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.
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?