and acquisition of our digital edition subscriptions.

“With such loyal and highly engaged audiences across our brand platforms including print, online and social, using owned media to promote digital subscriptions, is one of our strongest acquisition programs.”

What’s in it for advertisers?

The introduction of these digital magazine formats has also opened up another opportunity for advertisers to get on board with brands, says Sheffield

Referencing some of the company’s more “prestige” titles such as GQ and Vogue, Sheffield explains how the digital version allows brands to partner with the likes of these titles or even buy out the whole tablet edition.

“There’s a different advertising model for the tablet edition in those prestige markets,” she says. “While they might have their print ad, the digital edition could include their TVC, a link straight to their site to buy…the interactivity in the advertising space is exceptional.”

The enhanced versions allows readers to interact with the app, which from an advertiser’s point of view, can allow a bespoke path to its sites, TVCs or product pages.

Reddo’s Mitchell also adds: “On the advertising side many magazine publishers are reporting brands and their agencies are starting to see the benefits of magazine apps.

“There are several companies out there looking to build out ways of making it easier to buy interstitial magazine app advertising for example, and when these become common we think we’ll see a corresponding lift in publishers investing in audience development.”

Magazines move to mobile

Tablets may be suitably sized to read the full magazine on, however smartphones fall short in size for these apps. This hasn’t stopped publishers from tweaking their content to make it easily consumable on a smaller device.

Magazine publishing giant, Bauer Media, has skirted around this issue and launched a mobile-friendly magazine version of Cosmopolitan, using the Oomph platform.

“They recognised people were accessing their content during transit times,” says Oomph’s King. “So the strategy behind it was that it would be great if they were doing it via app form so they didn’t have to be dependent on wifi. It’s snackable content.”

Bauer’s head of mobile, Marcelo Silva, says the Cosmo mobile app is going really well. “It’s talking to the audience at the right place and in the right context. It just makes sense that we adapt our content to these particular devices.”

Reddo’s Mitchell says brands and their agencies are starting to see the benefits of magazine apps.

“We think that if mobile media buyers continue to emphasise brand-safe environments, deep engagement, native content and mobile advertising it’s hard to see why magazine apps won’t grow in appeal.”