Thursday, August 18, 2011

The perfect tablet magazine, without its own tablet app

In my mind the perfect scenario for any magazine that wants to make money selling subscriptions to its tablet edition would be the magazine that can consistently produce the blockbuster story. The story that gets people to pick up the magazine on the newsstand is the story that will drive single copy and subscription sales.

For other magazines, what will drive sales for their tablet editions is what I would call surfability: the kind of magazine one flips through just for the job of it – whether that might be a fashion magazine or music, these are magazines where no one story is that important, instead the joy in reading the magazine comes from the overall experience of being immersed in the environment created by the editors.

One magazine that I think is perfect for creating a tablet edition is Rolling Stone. It has two things going for it: the blockbuster story, and its entertainment content. It has both things going for it. Yet Rolling Stone does not have a tablet edition at a time when buying single copies of the print edition is getting harder to do thanks to the closing of so many newsstands.

Jann Wenner, the founder and owner of Rolling Stone, has famously gone on record as stating his opinion of tablets and tablet editions. Certainly one can laugh at the total backwardness of Wenner's attitude and understanding of tablet editions, but the real victim here ends up being his own magazine.

Yet in the same interview where Wenner scoffs at tablets, he describes a music business that "screwed itself' because of its failure to embrace digital. Read this then substitute the word tablet here and there and you can see that Wenner is really talking about himself.

"The music business refused to embrace internet technology when it first was introduced just as they first tried to fight and stop CDs, just as they used to fight and try to stop home taping, all of which was known to spread it. So now you have an ironic situation where music is more ubiquitous than ever -- everybody in the world has access to everything ... So it's the music business's fault more than anything else. And then their failure to develop what Apple did develop, which was a good convenient easy delivery system. They fell on their own sword, you know?"

Wenner then goes on to try and convince us that magazines are different from music, but he is really just trying to convince himself.

All this circles back to Matt Taibbi's story this month about the SEC. It is the talk of Wall Street, with bloggers and even the New York Times and The Guardian referring to it. But most readers will be forced, by the magazine itself, to read the story through links through other websites. Efforts to force people to buy the print edition will be futile. Tablet owners, like myself, won't be given the option to buy the issue through the App Store and so will read the story online.

No ads, no circulation costs, kind of like illegally downloading music. Rolling Stone is repeating the same errors of the industry it covers.