No, the iPad will not save magazines

The iPad is a gorgeous media consumption device. It’s desirable, it’s selling like hotcakes and buying apps is easy. Print media owners shackled by declining sales can be forgiven for willing it to their saviour.

It won’t be.

As the paltry sales of GQ’s iPad app indicate, simply having an app isn’t enough. The dirty truth is that no-one ever wanted a magazine. Just as Coke sells happiness rather than fizzy drinks, what people actually get from mags are:

  1. Signalling. What magazine you hold up on the train carriage, or have on your coffee table sends a message about how you see yourself – be it Viz, the Economist or Wallpaper
  2. Passing the time. Mags work great to wile away train journeys and lazy bath-times
  3. Special interest Whether you love cars, photography, cycling or houseboats, there’s a mag for you.
  4. Sense of belonging People like feeling part of a community and sharing tips.

Magazines have delivered on these benefits very well for decades. The challenge is that digital does all of these better, or changes them:

  1. No-one knows what you’re reading. It’s the device itself that says something about you. iPad v Kindle, and iPhone v Android is the new Mods v Rockers.
  2. You’re never alone with a mobile. Yes you can read magazine-like articles and look at professional photos, but you’re more likely to listen to music, watch episodes of Glee, email your friends or check-in at a foursquare location.
  3. Niche interests are hyper-served by digital. I’m not just interested in digital photography, I want to read in-depth articles on not only Canon lenses, but that particular lens, and those particular types of shots
  4. Sense of community has of course been owned by the massive, real-time, rich media interactions of social media. I want to know now what people think of that Cameroon goal.

That all said, magazines will not die. Print has winning attributes of portability, ever-lasting battery life and brings a simple, tactile pleasure. However, it will of course change. There will be fewer titles and producing them will become a leaner, tougher, much less pleasant game. Print dollars really will be replaced by digital cents. Get over it.

My counsel is:

  • Think brand and not product. Top Gear is the shining example of a media brand that has transcended its format and is thus less vulnerable to channel shift.
  • Embrace failure. There are no certainties in this era of disruption. Things will not settle down, and it is delusional to ‘wait and see’. No-one has a right to survive. The only viable strategy is to keep testing and keep learning.

The world’s hardest PR task

I’ve mentioned before a couple of examples where big companies have failed to understand internet culture and ended up paying the price.

Usually in these cases, there is a web-savvy way to deal with the wild west of social media, but in the case of the viciously satirical fake BP PR twitter account, I confess I’m at a loss what I’d do. Sample tweet:

We honestly didn’t think this was going to be a huge deal. No one cares when this happens in Nigeria

Not that I have any sympathy with BP over this, but if you were given the brief of responding to this (and assuming you’d accept the gig), what would you do??

The birth of social TV

The 90s brought Appointment TV – the hyping of TV schedules to create must-watch TV moments such as Friends, 9pm on Channel 4. The ensuing conversations in offices the morning after became known as watercooler moments.

These “did you see…” conversations seemed set  for the cultural junkyard in the noughties, thanks to greater choice of viewing, the explosion of excellent TV DVD box sets and Sky+ powered time-shifting. We were all watching different stuff.

I think that’s changed again. I wrote 9 months ago about  real-time watercooler moments: the emerging behaviour of using social media services such as as facebook and Twitter while watching an ‘event’ programme such as X-Factor.

Up until now, this has been pretty disjointed and not something most media owners had properly considered. However, the advent of ITV Live, conceived and led by friend and former colleague Dominic Cameron is changing all that. It’s the first serious attempt to create a joined-up TV/social experience. It recognises that people like to talk with friends and fellow fans about the experience they’re sharing – and provides the tools and content to do just that.

It’s a fledgling service, and has its clunky moments, but the ITV team should be praised for leading the way in this field globally.

They’ve even been audacious enough to run the service around matches they don’t have the TV rights to – so people can watch a game on the BBC and discuss it on ITV Live. Neat.