Geezer magazines on iPad = Disaster

Wired is on the iPad. So what? iPadifying your publication just cheapens a product that has difficulty staying relevant.

You have to believe that people who work in publishing sleep with their brains jammed up between an iPad and an iPhone. All that radiation can’t be good for you. There can’t be any other way of explaining the difficulties they seem to be having in the digital age.

The general belief is that the look and feel of a publication that is transported to an iPad, or for that matter, any other eReader or tablet, will somehow make it more palatable as a print replacement. Once that happens, in theory, publishers can take their apps and start rolling up subscriptions, just like in the print world. Unlike the print world, the app business should be, in theory, a growing market.

See what they’re getting at: paper is pretty, and my app looks pretty, too. Publishers can keep paying for big photo spreads, self-conscious layouts, and all the glossy dross that they easily justify in print. Advertisers will go whoohoo, and put up their glossy ads in response. Everyone is happy. Print is dead. Long live our app!

Unfortunately, the really clever people who run these companies are in for a shock – going digital means you will get metrics like page views, visitors, and all that other stuff that has made it hell for them on their web pages. All that stuff that you get on a web site and helps give advertisers reasons to cut your rates. All that stuff gets to be used against your really, truly, very expensive glossy print content that is being flipped through on an iPad.

Yup, the suits think that they can keep working the same overheads because, the iPad version looks just like the print version. The iPad makes it easier to move away from print because, the web wasn’t cutting it. It didn’t have the look and feel. It didn’t deliver the experience of print. The iPad, in theory, changes that.

Okay, so let’s grant that advertisers, being managed by ad agencies, will buy into the cult of iPad, and they’ll keep spending on fancy ads. This time, it’s not just a photo spread on the iPad magazine, but it’s an interactive spread. Whoohoo, Flash lives again! No biggie there. Advertisers and marketers are spending big bucks on social apps, and they’ll spend more so as not to get left out.

We now come to the biggest stumbling block facing the digital publishing world and that is the total available market (TAM). In the print world, we have a TAM of billions, otherwise called the population of the world. There is no barrier to handling print. Hands help, sure, but most people have them. And those that don’t tend to be very good at improvising, or using feet, or noses. I don’t know. For the sake of argument, everyone has hands, and everyone can handle print.

For digital, the measure is much more difficult. You have bandwidth limitations on any TAM you try and build. Not everyone has broadband, for example. So, just basic PC to Internet access has a finite audience. Then, there’s mobile and iPads. The audience is even smaller there.

So, let’s take the iPad. If you are selling an iPad version of Wired, you may be justified in thinking that all iPad users are your TAM for your app, but that’s assuming that all of your users care. There may be a lot of your tech savvy users who think the iPad is a pretentious piece of expensive gadgetry. They may also view buying apps differently to subscribing to print. For example, I subscribe to Sports Illustrated. I don’t really want to pay for anything else they offer online. I have done my bit for that magazine. But, more importantly, I am not a bottomless well of app buying. I buy apps that I feel enhance my experience on the device at hand. I don’t necessarily want to be a subscriber of everything on my devices.

AND, here’s something that really chaps my tush, you buy an app on one device and you have to buy exactly the same app on another device. Print is great. It is truly modular, transparent, and mobile.

If you publish something about ladies fashion, you may also be thinking that the iPad is cool and that all the cool people buying one are your TAM. However, you have to discount the male iPad users, in the main, and the demographic of women on the iPad may be less interested in fashion from Versace than they are in practical clothing from Nordstrom.

Who knows? What you do know is that it is just as expensive to build an app for a device and to market it effectively as it is offline or anywhere else online. Maybe all these apps are just vanity projects. Who knows?

No one, that’s who. So, you can build a strategy of taking your print processes and publications onto something like an iPad, but it is a recipe for disaster. Sure, you’ll look good for 15 minutes as everyone congratulates you on your great technology vision, but it doesn’t make business sense.

Let’s all drink to the Internets, the great leveler of the masses. Everyone is a YouTube star or an important part of the blogosphere. Giving Annie Leibowitz millions of dollars to shoot pictures may make sense in print, but on the Internets, and mobile devices, you might want to try Ralph.

Somewhere, right now, thousand of publishing executives are preparing to ditch their dreams of attending iPad launch parties all across Manhattan where, if they gone, they would be drinking fancy cocktails with fancy olives and fancy vodkas with fancy names. Meanwhile, on the Internets, we’ll be drinking distilled alcohol with a raisin on a toothpick.