Reading the E-Leaves: The future of magazines on digital devices is beginning to take shape.
The stakes, all agree, are enormous. Research firm Oliver Wyman—in a report created for Next Issue Media, "A New Digital Future for Publishers?"— predicts the publishing industry could generate $3 billion in revenue from "interactive periodicals" ($1.5 billion of that over and above any cannibalization of print revenue) by 2014.
There is much we still don't know about the future—even the immediate future—of digital media. Will consumers pay as much for digital subscriptions as they do for print, as the Oliver Wyman study predicts? Will slick aggregators such as Flipboard render format and functionality, rather than branding and editorial attributes, the key to success? Will there be an easy way to sell subscriptions for tablet devices? Will digital ad rates turn up? What will the effect be of an Android-based tablet?
"While digital content consumption habits on tethered devices are largely already formed, this is not the case for habits of those reading on these new devices where experimentation is the norm and uncertainty still surrounds any revenue models that may take hold," says Ned May, director and lead analyst at media research firm Outsell.
What we can know are current trends. In the year leading up to Apple's release of the iPad, according to May, smartphones outsold laptop computers worldwide, and sales of "untethered" devices (smartphones, tablets and e-readers) will exceed combined sales of laptops and desktop computers by 2012. A recent study by mediaIDEAS predicts the U.S. market for paid content on tablets, smartphones and e-readers will reach $1.6 billion by 2014 and more than $10.9 billion by 2020.
And what of that millennial mainstay, the laptop, which has defined portability for over a decade? "I believe, personally, the tablet's going to replace the laptop," Chris Anderson, Wired magazine editor-in-chief, recently told a roomful of publishers at the Mark Logic Digital Summit. "I love my laptop, but I think it may be the last one I ever buy."