Three weeks, five days: that’s how long the Apple iPad has been on sale in South Africa. And already local publishers are under pressure to provide content via the device – with all the interactive bells and social media whistles a tech-savvy audience expects. Newspaper The New Age is already on the tablet, with City Press, Die Burger and the Mail & Guardian hot on its heels.
Consumers have embraced the iPad, despite the price tag: most models had sold out three days after the tablet’s SA launch on 28 January. Popular with executives commuting on the Gautrain, MPS were also seen fingering iPads during the debate on the president’s State of the Nation Address. Acolytes have access to acres of international content – from the lush, highly visual interface of Time magazine’s app to Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper The Daily. Local content is sparser, but it’s on the way.
The Mail & Guardian, which launched a Kindle edition on February 11 and will release an iPhone app later in the month, will probably launch ‘several different kinds of apps, one of which will be a full “edition” for the iPad’ around ‘the middle of the year’, says digital platforms manager Alistair Fairweather. The M&G thinking is that with these new devices, ‘readers no longer come to us – we have to go to them’ – whether it’s via Blackberry, Kindle or iPad. ‘You really need to be available on all the platforms, says M&G online editor Chris Roper, ‘because they all represent different audiences and opportunities.’ The M&G iPhone and iPad editions will offer full interactivity and the ability to share via Twitter or Facebook, plus extra content and features.
Geoff Cohen, general manager of 24.com, is confident that the ‘massive uptake in content consumption on mobile devices’ seen internationally will be mirrored by the South African market – and publishers need ‘to be geared for it.’ Noting the consumer desire to ‘disconnect and unwire themselves’, their primary focus is tablets, although smart phones will follow. Media24 was one of the first on the scene with an iPad application (it boasts free apps for News24 and Supersport), and plans to have all its newspapers available as applications on Android and iOS operating systems by the middle of the year (the ‘sexy’ iPad will pip Android). City Press and Die Burger will ‘probably’ be first to go to market, Cohen says, with the City Press app already in final testing stage. ‘We really think that being there first, with an offering, learning from our consumers and adapting as the market evolves is vital; we want to be part of that market from the word go.’
Bells and whistles
Many publishers see the iPad and other tablets as cost-efficient ways of taking content to international and ex pat audiences. But even before the iPad went on sale in SA, Cohen says locals were snapping up their apps – 65 to 70% go to SA users. ‘I agree it’s a way to get the offshore readers,’ says Cohen, ‘but I don’t think that’s really the market. The market is people who want content on the go, and they want all that content through a device where they can then consume it online or offline. That’s the big driver.’
The heavy-weights agree that full interactivity (with social media capability) is critical to the new apps, as this is what sets the product apart. Rupert Murdoch’s new iPad-only distributed paper, The Daily, has garnered nods of approval for visuals and usability (a Cairo protest story, for example, was illustrated with a full 360-degree panorama) , but falls down on regular updates – and reportedly not all content can be shared. ‘The Daily doesn’t give me a hell of a lot more than a web experience,’ says Cohen.
Avusa’s Sunday Times has decided not to rush things, but to get them right. Avusa Media Live GM Elan Lohmann says the company is not ready to discuss time-frames on iPad content, but they have their ‘best people’ working on it.
Non-interactive apps are of course less costly to set up – and some early bird publishers have gone this route to ensure a presence on the new platform. Titles available via iPad include RamsayMedia’s Getaway and CAR mags, and Associated Magazine’s Cosmopolitan, House & Leisure and O, The Oprah magazine and Marie Claire will follow ‘in months’). These publications are static replicas of the print magazine and contain no added features or interactivity. They are sold through digital magazine and book distributor Zinio (responsible for 90% of digital subscriptions in the USA).
‘It’s extremely costly to produce interactive versions of the magazines specifically for iPads, so our thinking is to wait until there is more demand before we invest in [creating those],’ says Associated Magazines Digital Manager Jade McDade.
RamsayMedia innovation manager Feerhan Fredericks says they plan to roll out customised, interactive apps this year across ‘all available platforms’, not just the iPad. Apps will be platform-specific to enhance reader experience, and content for some titles is likely to be reformatted to make it more appropriate for the device.
Paid or free?
Apps can generate hard cash. ‘There’s a consumer expectation of free media around the Internet,’ says Sunday Times editor Ray Hatley, ‘but around the iPad, there’s a purchasing expectation in relation to content. So selling an app is a way of generating revenue, while putting up pay walls on the Internet is much more difficult and complicated.’
A Sunday Times app, then, when it comes, is likely to be paid for rather than free; the M&G will also charge a fee. But Cohen says that while they will ‘experiment’ with paid apps this year ‘to understand what the propensity is for the user to pay and at what point’, they will still be offering free products, as their primary driver is building audiences.
Single RamsayMedia titles are currently sold via Zinio for 50% less than the print versions, and subscriptions are 50% of the 50% price. Subscriptions to Associated Mag titles are 35-49% cheaper via Zinio. Single sales and back issues, however, have thus far been more popular than subscriptions, says McDade.
Because Kindle doesn’t serve ads, the Kindle edition of the M&G can’t be counted towards its ABC’s – which Roper says may make the sales seem ‘counterintuitive’, but they hoped to draw in people who had abandoned printed papers altogether. ‘We’re much less concerned about cannibalization than our more traditional competitors because we know that savvy readers will consume the M&G on whatever platform they prefer – sometimes on more than one platform,’ adds Fairweather. ‘Also, it’s not so much a choice between higher yielding paper and lower yielding digital anymore – it’s increasingly a choice between the latter and nothing.’
News out last week that Apple would take 30% of payments for apps for publications bought from the iStore adds a new twist. (Google undercut Apple a few days later, saying it would charge 10%.)
‘From an Apple perspective it’s their right, it’s their store and they can set the prices of what goes through the store,’ says Cohen. ‘Do I think 30% is too much? As a publisher, obviously I think that. I’d think 0.01% was too much.’ Roper is less concerned. ‘I’m not happy about it, but if they sell a million copies for me, I’ll give them, whatever…’
Online-only publications, like www.capetownmagazine.com could also benefit from the iPad. MD Marc Zandhuis gets ‘childishly excited’ about how readers from Afghanistan, to Tokyo and Kuils River can now buy publications thanks to the easy payment system pioneered by Apple. ‘Print is not dead; this is the start of print for a mass audience,’ says Zandhuis. ‘At the moment print is subsidising what people are doing online, but five years from now, print will survive – because its costs will be covered by digital sales.’ He hopes to launch an iPhone app in three to six months, but again, cautions that such products need to give the reader something extra.
iOS or Android?
Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, thinks SA is unlikely to see full-scale publications like The Daily in the near future. ‘Apps definitely make the most sense in the early days, as they allow for access across different kinds of device, and also allow for “snack”-type reading which lends itself to mobile media consumption. The Daily is a great example of publishing hubris: all sound and little fury, signifying even less. As the iPad and general tablet market matures, we will see more mature strategies emerge.’
Goldstuck also believes Android newspapers could make more sense than the iPad in the long run, as it is the dominant mobile platform. ‘Because the tablet publishing environment is still so young, though, it would be worth hedging bets to see how 2011 pans out in terms of dominant platforms and business models,’ Goldstuck says. ‘At the same time, it’s not a bad thing to get in some practise now while people will be more forgiving of mistakes.’