To magazine publishers: iPad is here. Now what?

iPad. Really?!? Possibly the most creative company in the world comes up with the possibly the least creative name in their product line. I want to see how many times clients at the Apple store will be offered an iPod instead of an iPad. If iPod was owned by a different company, there would be a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in a flash. (Thank you, thank you, yes, I made this up myself!)

As far as the device is concerned, I haven’t seen one in person yet, but from what I could get from media reports and photos from the Apple presentation today, it looks like a supersized iPhone. Apparently it’s a very fast device that will be able to run all current iPhone apps and has a superb screen resolution and multitouch screen capability. A non-3G enabled device would apparently cost $499 and a 3G iPad will cost a bit more, but will not need a contract for 3G wireless service (AT&T is once again the career that will offer the service) and will cost only about 30$ a month for unlimited usage.

The magazine publishing industry has long been seeing this new device as its savior. That’s because for years, many publishers have been ignoring the internet and have failed to seize it as an opportunity, rather than a competition. All of a sudden, with an economic recession in full swing and dwindling income both from advertising, newsstand sales and subscriptions, everyone seemed to think that the digital realm was the answer to success. Long before the iPad was even scheduled to come out, publishers started jumping on the digital bandwagon, thinking that it will make it easier again to be highly profitable and to finally be able to charge for content in the world. So with its history of unveiling ground-breaking products, Apple’s tablet was seen as the missing engine in the media bus.

This device may be the gadget that redefines humanity, but I don’t think it’s a game changer for the media industry. It’s simply another platform that us, publishers, can use to connect to readers and help businesses connect to their clients.

What I think almost everyone has been failing to understand is the role of the magazine media in a highly saturated media universe—to provide entertainment and unique story angles to readers, while being a conduit for business development and marketing to businesses.

Please note that I never mentioned the word “channel” in the previous paragraph.

This is because, for a first time ever, magazine publishers can and should consider the word “magazine” not as a medium, but as a genre.

Many pundits try to make a parallel between the music and the publishing industry and often say that Apple and its iTunes store and apps can be the panacea for magazines, books and newspapers the same way it was for music publishing. I think both the two products, as well as the two situations, are way too far apart to be even on the same field, let alone play in the same game.

Music, on one hand, doesn’t change, except for its quality, whether played on a Sony Walkman, iPod or a tape or any other carrier for that matter. Sure, the iPod made it way more portable and so many people bought an the device that effectively singlehandedly expanded the music industry’s market. Sure, iTunes’ model to charge by the song made it buying your favorite song a lot easier and more affordable, but I am convinced that no one would have even bothered going to the online store if the music industry didn’t spend a gargantuan time and effort (and still doing it) to go after thousands of people and companies that facilitated online piracy. Also, a song is a song and doesn’t really have an alternative method of consumption, rather than listening to it via headphones or speakers. Once again, apart from quality, the carrier doesn’t change the way the song is made and consumed. That’s of course, until iBrainconnect comes out some time next year, that lets you download a song and play it directly in your brain. (Although I am sure that there’s already an app for that.)

The publishing industry, on the other hand, has a product that can (and should) be presented differently on different media. Articles (news or any other pieces) can be presented in a myriad of ways. From a plain text only file to a colorful web site, an e-mail, a feature rich flash reading tool, a mobile app, a newspaper, a tabloid or a glossy “traditional” magazine.

So, here’s my question—if most publishers can’t get online users to pay for online content, what makes everyone think that they can get them to pay for online content? Even if everyone on this planet gets their own iPad – changing the packaging doesn’t change what’s inside. Relying on the package to make a product that’s usually free sellable sounds a bit odd.

Instead, publishers should focus on their content and content delivery options. It’s no longer the magazine industry, or the newspaper industry, or the online industry. It’s the publishing industry!

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