Magazine Publishing World Braces for Apple's iPad

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New York’s battered magazine industry is getting ready for Apple’s iPad, which comes to stores on Saturday. Most magazine publishers haven’t even touched the new tablet computer. All they know is that it has the potential to dramatically change the way they do business.

BusinessWeek reported recently that, for the handful of companies that got an iPad to prepare content for its launch, the device needed to be tied to a fixed object in a room with blacked-out windows under lock and key.

It's not clear if Wired magazine got one, but it started promoting its iPad version in a video released last month.

“There's a revolution going on right now in the way that people consume journalism,” Wired’s Creative Director Scott Dadich says in the video. “There’s still going to be the rich storytelling. There's still going to be narrative arc, but we'll be able to do it in short film and 360s, the ability to turn a product around and look at all sides of it.”

So you’ll be able to touch an icon on the digital page to launch a video. Or maybe see a car ad in which you can rotate the car itself with your finger to view it from all sides.

Jeanniey Mullen is the chief marketing officer at Zinio, a company that's working on the backend, converting nearly 2,000 magazines to an iPad format. Zinio had early access to two iPads.*

Mullen says the iPad versions of magazines will look nothing like their Web sites because portability changes everything.

Web sites are designed for what might be called a “lean forward” experience: You're online at a computer, often searching with some purpose.

“Magazines, on the other hand, are about the opposite experience,” Mullen says, “where you're sitting back with a brand that you trust and you're letting them guide your interest level.”

And Mullen says, the iPad launch is just the beginning. There's been a lot of hype around the iPad, but many competitors will be trying to bring the same lean-back experience to the digital world.

“We at Zinio know of at least 26 other color e-reading devices that are coming out over the next 12 months,” she says. “Twenty-six. It’s crazy.”

Aaron Hicklin is the editor of Out, a gay-oriented magazine that covers pop culture. “When the Web starting challenging print journalism, I think a lot of us were in real despair,” he says. “Because we love what we do. We love magazines. We love journalism. We love photography. We love putting all that together. The process of that is something that many of us missed when it came to creating pure digital content.”

Now, Hicklin says, the iPad offers a way for magazines to preserve the integrity of the reading experience. You can put the device in your bag, and read your favorite magazine any way, any where. And then there's the money.

“We're a manufacturing business,” Hicklin says. “We're creating something physical that needs to be printed, that needs to be distributed. And those two major fixed costs, printing and distribution”—50 percent of the magazine’s total costs—“go away with the iPad. That's huge.”

On the revenue side, Hicklin says with this new distribution channel, Out magazine could expand its readership in parts of the country where store owners refuse to carry magazines for gay men and women. And more readers means more money from advertisers.

"Everybody wants to be first with the first great ad on the iPad platform," Lars Bastholm with the advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather says. His firm represents companies like Ikea, Coca-Cola, and Louis Vuitton.

"But I think there are a whole bunch waiting to see, who will be the demographic that purchases this," Bastholm says.

The questions remain: Who will buy the iPad, how many people will buy it, and what will they buy it for?

Of ten people randomly surveyed in Union Square half said they’d consider buying an iPad down the line. Maybe you’ll see the first subway riders with iPads starting Saturday. But if Nejat Bumin is any indication, the iPad may not do much to save magazines. Bumin, who works at a publishing firm, says he doesn't have much interest in Apple's latest device. He says his laptop works fine for him -- and he doesn't read magazines anymore anyway. He prefers blogs.

*April 2, 2010 Update: When interviewed two weeks before the iPad's launch, Zinio Chief Marketing Officer Jeanniey Mullen told WNYC that her company did not have an iPad, but had access to Apple's iPad simulator. Zinio now says it did in fact have two iPads, but could not disclose that information at the time of the interview.