BoSacks: The Profit Prophet: The Lure of the iPad
Here is an interesting observation and a modern-age publishing dilemma. Due to print publishing's vagaries and analog necessities, this article was due to my editor four to five weeks before it would be released in Publishing Executive's print and electronic editions. I was asked to write about what publishers should be considering regarding the iPad. Basically the questions are: Where do we go from here? Should publishers be developing apps or wait till the e-smoke clears?
I found the request to be incredibly interesting on several levels. For example, advice I am writing today may be less than perfect by the time you get it compared to if you were receiving it real-time. That concept alone is worth considering as we progress from what we were to what journalism will be. In some cases and for some stories, this delayed offering of actionable advice about a young and still embryonic publishing platform might be considered problematic. In this case, offering sage recommendations that are already one month old when you read them is a fascinating analog-publishing problem, and it exemplifies the new demands and timing of our digital age.
But as a confirmed and fearless futurist, I will share my thoughts with you anyway.
As I write this, Apple announced that it sold more than 1 million iPads in its first 30 days—impressive on many levels, only one of which is that it beat the iPhone's first-30-days sales record. So, is it reasonable to expect that the numbers could easily double by the time this article is published? Let's be conservative and say that Apple will have sold 1.5 million iPads. That is a larger reader base than almost any magazine.
Why wouldn't you develop an app for a potential base readership of millions? This is not a shotgun approach to marketing your magazine. It is a focused effort to a high percentage of not only buyers, but readers.
The Digital-Reader Watering Hole
The iPad is the first successful tablet of many new, digital and e-reading devices on the market or coming out soon. In a way, it is a Darwinian phenomenon of Natural Publishing Selection. The people who will buy these devices will, for the most part, be devoted readers. So, as publishers, here we are in the jungle, lying in wait for paying readers. Why wouldn't we do everything we can to lay out our wares at the digital-reading watering hole where prospective clients are sipping the digital ambrosia? Will our approach be like lions pouncing on little lambs? No! We will still have to present enticing lures known to us as great content. But half the work has already been done—someone else has brought them to the table.
The conditions of your particular title and your current corporate finances will dictate the extent of your participation in the "great tablet migration." Regardless of whether you are in business-to-business, consumer, association or custom publishing, the publishing business' trend lines forecast an eventual predominance of digital distribution. If you have no competition, then there is no hurry, because your readers are already yours. If you have competition, then it is jungle warfare, and the best strategy is usually to take the high ground and let them try to attack you uphill. Regardless of your niche's size, there will be readers for you among the multiple millions of tablet owners. I think we will find that it is a unique collection of literate consumers, with an added incentive for us that they have surplus cash to spend.
The iPad is now another format of information distribution. Print used be the cheapest and, some might say, easiest form of mass communication, but that is no longer the case. Many viable alternatives exist.
It is still the publishers' prerogative how to distribute their products to their best financial advantage; but to overlook the advantages of an iPad application is to miss the opportunity to catch a potentially lucrative publishing wave. PE
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He also is co-founder of research company mediaIDEAS (MediaIdeas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator, and just about every other job this industry has to offer.