Friday, May 31, 2013

Morning Brief: Study's findings on tablet magazines interpreted differently by observers; Future PLC updates the app for their tab-only magazine 'Photography Week'

Ten days ago Mequoda Group released a study that seems to have media outlets interpreting its results in wildly different ways. The 2013 Mequoda Tablet Study was originally talked about in this post here at TNM. It got the attention of the press because it predicted that predicted, rather boldly, that digital magazines would be preferred to print by a majority of readers by 2020 – few people bother to hold researchers to account when making predictions such as this so they are usually made to simply get attention.

AdWeek yesterday did their own story on the study and highlighted the fact that of "the 1,293 respondents, 23 percent prefer reading magazines on their tablets." The author, Maura McGowen, comes to no conclusions as she clearly working off a press release (how do I know this? the study itself says 26 percent, but press reports keep talking about 23 percent, something only mentioned in the company's own summary of the study).

AdWeek gives this all a positive spin by placing the headline "Digital Magazines Popular With Tablet Owners - Small study shows preference toward digital content" on the story.

Mequoda Group, of course, has an interest in all this as they are a firm that offers consulting services to publishers and, hence, would love to drum up some business assisting publishers with their digital publishing strategies.

Meanwhile, the blogger behind Dead Tree Edition asks whether the study is "A Troubling Sign for Magazines?"

Well, as we all know, any headline that ends in a question mark should be answered with "no" – but the author goes on to jump to the conclusion that the study actually shows that "the real news" is that three-forths of tablet owners do not prefer digital magazines to print. Again, the author refers to "23%" when the actual study shows 26 percent. Neither the reporter from AdWeek nor the blogger, it appears, even bothered to open up the study themselves despite it being a free download.

Publishing Executive, an industry magazine that has yet to launch its own tablet magazine (it has a replica in the Newsstand under the vendor's developer account) passed on the blog post in its e-newsletter, thus amplifying the madness.

As I mentioned in my own post a week ago, the study is terribly flawed and of no real value as it fails to break out the results in any way that would show the differences between tablets, or tablet magazines. In other words, it is simply a PR prank from a company trying to drum up business.

But the industry really could use a good, objective study on tablet magazines. The study should be able to break out results based on the brand and type of tablet owned by the reader, the type of magazine being read by the tablet owner (replica, hybrid, native), as well as the frequency (single issue buyer, subscriber). Then this can be compared to basic demographics to see if patterns involving sex, age, education or income are apparent. The reason is simply good polling practices.

But it also important to know the depth of feeling of readers towards their print and digital publications. For instance, does a reader who subscribes to a natively designed tab mag tend to prefer digital more than print? is the reader who only rarely buys a magazine (for instance, like before boarding a flight) tend to also prefer print? is the owner of a Kindle tablet more likely to say print is preferable than a reader who can access interactive magazines via an iPad?

The level of professionalism we are seeing in these superficial studies, and the truly bad reporting on them, is leading to a situation were publishers are able to read these things and use them to reinforce their own biases. We need good studies that will make publishers think and become better informed. The publishing media world, I'm afraid, is falling down on the job.

Future PLC, which is a bit schizophrenic about its own digital editions – releasing dull replica editions for tech magazines like MacLife, while launching new native tablet-only magazines – has updated the Photography Week Newsstand app.

The update is fairly minor but it does include an important addition: the adding in of more local language options.

Many publishers assume that all readers will want their library and store language to be the same as the text of the magazine. But there are readers who will pick up an English language magazine but be from another country, and have another language be their native one.

When traveling in Europe you can see this on the newsstands where in Athens, for instance, will be plenty of Greek language magazines, but also English ones. It is not only tourists who pick these up but local residents, as well.

These readers tend to be only somewhat fluent in English and can work their way around a consumer magazine lighting skimming the text but really being interested in the photography, the ads, and other graphical elements.

In an app, however, words not frequently seen in an article appear in the library and store: subscription, download, restore, etc. By compensating for this within the app the publisher will make it easier for the reader whose native language is something other than English to navigate the app itself, hopefully leading to an issue download.