Reading the E-Leaves: The future of magazines on digital devices is beginning to take shape.
Should publishers flip out over Flipboard? It's a question that's been on a lot of minds lately. The iPad app, called "The First Real iPad Magazine" by Gawker, gathers links, articles and photos recommended by your Facebook and Twitter friends into a visually appealing, magazine-style format. Essentially a sophisticated Web aggregator, Flipboard allows readers to click through to read articles chosen by people whose opinions and tastes are likely to mirror their own. While publishers can request to have content limited or hidden altogether, Flipboard represents only the latest example of a distribution platform capable of upstaging a magazine's own website or branded app.
Just when the foundation for building digital revenue begins to look more solid, the ground shifts again.
"Wired and Bon Appétit have made their content available on the Flipboard platform, and that is fine as a test, but over the long run, as an industry, we need to try and limit disintermediation, not enable it," says David Renard, partner at research and consulting firm mediaIDEAS. "If publishers are not the ones developing new types of paginated media, and new ways to interact with the digital page, smaller, digital-based competitors will."
This is precisely the warning given by Ashley Norris, CEO of branded content advisory firm Sutro Digital. With the price of producing iPad magazines falling and free content offerings for the device likely to increase, mainstream publishers need to act now or risk missing the opportunity to establish themselves as brands on tablet devices, he says. Waiting until the question of paid versus free resolves itself when independent publishers and app developers are already experimenting with new sponsorship and content models is, he believes, a risky course.
"I think we are at year zero, and no one knows where tablets will end up," he says. "So … it is a unique opportunity for old media brands. My worry for them is that these apps simply won't deliver the returns that they had enjoyed in the heyday of print."