From the Editor: Magazine or Not a Magazine: Is That the Question?
I recently talked with an advisory board member for our forthcoming Publishing Business Virtual Conference, and she raised a significant question regarding digital content, enhanced e-books, etc.: When is a book no longer a book?
In this issue, Bob Sacks brings up a similar topic in his column "Pulp Fiction." He debates Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni's recent blog post claiming that if it's not printed on paper, then it's not a magazine.
Magazines replicated in digital form meet what Bob and his colleagues at mediaIDEAS have established as criteria for a "magazine": "paginated, edited, designed, periodic, permanent and date stamped." But, to me, they are magazine replicas (and even called this). And what of those enhanced with video, audio, links that break the "paginated format," etc.?
So I tend to side with "Mr. Magazine"; however, I also don't think it really matters. Bigger questions than what they are called seem to be: What opportunities exist for mobile content distribution, and should that content replicate (and/or enhance) magazine content or supplement it, expanding the brand and revenue? Should print advertisers get free placement in a whole new medium?
Billions of people still read print magazines. But—while perfect for communicating certain content, in my opinion—magazines face increasing challenges, distribution costs being just one. (See Eddie Mayhew's Guest Column on the proposed postal rate hikes.)
And, as digital edition stats and iPad sales (and iPad owners' reading habits) show, digital is not to be ignored. But what is its ideal use? You already can access most digital editions and magazine websites via any browser. Shouldn't an app offer something beyond the six criteria that define a "magazine"? And, if so, is the financial return there to warrant such an investment?
Hearst's LMK ("Let Me Know") digital service has launched at least 60 iPhone apps (at 99 cents each), with "up-to-the-minute" coverage (i.e., aggregated content) of topics or people, such as the Yankees or Lady Gaga. Some have scoffed at such apps, but especially in today's celebrity-obsessed society, I see the potential.
Other publishers are trying new things as well. Eating Well is offering a $2.99 app of recipes and tips; Shape is offering a $1.99 Pilates workout app. And there are many, many more.
Until we find out whether these apps are selling and providing ROI, who are we to judge? At least it's an attempt to try a new delivery device for new content products (or packages), and charging for them.