As we await the launch of Rupert Murdoch's iPad newspaper The Daily next week (Updated: the launch is delayed, apparently pending Apple figuring out some elements of its subscription B/OSS back-end, or some-such) there's been a plethora of reports claiming iPad publishing isn't the gold rush some had hoped for. These reports claim some big name magazine titles are failing to achieve numbers much beyond newstand sales. How refreshing, then, to think about one iPad publishing success story: an independently-produced travel magazine, called TRVL.
Available as an iPad-exclusive magazine, TRVL was launched by travel writer Jochem Wijnands and 'Apple guru' Michel Elings four months ago.
There's a few differences between their model and that espoused by others in the space -- for a start, the TRVL App is free. Secondly, reflecting the a la carte nature synonymous with the rest of the Internet, you don't need to take every article each time the title is updated, you can simply choose to download and read those articles you are most interested in.
Cherry-picking your media, rather than being forced to purchase the lot. Memory has already become an issue for iPad so by downloading single articles you can also economize on the amount of memory you use.
Powered by the possible
"We don't have a budget. We must be the poorest magazine on iPad," smiles Jochem. Perhaps so, but the partners are extremely happy with how iPad publishing is going for them, as despite their lack of funds, "We are shoulder-to-shoulder with Richard Branson's title on the App Store."
That's key, because at this stage of iPad publishing there remains an opportunity for new players to quickly achieve a good reputation for their titles, based entirely on word-of-mouth and that other great element of publishing success: the content itself.
"We like to think we surprise our readers with the quality of our content," Jochem points out. "Our photographers and writers are working for the best travel magazines -- even National Geographic, so it's no surprise that TRVL is competitive. But we feel like David taking on Goliath."
In this case, David also runs a travel writing agency, called Feature Contact, an organization which liaises between travel reporters and magazines.
What's the plan?
The TRVL business plan, it seems, is simple:
- don't charge for the title
- make all the articles as available as possible
- don't force readers to download the full menu when they only want a snack
- field some of the world's leading travel writers with a deal which provides a fair split of any generated revenue
This essentially is the digital equivalent of the business plan which fuels independent publishing: Quality content made as available as possible at a price people can afford, in this case, free. The overall attempt must be to create a readership, and, presumably, capitalize on future ads revenue.
So is it working? "Last month we have had over 500,000 page views," Jochem explains.
TRVL has also achieved an impressive five-star rating on the US App Store -- the publishers claim they are the only iPad magazine with that kind of support.
Reader comments say it all. One Chris Burke writes,
"Great writing with great photography make this app a winner. This App alone is why I always steal the family iPads to sit, read, enjoy and be inspired."
Does Jochem think magazines on the iPad are failing? He thinks the story is one-sided. some might not be achieving the success they hope for, but his is doing "really well".
What's the difference? He can't say for sure, instead he asks:
"Why are people picking up on TRVL, while they are clearly disappointed with the conventional magazines? What are the lessons the conventional magazines can learn from us?"
The obvious answer here is that TRVL is written for a specific sector of interest by a stable of writers already expert in their field. Better yet, everyone involved in creating the title benefits from its success, and that collective self-interest boosts loyalty and effort from all involved. The audience respond to this, and, as the title is free, they really can't argue at the quality of the product they've got. Those involved give 100 per cent and gain 100 per cent.
There's a growing school of thought within the media which fails to offer appropriate reward to anyone involved in a so-called vocational or creative industry. And it's wrong.The impact of iPad publishing could perhaps provide a fresh opportunity to address this imbalance.
This disruptive age
Eight months ago Steve Jobs took the front page of Le Monde with the leading French title asking if he will turn out to be "the new Gutenberg". There's so much that's historically incorrect in that comparison that the question is obviously irrelevant, but TRVL shows the iPad could indeed save publishing -- but that doesn't mean it won't disrupt it.
Things won't stay the same.
Wall Street Journal tells us Wired sold 23,000 copies on the iPad in November, as oppsed to 100,00 copies in June. Other titles, including GQ or Vanity Fair, have also seen initial interest wane to level out at lower numbers.
But is this a bad thing? Those lower numbers need to be well-served. As with building any other project, you begin by pleasing the people you have, they are your flag-bearers, your evangelists, your helpers. Those first few folk are the seed for success. And in publishing, even publishing 2.0 (or is this 3.0, or even 4.0?) pleasing people propels sales.
Publishers meanwhile are pushing for subscriber data, which is why we have no digital newstand inside iTunes as yet. Though this could change next week when The Daily launches.
When it comes to data this will be an opt-in arrangement.
"Apple is planning to share more data about who downloads a publisher's app, information publishers can use for marketing purposes," said the Wall Street Journal.
"According to people familiar with the matter, Apple would ask consumers who subscribe to an iPad version of a magazine or newspaper for permission to share personal information about them, like their name and email address, with the publisher."
So why have some people failed while the professional and enthusiastic, user-focused experiment at TRVL seems to be succeeding?
Dress for success
Frédéric Filloux at Monday Note reckons there's several core values, not least the fact that emulating a print product on an iPad doesn't feel anything like as satisfying as developing a title principally for inclusion on a tablet.
- Convenience -- access to content doesn't mean you want all the content seizing valuable space on your iPad.
- Execution -- it can be an amazing title, but it's no use if the downloads fail, or a video asset makes a page unloadable. In addition, why is it sexy to have to hit an authorisation process each time you launch a mag's app -- you purchased it from the App Store, it is obviously a legitimate copy.
- Price -- this should be obvious: Pass the saving in print costs on to the reader. Short-term financial perspectives haven't done old music any good, and they won't do anything for media making the iPad jump. I understand the suffering, but I've seen enough of the numbers to know that online income is growing -- publishers just need to put the readers (and, I'd obviously argue, the creative teams) first.
TRVL shows us this is a good opportunity to explore new concepts; to establish new price points and business models and to figure out ways to enrich media appropriately. (Take a look at the Guardian's Eyewitness App for a notion of how amazing images can look on an iPad screen -- and they don't take much space).
Most of all, it is a time to consider the iPad audience. This is early in the tablet evolution, and while the existence of the iPad has helped Apple gain a huge Mac marketshare even while every other PC maker sheds share, the iPad isn't a mass market device yet. Sure, it is going to be, but right now the people mainly in possession of these things are the smart, the educated and the well-off -- the kind of people who can discern between a second-rate attempt at magazine publishing and something fresh, new and interesting.
What is The Daily?
Next week we're going to meet The Daily. It looks like Murdoch may have given some thought to originality and the nature of publishing in an iPad age, and while he hasn't gone the whole hog to write his own daily media column (or has he?), it is no great surprise that one of the first things he did as he prepped this new title was to assemble a 100-strong team of journalists to create original and unique content for the title.
The Daily will be officially announced at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Jan. 19 during an event which will be attended by Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp.
This will be a title designed specifically for the iPad. We don't know yet if it will cost a daily fee, but Murdoch's people at The Times, The Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal are all working behind fee-based paywalls.
It will be interesting to see if The Daily will be able to deliver the passion and energy we already see in free title, TRVL. The modus operandii of which is encapsulated so:
"Whether we like hiking in Alaska, island hopping in Greece or exploring Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, we have a lot in common. We are curious. We are open-minded. We like to experience. We are passionate about traveling."
I spoke once with former Pink Floyd manager, Pete Jenner. We talked about music in the digital age. He expects it to evolve into a "massive market of multiple niches." This is happening in publishing too, and TRVL serves its niche well. I'm looking forward to the music fanzines taking an iPad step. It can't be long until they do.
In an interesting note, given my iTunes takes over MySpace ruminations of yesterday, "The company's push towards paid content comes as its MySpace site has lost hundreds of millions of dollars annually," reports The Age.
I hope you enjoyed thinking about the iPad and its impact on publishing. What do you want from an iPad magazine? Do you want all-you-can-eat multimedia? Do you want to pay only for the content you use, or not pay at all? What do you like about digital publishing? I'm keen to find out, and if you read TRVL, what do you most like about it? Please let me know in comments below. I'd also be very pleased if you chose follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new posts appear here first on Computerworld.