Apple’s latest creation, the iPad, will launch in the UK on Friday.
The device’s launch has exceeded expectations in the US – the sale of over 1m units in the first month led to the European launch being moved back.
Condé Nast announced they were working on an iPad version even before the device became official, and have already launched iPad apps for GQ, Vanity Fair and Wired magazines. The FT also recently launched their app, with the Times and Sunday Times reported to be launching theirs this week.
But do publishers really think the iPad will transform their businesses – boosting circulation numbers and opening up new audiences to advertisers?
The answer to that question is ‘probably, but not just yet’. Recent quotes from such prominent figures as Mail Online MD James Bromley and Condé Nast Digital UK Manager Emanuela Pignataro suggest that although they see the future potential, they expect it to be a few years yet before adoption reaches a critical mass. And that’s if the iPad proves to be the dominant device in the ereader field.
Publishers have 2 problems before they embrace the iPad as the saviour of their businesses. The first is volumes – as Bromley of the Mail says ‘These are really very embryonic devices…we’re talking about a very narrow subsection of society that will have these in 2010…2011, 2012, 2013 will be when these will become slightly more mainstream.’
The second problem is the investment required to optimise the platform. Most newspaper content platforms can only just cope with print and web publishing and aren’t suited for the rapidly developing multichannel world that the plethora of new devices has thrust them into. And related to this is the investment required to optimise their publications for the intuitive touch screen functionality of the device – as Simon Waldman of the Guardian Media Group puts it, publishers will have to go ‘above and beyond’ their existing website strategy to create the optimum iPad experience. Whilst it remains niche, publishers will be unwilling to make significant investments in this regard.
These sober attitudes seem wise given the recent news that GQ had sold only 365 downloads of its Men of the Year iPad edition in December. So the rush of activity we’re seeing doesn’t represent a heady optimism about the new device on behalf of publishers – more a desire to experiment with format, functionality and pricing on a device that could have a transformative impact on their business in a few years time. The first iPad ready publications we’re likely to see won’t be groundbreaking, probably very similar to the existing web or iPhone versions, because significant investment won’t be committed from cash-strapped publishers until the device has proved it’s no passing fad.
But if the publishers do see accelerating take up and start to invest significant sums, that will be the cue for premium and luxury advertisers to appraise the opportunity it represents and possibly jump on board.