iPad Apps for the Publishing World

by Paul Sullivan of Breakthrough Communications

As lines of fanboys and girls form outside Apple stores across the continent to catch a glimpse of the iPad 2, many magazine publishers are still waffling about whether or not they should build an app and get in on the action.

My bias is clear and obvious. If I were a magazine publisher I would have launched a free app the moment iPad 1 was out of the box, so that when 2 rolled out, I could charge for the premium edition.

Even now that I have to jostle with more than 60,000 other iPad apps, it’s worth it. Why? Well, I hardly know where to begin.

Let’s start with some big numbers. Apple’s Steve Jobs says there are 200 million Apple IDs out there. That’s a lot of potential customers.

Apple says it sold nearly 15 million units of version 1 last year, and while the vastly superior version 2 has only been on sale since March 11, (and the lines form tomorrow in Canada, which bought more than 4 million iPad 1s last year, punching above its weight), it sold 1 million units in 3 days.

Yep, three days.

These things are moving faster than hula hoops at the height of the craze.

Still, everyone’s concerned about the drop off in magazine app sales after the initial wave of enthusiasm. Wired magazine, for example sold 100,000 of its first iPad edition; by November it was down to 23,000. Condé Nast publications such as Vanity Fair experienced a similar drop-off. Maybe the iPad isn’t the savior of magazines after all.

Ok, but hold on. People is #34 among all iPad apps, and Martha Stewart Living, O, Wired and the New Yorker are all in the top 100 in the iTunes store. That’s all categories – movies, music, whatever.

And here’s an interesting piece of information: recent third party research indicates that ads are more effective on the iPad than in the corresponding print edition. According to Affinity’s Vista syndicated numbers, ads in the iPad edition of the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition generated a 21% higher recall than in the print edition, and reader action (visiting the advertiser’s web site, clicking on the iPad screen) were 34% higher than in print.

There were ads in the swimsuit edition? (Never mind.)

No one is sure why – is it because an interactive tablet naturally prompts more interaction, or is the novelty of the iPad that makes even the ads interesting?

But Condé Nast, for one, isn’t waiting around to find out. The UK division is investing in new iPad apps for Wired, GQ, and 21 iPhone apps across seven of its magazine brands in 2011.

We tend to forget about iPhone, but the rumored iPhone 5 is lurking down the pike, with the same enhanced A5 dual-core processor that makes the iPad more than twice as fast as its predecessor (and 9 times faster at processing graphics), and a 4-inch-screen. That’s a whole extra half inch!

Neither should we forget the raft of tablets about to give the iPad a run for its money – including the Blackberry Playbook and a variety of Android powered tablets.

Devices galore. But the iPad2 is the real game changer: 15 per cent lighter, down to 1.3 pounds, one-third thinner, faster, featuring two cameras—one in the front and one in the back—high resolution, HDMI compatible, etc. Even the cover is clever. It attaches magnetically and automatically puts the iPad to sleep when it’s applied and wakes it up when it’s removed. It even serves as a stand.

So back to my obvious bias. I’ve always been a believer in following eyeballs. Over the years, magazine publishers and distributors have been fiendishly clever about getting their products in front of eyeballs, on the newsstand, at the check-out, even at the doctor’s office.

But when online publishing came along, we became uncertain and afraid. Not without reason. Almost instantly, ads on web sites became commodities, and only search engine companies and Facebook were making any money on ads. And how: Facebook is worth $50 billion. That’s “billion”.

All that uncertainty has been resolved with the tablet, specifically the iPad and its 60,000-plus apps. It’s reasonable to assume there will be at least 30 million iPads in the hands of American consumers by the end of this year, and many of them will be your customers. Unlike desktops and even laptops, iPads are not computers – I’m not 100% sure what they are, but they are at least magazine readers and browsers and represent a golden opportunity for magazines.

The invention of the iPad may not be as game-changing as the invention of the TV, but it definitely trumps the FM radio. Wired has already hailed the app store as the Internet killer, which sounds extreme to me.

Whatever else it is, it’s a 9.7 inch newsstand times 30 million (and that’s just a start). People are lining up for it, and you have an opportunity to own your own pipeline direct to that eager (some would say over-eager) consumer. An iPad app for your magazine is a key piece in your total brand strategy. It could revitalize a flagging franchise or make 2011 a year for growing revenue.

Not only that, it’s easier to play Angry Birds on a 10-inch screen.

Get Interactive!

I would like to hear from any publishers who have an iPad app or are in the middle of creating one. I’d also like to know if you’ve decided not to go ahead and why. In the next post, I’m planning to compile a list of app-building tips and would like to feature as many of your apps as possible.