Apple is still puzzling to many industry observers, the Cupertino company is clearly different to all of its closest competitors in being highly integrated. Asymco wonders why the competition is not imitating Apple’s methods rather than copying their products? Fifteen years ago, the conventional wisdom in computing was that winning business models tended to emerge from companies that could establish horizontal quasi-monopolies: Intel in chip design, Microsoft in PC operating systems, Microsoft in Office software, Oracle in heavy duty database systems, Dell in laptop manufacture, HP in printers etc. The idea was that an innovative company could establish such momentum that its solutions could become the global winner, and once this dominant position was achieved it would be hard for competitors to disrupt or undermine this major player. Apple has rather upset this picture of how technology domination can be achieved by building a multi-layered eco-system from the hardware upwards, in which Apple controls and designs each layer in the integrated stack. The Apple technology stack has at least five layers:
- Hardware design and manufacture (MacBook, iPad, iPod, iPhone etc)
- The operating system(s) (two but getting a bit ‘closer’)
- iTunes and the e-commerce layer
- Apps and the developer environment
- Content and licenses from Holywood and publishers
It is really hard for Apple’s competitors (Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft) to be at all competitive with Apple even in only 2 or 3 of these segments. Their asymmetric competitive position with respect to Apple leaves them at a substantial disadvantage when it comes to giving the consumer a compelling and rounded experience.
Its a mistake to think that you have to be very big, like Apple, to provide an integrated solution, with several layers of consumer satisfaction.
The trick is to define an integrated solution that potentially over-satisfies the expectations of the customers that you are trying to win: so that the customer chooses the degree of fit that they need. Take an example from a completely different field. Contemporary super-chefs are doing a great job of building strong personal brands around a stack of competences. Think of Ottolenghi, Jamie Oliver, Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller. Super chefs run restaurants and cafes, sell ingredients and equipment, run schools, and of course write books and host TV shows. They even start magazines. The trick is to build a modular multi-level stack that meets as many of the needs of your customers that you can provide with real quality and attention to detail.
Print magazines are really challenged by web technologies and our evolving expectations of digital culture, but they have the possibility to create a digital solution which is modular, i.e. it has several layers, and is integrated with customers receiving appropriate solutions at each level. The integrated stack should look something like this:
- Content: brilliantly edited, beautifully designed and illustrated.
- Keep on producing the magazine on paper as long as this makes sense, but of course you should be selling digital subscriptions now, especially to your audience that is now buying iPads. Do not abandon the print audience but start building the digital stack.
- A complete flow of regular digital issues: taking the archive as far back as its going to matter to the audience. With more good issues coming every month. Providing the archive for a digital magazine is clear added value for consumers at minimal cost.
- Build the tools to search and bookmark this content from within the digital magazine or app. It is astonishing that most magazines in iTunes newsstand, still provide no means for searching the current issue or back issues. The magazine that is worth reading, is also worth re-reading, and it is worth searching (reminder to magazine publishers: Google does not search apps, nor does Apple)
- Give your audience the possibility to subscribe to the digital magazine and to access it through web browsers, as well as through apps for tablets. It is a remarkable fact that both Amazon and Apple encourage publisher to provide existing subscribers with free access to the apps sold on these tablets. The horses might as well walk through these stable doors before they get bolted (the doors not the horses).
- The tools with which some reasonable possibilities for sharing digital magazine content and for building communities around the digital magazine.
- Some levels within the magazine should be free and accessible to the uncommitted.
Many magazines have great brands, not necessarily global in their reach but strong and immediately compelling to their audience. Marco Arment, the software developer behind Instapaper, has started a new magazine The Magazine, which is attracting a lot of attention for its clean and simple design. A simplicity which extends to the business model. The magazine started as a straightforward app proposition for the iPad, an magazine app for the iPad, reconceptualised from first principles, with good essays and skilled writers who would be paid a decent honorarium. It is interesting to note that Arment has now added a website giving the digital magazine content, although it is hard to see how a free website, with increased sharing, will directly lead to increased revenues. The Magazine may not yet have sufficient content to absolutely require a search facility, but it comes out every 2 weeks, and I think Arment will need to have a full search option for his archive fairly soon. Even simple in concept digital magazines need to meet their users with rather more than a digital ‘page turning’ experience.