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Do digital magazine readers want a “print like” experience?

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Tablet readers want "print like" experience
There’s been a lot of coverage of a research report by the Pew Research Center and The Economist. One of the key findings from the survey of American news consumers was that 60% of readers under the age of 40 prefer a “traditional, print-like” reading experience on tablets.

I get this in relation to news; readers want to access information quickly without the distractions of interactive elements like animation, audio and video. But is the same true for digital magazine readers?

More than newspapers, magazines have to entertain readers as much as inform them and immediate access to information doesn’t always trump design. I’m no designer, but magazine pages in print can be every bit as complex as on the tablet. Print doesn’t move or talk, but a sophisticated page layout can pack a mindbending array of graphic and text elements.

Thinking about magazines, the term “print like” isn’t really helpful. I’m not sure what the right term is – accessible, intuitive, legible?

Having just finished judging the 2012 Digital Magazine Awards, I have first hand experience of  publishers that have overused interactive elements in their iPad publications: Spinning stuff just sometimes gets in the way.

I suppose the mesage for magazine publishers from this element of the Pew/Economist study is that technology has to be used appropriately. If your readers want information quickly, you need to design to that. Simple layouts, clear typography, job done. But if they want an enhanced media experience, video, audio, animation can really add value.

The bottom line in all of this is that we are still in the very early days of digital magazine design. As one of the winning editors at the DMAs put it to me, digital magazine publishers are experimenting in public and they don’t always get it right. But playing it safe and reverting to print formats just won’t cut it. Readers need a reason to buy tablet magazines and giving them print products on a digital substrate isn’t likely to cut it long-term.

Written by Peter Houston

December 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm

It’s that Specialist Media Insights time of year again

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Specialst Media Show Insights Research 2012I just filled out the Specialist Media Show’s annual Insights survey. It only seems like a couple of months since I last completed it to be honest, but no it’s a whole year.

This year’s survey questions focus on mobile, social media, pricing, live events and long-term strategies for growth – pretty much all the things that keep magazine people up at night. Things like:

How are you currently charging for online content?

Which mobile devices do you have an app for?

Are you publishing to e-readers?

What proportion of your total website traffic is driven by social media?

Which of these live events do you run now or plan to launch in next 2 years?

The survey is a joint initiative between the Specialist Media Show, Wessenden Marketing and InPublishing. Last year’s research drew on the experiences of more than 200 niche publishers, showing that:

  • 33% were already charging for online content and 15% were planning to
  • 22% had a mobile app or were about to launch, and 15% planned to launch in the next year
  • 42% planned a tablet edition
  • 53% planned online video content
  • 63% were planning webinars

Maybe I’m just nosy, but I really like to know what other publishers are up to and, as always, willing participants will receive a copy of the findings. You can find out more and take the survey here.

Will e-commerce deals in digital magazines kill editorial integrity?

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Vote on Quipol

Flipping Pages Poll | Vote on Quipol

Reporting on a  deal between Hearst and Amazon this week, Adweek asked, “Is it a magazine—or catalog?”

What’s the difference? Well there are a few, but the biggest is editorial independence. Catalogues are put out there with the sole purpose of selling product; magazines, traditionally at least, try to tell a story. Link magazine content directly to e-commerce facilites, especially where the publisher can look forward to a revenue share, and the lines all of a sudden get blurry.

Is this about giving magazine readers what they want? 70 percent of tablet owners say they would like to be able to buy items by clicking on the ads in a digital magazine, according to a survey by GfK MRI. Or is it more insidious, risking the very independence of magazine content as publishers push product to gain affiliat revenue? Hearst says shopping links are added after editors are done so there is no interference with the editorial process. Other see it as the thin end of the wedge.

What do you think? Will e-commerce deals in digital magazines kill editorial integrity? Yes or no? Vote on Quipol.

Read Adweek’s report on Hearst Linking its Digital Editions With Amazon.

Written by Peter Houston

February 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Readers don’t like variation in digital magazine formats

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Confusion at formatsVariety might be the spice of life for digital magazine designers, but maybe not for readers. Data from GfK MRI’s iPanel points to some reader frustration when it comes to digital magazine formats. A recent survey showed that 72% of tablet owners who read digital magazines on their devices said they would prefer all digital magazines to be formatted in the same way.

Other negatives: 48% of tablet magazine readers say electronic magazines take too long to download; 46% said they consider video be “just a gimmick”; 43% said it is too difficult to find the magazines they want to read on their devices.

Better news for publishers is that the same survey found substantial interest in e-commerce via digital magazines; 70% of tablet owners who read digital magazines on their devices said they would like to be able to buy items simply by clicking on ads.

via MediaPost Publications Tablet Owners: More e-Commerce In Digital Magazines 02/06/2012.

Written by Peter Houston

February 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Publishing Futures 2012

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Publishing FuturesThe third annual Publishing Futures benchmarking survey is underway. This unique industry research provides an invaluable snapshot of the publishing industry. As we run into 2012, likely to be a big year for publishing whatever way you look at it, this type of insight is more important than ever. The project is run by Wessenden Marketing in partnership with the PPA and InPublishing magazine.

Responses are confidential and all respondents will get access to the project results sometime in December. Complete the survey here; it takes around 10-15 minutes to complete.

Written by Peter Houston

November 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

The Future of Digital Publishing

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Predict the future of digital publishingI was asked to predict the future of digital publishing this week. No, not really, but I was asked to answer a few questions about publishing in the digital era by an MA Publishing student working on a research study about the future of digital publishing. His emphasis is on the iPad and the replication of print periodical business models and values and how art direction can be used on the web.

Being as focused on re-purposing content as I am these days, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share my responses on the blog. If you have any thoughts about what I’ve said, please chime in, I’m sure my interviewer would welcome the input.

1. How do you think information consumption habits will change in the future?

The big issue for media consumption is fragmentation, both in terms of devices used and information sources. Consumers can access information on an ever growing list of platforms, from phones to tablets to TVs. This means information is more accessible, more places, than ever.

The economics of print publishing (magazines, newspaper and books) meant that control of what got published was reasonably centralized; digital publishing options have brought the barriers to publication down and the number of content producers has risen exponentially.

This is largely positive for consumers, the one problem it creates is how do people know what information to trust. This is the biggest single factor that commercial publishers need to hold on to and exploit when they are trying to figure out how to complete with startup websites, blogs and social media.

2. Do you think the iPad is capable of replicating the design, economics and experience of the print world?

Yes on design and reading experience – I think this is already happening with magazines like the New Yorker. But to be really successful the iPad needs to do more than replicate the print reading experience, otherwise what’s the benefit from the reader’s perspective? Readers might as well stick with print and not spend $400 for a reading device.

The economics of iPad publishing is a mess at the moment; the medium is still too new for the rules of the game to have been agreed. Advertisers, who fund most print publishing activities, are still wary of digital magazine formats. Readers are not paying for content in big enough numbers (look at recent coverage of the Daily), and publishers are struggling with Apple’s 30% subscription levy – do they eat it, or leave as the FT did and gamble on their own audience development efforts.

3. Looking at the figures for iPad magazines, it’s largely true that they haven’t resonated with the iPad’s user base. Why do you think this is?

Many things. One has been price – single copy prices have been too high and until recently have represented a double charge for the most loyal readers who already have print subscriptions. Also, many magazines haven’t figured out what they want to be on the iPad yet. I mentioned the New Yorker, which does a great job of transferring a much loved magazine format to the iPad. But if I could buy it on the newsstand, why would I read it on the iPad.

Popular Mechanics on the other hand does an incredible job of layering text, photography, video, animation and audio, but sometimes it gets just a little too complicated and overwhelming. People are still experimenting. Once they find the mix of bells and whistles that’s right for their audience and once the pricing/subscription issues get sorted out, I think take up will grow steadily.

4. With advancements in web typography and new web standards capable of achieving a richer user experience, do you agree with Khoi Vinh’s assertion that most content on the web will eventually return to it’s natural home – the browser?

I don’t know the answer to this and I actually don’t think it really matters too much. So long as readers can access content conveniently through an interface that makes sense to them, they won’t care. It’s a bit like arguing over whether perfect binding or saddle stitch is better for a print magazine. The reader doesn’t care so long as the pages stay together. This is really an issue for publishers and ultimately it will probably come down to which is most economical to produce and easiest to distribute.

5. Have you seen anything (apps or otherwise) that you feel is advancing the dialogue between digital publishing and the publishing industry? e.g. Flipboard?

I like the Flipboard and Zite concept, but the implementation is still a long way away from where it needs to be to truly add value. At the moment, Flipboard has maybe 20 publication integrated; it needs 20,000 for people to really feel that this is truly a personalized media platform and not just a funky Facebook viewer. Zinio, has this kind of volume, primarily because they plugged into the publisher’s existing production cycle. Long-term they will need to do more to help publishers optimize for multimedia, but I’m really interested to see where they end up.

 6. If you were going to start a magazine or newspaper from scratch, what things would you take into account today? (In addition to anything mentioned above).

Same as it ever was, good content, strong audience need and a decent revenue stream. What’s different now is the content needs to be multi-platform and it’s crucial to find out what the most important platforms are for your audience. We did some research recently in the Scientific community and we were a little surprised to discover that the iPad just isn’t there yet.

Written by Peter Houston

October 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

2011 State of the Digital Edition Industry Survey

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NXTBookThose ever so nice people at NXTBook Media are running their State of the Digital Edition Industry survey again, mainly because they really enjoyed doing it last year. Marcus Grimm says the 2010 survey was a “ground-breaker” for NXTbook asking publishers awkward questions like, “How’s your circulation?” and “Are you making any money?”.

Expect the same this year – 20 multiple choice questions focused on how happy you are with your digital edition projects. There’s an iPad in it for one lucky respondent, which is nice, but I’m actually more excited about seeing if things have changed since last year.

You can take the survey here.

Written by Peter Houston

September 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm

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