Are tablet-only magazines viable?

Posted by Chelsea Rink

Recently, the world’s first tablet-only magazine folded. Rupert Murdoch’s baby, The Daily, pioneered the tablet-only magazine industry until its $25 million yearly costs could no longer be justified. With a readership of 100,000 subscribers – for $39.99 per year – this business model could no longer sustain. And with the folding of the magazine, the 126 employees left will be absorbed into Murdoch’s New York Post.

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Plenty of individuals have entered into the discussion regarding their opinions on why this business model failed. But with the release of Drake University’s senior capstone project, the tablet magazine Man Up, this timely folding raises some questions about the legitimacy or sensibility of tablet-only magazines. Critics have blamed The Daily’s demise on its business model, its content, and most especially, the idea of a tablet-only magazine itself. What can you do on with a tablet magazine that you can’t do on other mediums? Not much.

The issue with a tablet-only approach is the fact that there’s not a whole lot you can do on the tablet that you can’t do anywhere else. According to Felix Salmon of Reuters, “The promise of the iPad was that it would usher in a rich-media world combining the versatility of the web with the high-design glossiness of magazines; the reality is that it fell short on both counts.” The iPad – or any tablet for that matter – is not able to link web features or provide access to other areas of the magazine or of the web in the same way that a website is. In fact, a tablet magazine issue is essentially a glorified PDF: to be downloaded with each published issue – which is not a quick process – and with the same exact content and abilities of a print magazine with the addition of a few bells and whistles, videos and interactive features.

In Man Up’s case, the “digital-only” version was created as a part of a capstone project, and surely gave its creators a good look into a struggling yet arguably relevant medium – surely, great experience for soon-to-be magazine journalists. For education’s sake, then, this project seems to have been an incredible adventure. And in looking at the final product, Man Up is a fun-to-read, interactive, creative project that hardly screams amateur. But to look at the viability of this model, and whether it could actually stand on its own as a digital-only continuous publication, is to get at the essential question: Are tablet-only magazines sustainable? Are they viable

For The Daily, the tablet-only approach didn’t work. Jeff Sonderman of Poynter argues that tablet magazines can make sense – as long as they aren’t the only medium for that content. Tablet-first could work. But tablet-only? He says one platform isn’t enough. What do you think about tablet-only magazines, or tablet magazines in general? Do you prefer to do your reading in print versions, or on a tablet?

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6 responses to “Are tablet-only magazines viable?

  1. You have some interesting points in your post. Chelsea. I don’t have much experience with tablet only magazines, but was impressed with the Man Up one. It’s hard to say how they will fare – tablets aren’t as common or widespread as other computers yet which does limit the audience somewhat, so I think the idea for the availability of the magazine in other formats makes more sense.

    • I agree, I was also very impressed with the Man Up magazine. In my research, what I learned was that while the tablet magazines are fun and interactive and creative… there isn’t a whole lot behind the bells and whistles. You can’t search within a tablet magazine like you can a news website; you can’t click on links within a tablet magazine that will link you to outside the magazine. Essentially, the tablet magazine is exactly the print magazine except with a few cooler things. And what I learned – and what I agree with – is that these few extra cool things that tablet magazines can do are not enough to make this medium sustainable by itself. But it will be interesting to see what happens with the future of tablets, because the tablet is surely not going away. Maybe there will be some new technologies added to the tablet in order to make tablet magazines more like websites?

  2. I prefer reading print versions of my favorite magazines. After reading too long online, my eyes strain, and I turn to the nearest book for a break.

    Plus, after I finish reading a magazine, I tear out my favorite stories and tack them to my walls to admire again. When I want to reread an article, I know where to find it. In my opinion, tablet-only magazines lack the perks of print magazines.

  3. I have to admit that before this semester I was not a fan of tablet magazines. I thought that reading a feature article on a tablet is exhausting and that they can be hard to find out how to work. In J119 we looked at some tablet magazines that were really cool though. Esquire does these awesome intro videos for each of their cover stars and other magazines incorporate video and links into pages. I don’t think that an old audience will adapt to tablets mags but I can see younger generations liking them. When I told my brother who is 22 to download Man Up on his iPad he thought it was really cool and told me about how many tablet magazines he has on it right now.

  4. I think a tablet version has to have a benefit that’s not given in print. Otherwise, many tablet versions are just pdfs of the printed material like you pointed out. Don’t get me wrong. It can be much easier to search for something in a pdf. That’s nice for things that you wouldn’t read cover to cover. Like Kendra said, magazine sell an experience, and people like thumbing through the pages. It’s not the same on a tablet.

    Could this change? Absolutely. Kenzie brings up a good point about her brother. It will be younger people that change the dynamic of the tablet audience because they are more willing to change.

  5. I think I will always love print magazines. Maybe because I grew up with them and loved getting them in the mail. I do however think it is really awesome what the capstone students did and I could see a tablet version of that magazine being successful, for that demographic, young and “techy”. I think that tablet only publications are pushing it right now. I think that introducing a tablet version of the print publication is better, because there will be those people who will still want to physically turn each page.

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