An outsider’s look at Time’s tablet prototype

December 3, 2009

You may have seen the news that Time Inc. has launched a video of a potential digital edition for Sports Illustrated, for the tablet (laptop/iPhone hybrid) Apple is rumoured to be developing.

I, of course, am skeptical. When I’m online, I have no attention span and don’t want to browse through just one site/product. When I’m not online, I like to pick up paper magazines. That being said, it’s nice to see someone doing something innovative and exploring new formats.

I also have a few questions – feel free to pipe in with the answers:

• Given that the financial problems in the industry are due to declining ad revenue, and given that it’s unlikely that paid digital versions will increase a magazine’s subscriber base, how will developing a paid model for digital versions help the bottom line? Will the presumed reduction in printing and distribution costs really make that much of a difference?

• The same question, put a different way: this kind of product, especially for a weekly magazine, will involve a lot more complex work than ink on paper, and even than on a website – therefore more staff. How will that affect budgets?

• When you cut back on the words and fill in the blanks with videos of bikini-clad models, at what point is your product no longer a magazine?

But what I really find interesting here is that I pulled this from an Apple rumours site, macrumors.com, whose audience is quite different from the media types we’re all used to hearing from (although admittedly there’s probably a bit of overlap). So I recommend reading the comments, just to get a sense of what non-magazine people (but admittedly gadget geeks) think about the idea. Some highlights:

“It’s a decent mockup, but I don’t quite get the point of these digitized magazines. How are they any different from a well-designed website like Espn.com or NYT.com? Why would I pay another $30 a year for something I get free everyday RIGHT NOW?”

“The problem is people are use to getting stuff for free online already.. Magazines are gonna have to really up it to stay afloat. Interactive stuff with games could be the next thing. Live chat with friends, football pools. etc”

“Reading a magazine is hugely different from reading a website. Magazines generally have artistic full-color layouts, with incredibly designed content mixed in with gorgeous high-resolution photos. A website is a bit more of a cheap consumable that doesn’t have that sort of effort put into it. I’ve known for a long time that I would much prefer to read Wired on a device like this than I do trying to browse the same content on the Wired website.”

“This all looks very nice, but wait until they futz it all up with distracting pop-ads that you can’t skip through. We’ll be running back to paper…”

“These devices are not paper and it is critical that the reader has the ability to alter the layout to enlarge the text and reduce the size of the photos (or eliminate them). This will be hard for the magazines’ art directors to accept. The video (from the YouTube link) shows how the people responsible for creating it don’t yet have a clue about how to do this successfully.”

“Theoretically, the issues could be completely free of charge. If you look at most magazine subscriptions – e.g., Wired, at $10 per year(!) – that cost wouldn’t even handle the costs to print the issues, let alone deliver them to your home. Magazines make all their money on advertisements in the issue. If you remove the printing and delivery costs completely, we could see a library of every major magazine for free on iTunes. Personally I’d love this device in more ways than one. I’ve always much preferred reading magazines than having to see web banners or pop-up ads on a website. A magazine has lovely full page ads and I totally don’t mind them. In fact, I rather quite enjoy ads in magazines. If they keep the same ad system as in magazines (which I think they will), reading a magazine on a tablet will be much more enjoyable than websites.”

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2 Responses to “An outsider’s look at Time’s tablet prototype”


  1. […] the Apple tablet has yet to prove itself as fact or fiction, I hope the new speculation about tablets for periodicala will include the thriving comicbook and manga businesses. Websites like Zuda and Marvel […]

  2. Jayne Says:

    Point 1: I read at some point that print/prepress/distribution take 60% of total cost so there should be a substantial savings. (Administration another 30 and the balance art & editorial…where all the cuts happen)
    I think young readers may be more attracted to the flashy new format.
    Point 2: Don’t know much about how websites are produced but I would guess that style sheets and formats would be used in the same way as for mags to keep consistency up and labour down.
    Point 3: You’re right…the only thing that makes the difference is text content.

    But I think this tablet is the equivalent of the “8 track”. Those flexible OLED displays will replace that pronto.
    BTW have you seen Lonnymag.com? I think there we see the direction of ad revenue and it’s here now.


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