The iPad, 4 years today, was introduced – and the tablet publishing platform was born
A look at the new tablet publishing platform’s progress, its accomplishments and its challenges
On the last Wednesday of January, 2010, Steve Jobs strolled out on stage in San Francisco and introduced the iPad, confirming rumors that Apple’s new tablet would not be called the iSlate. TNM, just four weeks old, said that the iPad “should kill off the whole netbook category” and that has proved to be pretty much correct.
The iPad was priced far more competitively than many tech observers had guessed – $499 at the entry level. And while Amazon fought against the iPad with commercials that said the iPad was not as good a reading device – on the beach, in the bright sunlight – their efforts did little to stop sales. Eventually, Amazon got into the tablet game themselves with the Kindle, with a screen very comparable to the iPad.
Right from the beginning, the iPad was seen as a media consumption device, though it was obviously not limited to that function. Jobs previewed the NYT on the device in his demonstration of the Safari browser. But there was more, Martin Nisenholtz, the NYT’s then chief of digital operations, came up on stage to demonstrate what their app would look like on the new tablet. (I called Martin “she” in my original, hastily written post on the iPad launch.)
In early April, on a Saturday, those who had acted quickly (like TNM) to pre-order the new device, received their original iPads via UPS. Waiting for them was a new App Store that include not only the NYT, but also apps from Bonnier and a few other magazine publishers. All that week, new apps began to appear, including media apps from European publishers who were launching well ahead of the iPad’s launch date in late May.
Fours years after Jobs introduced the iPad to the world, it is a good time to briefly review what publishers have been able to accomplish, and some of the hurdles we are yet to clear.
The iPad, right from the get go, featured interactive magazines thanks to the launch of Bonnier’s Popular Science and other titles. Bonnier had developed its Mag+ platform which uses a plug-in for InDesign, and quickly showed iPad owners what was possible.
Zinio, too, launched a digital newsstand app, which immediately made hundreds of titles available. It’s own VIVmag also was a showcase for magazines using video content.
- Creating a language: the standard scroll within a story, swipe to move to the next was demonstrated in the original Bonnier R&D video, seen in late December 2009. It may seem minor now but at the time several tech writers including Daring Fireball’s John Gruber questioned whether this was the appropriate way to navigate a native tablet edition
- The app as magazine library: while many app buyers still post reviews criticizing apps for saying they are free, then forcing the reader to pay for issues within the app’s store, this is mostly accepted by readers of digital editions. It is no small thing, as now magazine publishers have a way to sell subscriptions at a time when physical newsstands are decreasing in number
- Tablet-only magazine launches: though they will probably have the same, or even greater, failure rate than print magazine launches, the tablet platform has proved a great way to launch new publications, as well as a way to relaunch print titles that have shuttered their print editions
- The Newsstand: many were very excited when Apple launched its Newsstand app in 2011. But Apple has let the Newsstand become a mess, with many categories seemingly untended. In the end, the issue of discoverability extends beyond Apple’s App Store, but the Newsstand remains the poster child for a poorly run online marketplace
- Compatibility: Digital publishing vendors continue to work hard to offer their services for more than one platform, but designing for multiple tablets remains a challenge.
- Advertising: where are the ads? Most publishers have decided that the best way to design their digital editions is as either a replica of print, or else a hybrid edition (where the ad pages are the same as in print, and only the editorial pages are natively designed). Ad agencies are not knocking down the doors of magazine publishers clamoring to place their new, interactive tablet ads into digital magazine. They and their clients are missing out, but the real losers are publishers and readers
While The New York Times may have been ready to launch a new iPad app at launch, few other newspapers were. Many waited for vendors such as Tecnavia and others to provide replica edition solutions. But the real problem with the vast majority of newspaper apps is that they have not remained the newspaper in digital form. Most are simply RSS readers that mirror the content of their websites.
That does not mean there have not been bold efforts. The most obvious was The Daily, the News Corp daily tablet newspaper that really looked more like a magazine. Rupert Murdoch launched the daily with much fanfare in early 2011, but the experiment did not even make it to its second birthday.
Other experiments, such as La Presse+, followed with greater success. But, in general, newspapers have been lagging behind the rest of the media industry in understanding and taking advantage of tablets.
- Product Extensions: ebooks, in particular, have been a way for many newspaper publishers to break out of their newspaper-only mentality. The Boston Globe, for instance, has over 20 titles in the iBooks Store priced anywhere between $2.99 and $18.99.
- Paid Subscriptions: Although sales success has varied enormously between papers, the model has been established that readers should pay content. Some papers have stuck to keeping their app content free, but most have moved to a pay model
- Inventing the tablet newspaper: most newspaper apps either provide replica editions of their print editions, or app versions of their websites. Few newspaper publishers have experimented with trying to create something new. The OC Register’s early attempt, The Peel, did not survive the paper’s own troubles and was killed off in September of 2012
- Product Extensions: while some properties have used the iPad, and the App Store specifically, to create new products, the majority of newspaper managers have not built out their own internal capabilities enough to see tablet editions and apps as an appropriate place to launch new products. In fact, many continue to see the web as the only place to experiment. As a result, many talented journalists continue to bolt the newsroom for greener fields
The digital book is one area where the iPad did not initially dramatically change things. Thanks to the Kindle, and later the NOOK and Kobo, the eReading experience already existed. Sure some newspaper and magazine had been publishing to the Kindle, but those products were modeled after Kindle editions.
What the iPad did, however, was force a rethinking of the digital book for tablets. The interactive textbook is more and more becoming the norm, and “enhanced” eBooks are common. The launch of iBooks Author, though limited, has given book publishers and authors an easy way to create interactive eBooks.
- Interactive books: Print may live forever, but soon there will be readers born who will say that they could not imaging reading a book that did not talk back to them, that did not “show” them. Even lovers of print are forced to admit, when shown an enhanced eBook, that the new digital platform is a radical step ahead of plain text
- Digital bookstores: the Apple iBooks Store was late the game as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other digital bookstores were already established. But the iPad iBooks Store is where readers can find interactive books, and other digital books stores will need to continue to move in the direction of interactivity if they are to succeed
- Discoverability issues are not limited to the Newsstand. The iBooks Store, which recently did not even had working categories, remains a place where new titles go to die. Apple’s iBooks Store team is just as lazy in their promotion of new titles as is the App Store team. The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine eBook, published at the end of 2011, remains promoted in the store, and even has its own special link.
- Compatibility: Apple’s launch of iBooks Author may have allowed for the easy publication of interactive eBooks, but until just a few months ago, those same eBooks could not be read on a Mac. Apple still provides no solution for the iPhone. Things are no better with Google or Amazon, where it remains the wild west when it comes to interactive eBooks
This post just scratches the surface of both accomplishments and challenges facing us four years after the introduction of the iPad. I’m sure you have your now “favorites” when it comes to both the good and the bad. But it would be totally unfair to see things in a negative light. Publishers and publishing solutions firms have accomplished an enormous amount in the short life time of the tablet publishing platform.
With Apple selling over 200 million iPads since its launch, and with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets in the hands of many more readers, the tablet publishing platform is not going away anytime soon.