Mar 5 2014, 9:42pm CST | by Forbes
Whatever happened to the bright new future of digital magazines? As the tablet has become an ever more popular choice for consumers, and smartphone screens seem to be constantly on the increase, there was a moment in time when monthly subscriptions to digital versions of magazine was going to change the industry overnight. Looking around Google Play and the Apple iTunes Store in 2014 and while you can still find the subscription services, many publishers are looking to bespoke applications or rich mobile HTML websites to deliver their content.
The idea of all your favourite magazines being available on a single digital bookshelf is still kicking around, but it’s seen by many as quaint. It certainly isn’t something you can rely on to bring in substantial revenue. To be honest, the situation with digital magazine subscriptions reminds me a lot of the situation with podcasting, its adoption by the public, and some of the best practices that you can find in use today.
There was also a moment in time when podcasting was going to take over the world. The democratization of online audio, with anyone able to reach out and regularly download a show in a ‘podcatching’ application, promised to make stars of everyone involved, to deliver them a wage by talking to the world, and to show ‘the man’ that the individuals of the internet were now in charge.
It didn’t work out that way.
While there are a few groups and people who have made a success in this space, the ‘vanilla’ podcast has never been the complete answer. Be it creating a network effect with a number of shows that can support each other (Five by Five), using the podcast as a supportive tool on a website (Android Central’s podcast), or as a gateway to mainstream broadcast success (such as the team behind the United Kingdom’s ‘Answer Me This‘, Olly Mann can be found on LBC and Helen Zaltzmann across the BBC Radio network in a guest capacity), the podcast has become a useful secondary tool for publishers around the world, to increase brand loyalty, to deepen the relationship with existing users, and to add value to an existing publication.
The addition of podcasting into iTunes and the availability of the service on iPhones and iPods in June 2005 turned out to be a boon and a curse. A boon because the sudden influx of listeners created an active listenership that would give hope to the scene, but a curse because Apple was in (benevolent) control of the podcasting scene.
The digital magazine has found itself in the same curious place that podcasting found itself in after Apple joined the party. Almost every podcast bent to the Apple format, ensuring their RSS feeds were compatible, cover art matched the required dimensions, and even creating enhanced versions of the podcast using Apple’s own tools. unfortunately Apple never made good on the investment made by the creators.
Podcasting was relegated to the sub-section of iTunes, the app support on the device was never cutting-edge or forward-looking, and simple steps such as allowing podcasts to be paid-for downloads or subscription-based services were never made. Apple decided the level of support they were happy with, and stopped. Unfortunately that level was so low it dragged down the adoption and innovation that podcasting once promised, denied creators an easy way to monetize their efforts, and stunted the growth of the new medium.
That’s not to say that audio died. There are still countless podcasts out there serving their communities and services such as Soundcloud have done there best to keep that pioneering spirit alive. But the promise of a brave new world led by podcasts that would support the creators and the consumers of the content has never been fulfilled.
This echos much of what I see with Digital Magazines. They were experimenting on their own, and then Apple came around and imposed a format with velvet globes through the iTunes Store and the promise of the Newsstand app on iOS devices. Everyone jumped to follow, realsied that the devil really was in the detail, and are having to look for alternate solutions.
Those solutions are all being produced independently – there is no longer a central ‘right way’ of doing things. Mobile applications are developed for each title, HTML5 allows a desk-bound browser to process some incredible graphics and layouts, while mobile versions of the site accommodate the smaller tablets and smartphones.
It also means that, with a few exceptions, the vision of a shelf full of digital magazines in a single application is over, and the content is going to be spread out, diffuse, and hard to find. Just as podcasting will never be as cohesive as it once was, the moment when there could have been a universal solution that satisfied publishers, readers, and distributors of digital magazines appears to have been missed. We are left with a jumble of tools and every publisher MacGyvering their own solutions to the detriment of the consumers who want fast, east, and consistent access to the material.
Source: Forbes Apple
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