Can the iPad Save Magazines and Newspapers After All?

Before Apple even officially announced the iPad, traditional publishers started to get excited about the potential of the device. Much like the iPod did for music, Apple’s rumored tablet could help them make the transition to digital, and perhaps even allow them to solve the problem the Web couldn’t: monetization.

The iPad finally did launch, followed by its slimmer, fast successor and magazines and newspapers began developing native apps for the device. More recently, iOS 5 came along and brought with it Newsstand, a feature that gives publications special treatment and a storefront from which they can sell subscriptions (if they can stomach Apple’s revenue share scheme).

The iPad hasn’t managed to revolutionize the publishing industry in its first 21 months of existence, but recent evidence suggests that features like Newsstand can help bridge the gap between print and pixels.

In the two weeks since Newsstand launched, magazine publisher Conde Nast is reporting that they’ve seen a 268 percent increase in paid digital subscriptions. Not bad.

This progress comes in spite of a recent survey from Pew’s Project For Excellence in Journalism, which showed that consumers are still wary of paying for digital content, even on tablets. It’s also a positive reversal for Conde Nast in particular, who was reported to begin scaling back its tablet publishing operations in April, after an aggressive early start.

Not everybody is sold on the effectiveness of Newsstand. Monday Note’s Frédéric Filloux thinks the comparisons to the iPod and iTunes are flawed and notes that while magazines have done well, daily newspapers have yet to pick up steam in Newsstand. Granted, it’s still very early in the game for Newsstand, and even for tablets generally.

Native Apps or HTML5?

For at least one publication, the approach offered by iOS and Newsstand isn’t going to cut it. The Financial Times let Apple pull their iOS apps after the paper refused to comply with the tech giant’s new subscription rules. Instead, they launched a browser-based Web app built in HTML5, which has seen a bigger readership than their old native apps for iOS.

The Financial Times Web looks and feels fairly similar to a native app for tablets and smartphones, and even supports swiping gestures as a way to navigate through content.

Enter the Kindle Fire

Of course, when we talk about the iPad saving (or not saving) traditional publishers, what we really mean is tablets generally. It just happens that the iPad is overwhelmingly dominant in this space, for now anyway.

In two weeks, Amazon will start shipping the Kindle Fire, the first touchscreen media tablet offered by the online retail giant. While it’s not necessarily a direct competitor to the iPad, the 7-inch tablet is coming to market with a price tag that’s half the size of the iPad. If nothing else, it may help drive the price of the iPad and other competitors down and help get tablets into the hands of more consumers.

The Kindle Fire may not do everything the iPad does, but it does compete in at least one area: content consumption. Amazon’s tablet was conceived and designed with the goal of selling more content to consumers. For Amazon, that primarily means books, videos and apps, but that’s not to say there won’t be new opportunities for magazine and newspaper publishers as well.

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