Giving readers what readers deserve
A look to the United States would seem to warrant some optimism considering the market penetration of tablets recorded only 18 months after the iPad launch: in addition to 11% of US citizens already owning a tablet, more than 50 percent of the tablet users visit news sites daily. According to the survey, some 14% of the tablet users are prepared to pay for news on their tablets. An additional 23% subscribe to a print newspaper or magazine that includes a digital issue. (Source: The Tablet Revolution). The survey states that there is hardly a technology that is spreading at such a rapid pace as tablets. And these developments provide an entirely new platform for publishing houses to address their target groups and generate earnings.
The internationally operating management consultants Oliver Wyman state that this also applies to the German market: newspapers and magazines in electronic formats are the last chance for the publishing sector to save their core competencies in a digital world. On the one hand, the right end devices are finally available. And with the right pricing, attractive subscription and bundle models, as well as the range of offerings provided by digital kiosks, explosive growth could well be in the cards in the upcoming years. The best case scenario that Oliver Wyman outlined within the context of the Media Days in Munich assumes that sales of magazine and newspaper apps in Germany will climb from a present EUR 37 million up to the region of EUR 1.6 billion in the year 2015.
Some recent news will also lend additional momentum to the tablet publishing euphoria: launched at the beginning of October 2011, the Apple Newsstand is already creating a veritable boom on the digital magazine market. Two major publishers have reported positive developments in gaining digital subscriptions and their sales of individual digital issues: Condé Nast announced a leap in digital subscription sales by 268% and a boost in sales of individual issues of 142%, while Hearst cleared the 300,000 mark in digital sales. On October 25, 2011, John Loughlin, head of Hearst Magazine told paidcontent.org: »Tablets were an experiment 12 months ago; today it qualifies as a business. […] It is a consumer-driven business, however, not an advertising business, though there is clear interest and incremental revenue that’s growing consistently.«
A survey conducted by McPheters & Company's iMonitor regards the quality of content as the main factor for the success of digital publishing house offerings. In this context, some 3,000 apps created by publishing companies were closely scrutinized. McPheters & Company not only evaluated the quality in terms of content, but also the way in which the offerings of the publishing houses were processed and presented for the tablets: "So apps are competing not only with other apps, but websites, games and news applications that are not publication-related. And to compete effectively they need to provide a high quality of experience," as Rebecca McPheters, CEO at McPheters & Co underscored. It is not - or no longer - sufficient to simply transfer existing print products to the iPad.
Publishing the right way
But what does the adequate transfer of print contents to tablets look like?
"The Internet is a river and DIE ZEIT is the shore" commented Giovanni di Lorenzo on the positioning of DIE ZEIT. The professionals who produce DIE ZEIT have succeeded in transferring the quality aspiration and claims of DIE ZEIT to the tablet format: this not only involves high journalistic quality, but also an attractive layout with aesthetic typography, accentuated white spaces, and an attractive and yet selective visual language. All these elements guarantee enjoyable reading.
"An app is ideally suited to periodicals, the product has a beginning and an end, and therefore readers are more willing to pay for this bundle that is the case with websites," as Christian Röpke, managing director of ZEITonline.de explained in an interview with Volker Schütz, editor in chief of Horizont.net on August 5, 2011.
This kind of implementation, however, cannot be applied to all media formats, all magazines, newspapers and books. The reading habits of ZEIT readers are different from those of people who read tablets, the yellow press or a lifestyle magazine. Take the book area, or advice literature, where app users would only have a weary smile for a mere adaptation of editorial content.
Take the mushroom identification book, for example, that we used to carry with us on our autumnal excursions through the woods to help us discern the edible mushrooms from their inedible counterparts. In future, it will be replaced by an image recognition app. So a quick photo of a given mushroom will either provide us promptly with a to a tasty recipe or the telephone number of the poison control center. Plant and bird species will be indicated by images or voice information, while restaurant recommendations will be rapidly and conveniently accessible by simply specifying our location.
The question remains as to who will be standing behind these apps: will it be the publishing companies who see the chance to continue to exploit their contents in the future, or will it be entirely new market players staking out market shares? With the focus on user profiles and the prospects of attractive advertising revenue? This would mean that apps would act as a disruptive technology on the established market of advice literature publishers.
The example of tourism
Let us take the travel literature market as an example: photo and illustrated books, travel guides, map material, dictionaries. Previously, travellers and tourists would plan and book their journey along "analog" lines. Which meant going to a travel agent, buying travel guides map material, documenting the trip by way of analog photography, and finally inviting friends to watch a slide show, or enriching a photo album with additional "editorial" content (bus tickets, post cards, museum entrance tickets, etc.).
In the meantime all of these activities proceed digitally. Travel recommendations and selections are made on booking portals, travel navigation is by way of GPS mobiles, digital photos are shot and immediately placed on social networks and "shared" with friends.
In future, one single platform will combine all of these services and offerings. Planning and booking, accompanying the travelling itself (including the enrichment of routes by POI) and any documentation (upload contents to the portal) and the subsequent processing such as personalized and individual photobook, for example, in print (and people are willing to pay money for this).
The publishing house of the future
The scenario outlined above caters to the needs of users and readers, but not to the existing business models of publishers. Editorial contents, high quality standards and dynamic market access, these are the strengths that publishing companies can wield in competing for digital business. When contents are available in media neutral formats, publishers have considerably better opportunities to respond rapidly to the demands and requirements of the markets. Apps and mobile devices such as smartphones may serve to leverage future business models. The needs and wishes of readers, however, are the only driving force here, in other words: giving readers what readers deserve.