Tuesday, March 13, 2012

iPad sales perspective: market penetration will take on more importance now than simply total unit sales

A little less than two years ago the first iPads were released and I decided to go back to look if TNM posted any sales estimates for its launch – no, just as now, we're just not that into predictions. In fact, at that time, the first week of April 2010, the big issue was still 'would tablets even make an impact?' – TNM, you might say, bet the farm that it would.

The day before the first iPads were delivered by UPS (a Saturday), this is what iPad excitement looked like:

(For the record, the iPad 2 was far better for making salsa than the original iPad.)

Apple sold 3 million iPads that first quarter, a level of sales that would be considered a disaster if it occurred this year.

A round up on the CNN Fortune website of sales estimates show that analysts are talking about 2012 sales for the iPad coming in above 60 million. OK, they're analysts, which means that don't know squat. But still, we're looking at lots of new iPads being sold this year.

But unlike in previous years, when total sales meant just about everything, now audience penetration is where it is at. On Friday of this week FedEx will be delivering me a shiny new iPad, but the market will not gain another household. Sure, is true that the old iPad will still be used in my house, but it is not quite the same thing, is it? We'ver certainly reached that point with the smartphone. Again, in my house, we buy two new smartphones a year, but still only have four in circulation.

We're now at the mercy of household surveys (and robo calls by survey companies).

A year or so ago the biggest asked of me by publishers in Europe was how many iPads were in circulation in a given country. Sometime over the past year I stopped getting those questions – I think there is significance there. People can see the audience penetration at the local coffee shop, or on an airplane.

When Hearst Magazines brads about 100K digital subscribers the follow-up question is still "is this a good number?" Would it be significantly more if there were more tablets in the market? or would it be better if our app were better? It is still hard to answer those questions, but it may be easier by the end of this year.