The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bruce Hudson Headshot

Taking a Tablet Will Solve the Print Headache

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

I'm not a digital native. I'm a bit old school when it comes to tech and despite not having succumbed to Botox or liposuction (although my age does seem to be racing my waist-size) I can remember the introduction of CDs. I can even remember the first time I listened to a disc on my mate's new stereo. It was exciting, it was cool and what's more it sounded better. But we were never under any illusion that it would ever replace vinyl. I mean how could it? Vinyl was (and still is by the way) cooler with album covers like Beggars Banquet, The White Album and Physical Graffiti works of art.

I can also remember the first time I used a mobile phone - some ten or so years later. Travelling in a black cab...making a call...while moving...it felt space-age. It felt even cooler than listening to that first CD. But I knew it would never replace my phone at home [actually I still have one although every time it rings I know it's the mother-in-law...so I don't answer it).

I can also remember the first time I used an iPad with a similar pique of excitement, but this time with the foresight of knowing I was using something revolutionary, particularly for the magazine industry. I remember glancing round a tube train in London, with people peering into their scrunched up newspapers and thinking, you wait my cramped, slightly smelly commuter, this time next year we'll all be tablet pioneers. And this time I was right...well sort of. There's still a long way to go before the tablet takes over the magazine publishing world. Many of the zealots who preached why print magazines would go out of business just two years ago, have lost the faith yet the stats for tablet growth remain phenomenal (tablet sales are expected to almost triple to 336m by 2016).

So how is the tablet going to change the magazine world? Well, let me take you by the hand and walk you into a newsagent and show you five magazines with circulations of fewer than 20,000 that have advertising revenues of more than 50K. Okay I'll let go of your hand now, and I can also show you five online magazines with circulations of more than 50K which do not have one paid-for advertisement.

Seriously not one! Why, because advertising planners and buyers aren't aware of digital magazines and therefore aren't buying the space and space remains the final frontier for old school magazines and with it they can carry on their enterprise. Rebekah Billingsley, Publishing Director for Mobile Devices at Immediate Media Co (formerly BBC Worldwide Magazines) confirmed just how far the advertising industry is lagging behind at the recent Mobile Media Strategies summit: "iPads weren't making it down to planners so we hired 20 and sent them out".

Really? Really! I've heard similar stories from publishing directors and frankly the mind boggles. So why is this happening? The main reason is presence and a printed magazine has it in a land-on-your-desk-show-it-to-your boss-this-is-what-we-got-for-our-money sort of way. It's a safe place to put your advertising buck, nobody will criticise you, and it's what we've always done.

But print magazines are already beginning to feel the pinch. Even New Media Age stopped publishing recently (well there was a certain irony on a print magazine commenting on the digital age). The web originally had an impact (free content, direct response advertising), mobile phones even more so, but the elephant in the room is the tablet. There will be a tipping point where advertisers choose to go with mobile devices and the tablet in particular and slowly the wheels will fall off mainstream print magazines.

Why? The five Cs: cost, cost, cost, circulation increase and coolness! No paper, no print, no sale or returns, with a package able product you can charge for...funnily enough not dissimilar to the printed product but most of all on a screen that does a magazine justice. There are still costs involved with tablet publishing but considerably less than print. Magazine publishers shot themselves in the foot, a few years back, when they sold advertising in digital page-turners as a bolt-on to the print version. It's undermined the market by devaluing the increased circulations.

The app changed that, with publishers now selling them as a distinct medium. T3 have recently become the first publisher to receive a circulation by the ABC for their interactive magazine as it "is distinct from the print brand and comes complete with specific interactive advertising". T3 sold over 17,000 issues per month, up over 30%, and across the board the growth in digital magazines sales is impressive: Cosmo 5,675 to 13,298, Men's Health 7,7K to 12,1K issues etc.

In relative terms these circulations are small compared to the print versions but when you combine these figures with tablet sales tripling in the next three years it's obvious where the market is heading. There's an added bonus with this new medium...it's not rocket science to realise that ads with an interactive element are going to get a better response than flat ads in a print magazine. Tablet readers are savvy, they're the most technically advanced consumer group in the market. They'll tap, pinch and swipe anything on the iPad to get it moving. They expect it. And here's the golden goose. If that happens they'll stay on the page, play with a game, answer questions, take off their trousers (ok I got a bit carried away there). Without wanting to go into hyperbole it couldn't get better than that for an advertiser. Well actually it can. As after engaging with a consumer they can essentially hold their hand, take them from the magazine into a virtual shop, to the aisle, to pick up a good, to the counter, and then back to the magazine, sorry I've got hold of your hand again, but you get the idea.

The app is being used by the publishing industry as a way to get the unpaid content genie of the web back into a paid, containable bottle. Once advertisers start to see magazine buyers are consuming in significant numbers and in a more interactive way, they'll start to book the space and the demise of print magazines will be like a house of cards. I'm pretty sure just like vinyl and the home phone after that, I'll be here to see the death of the majority of print magazines. That is of course unless my waist size continues to overtake my age and I explode!