So the question arises: how are publishers to make their offerings uniquely attractive in the multi-media maelstrom of the iPhone/iPad space? Keep in mind that we are operating under two constraints: first, the shop is a media hypermarket — iTunes is an ecommerce environment in which all types of media product and service can be purchased (Apple are going to have to do something about that name, ‘iTunes’ is off-key for most other media). The competition will be naked and ruthless, although slightly less naked this week than last. Second, the iPad (and its iPhone, iPod Touch, companions) will be fully capable of showing all media in gorgeous and slick reproduction and playback. The capacity of the system as a media player is going to be very impressive and will be getting better fast (Moore’s law applies). How does a publisher make his wares gorgeously attractive in this fiercely competitive environment?
If you are a media-owner or a publisher-proprietor, you are not allowed to dodge this question! Nor are you allowed to postpone it by forming consortia or by hiring consultants to tell you how to build a new cultural format. Newspaper owners who think that their best future is to build a new kind of Text-TV-PressWire news channel are on a voyage to nowhere (TV channels can and will make their own elegant transition to the iPad, whilst print journalists are still finding out how to clip on their microphones). Magazine owners who think that their future lies in building brand-oriented, vertical, communities, with multi-media components, had better ask themselves why these new sort-of-maybe-products did not work as web-sites, because they will otherwise be making the same expensive mistake with the iPad that they have been making these last five years with their web services.
By and large book, publishers have avoided the temptation to think that the right response to a multi-media maelstrom is to build muti-media products and services. The Vook team may have located a viable niche, but no publisher thinks its a big niche, or that a lot of books are going to become vooks. Book publishers know that there is a digital future for books. Magazine and newspapers show much less confidence about the enduring validity of their format. But they should give it a try. Because putting your magazine, or your newspaper directly on to the iPad has a lot to recommend it. And now for the first time it can be done in a way in which the traditional print format actually looks and works very well. The iPad is going to be very friendly to publications in the traditional print formats.
Getting the book, magazine or newspaper on to the iPad and into the iTunes competitive environment pretty much as it is, is the first, but very necessary step. The second requirement is that the iTunes audience should be able to find your product in the iTunes e-commerce environment and it would be better that they should be able to find it directly, by which I mean that it is very much second best that iPhone users who want to read Business Week or the Independent, currently have to buy their subscription via Amazon’s Kindle. Finding magazines and newspapers in the iTunes maelstrom is not going to be too much of an issue once the publication is there. Magazines and newspapers have tremendous brand recognition, tied up in the name, perhaps supplemented by the location (there is more than one Independent). These first two steps are really surprisingly easy.
The third requirement is that potential customers should be able to sample or try your product before they buy it or subscribe to the service provided. Sampling is really the answer and the Apple system also makes this surprisingly easy. Films (with their trailers) and music tracks (with their lead-in samples) are already showing how sampling, try-before-you-buy, works in the iPhone economy.
At Exact Editions we have now realised that the Free App Sample to Paid App subscription is an enormously powerful part of the Apple e-commerce system (and it did take us a few months to recognise how this should work and how to tie the ‘free’ element in with ‘in-app purchasing’). We are now re-positioning all the Exact Editions apps so that they will use this freemium approach. The first of these new-style apps will be released in the next week or so. The user will be able to freely acquire a branded app in the iTunes service. The app will give the user some free pages from the magazine issue in full, the publisher deciding how much, and the rest of the content will be available as a searchable resource — but only viewable in thumbnail pages. This way of arranging matters for a periodical is especially compelling because it means that the magazines key contents pages, and cover pages can be delivered through the free app as a kind of alert service. The freemium approach is also very compelling with books, and I suspect that this is one way in which book publishers can be highly aggressive in competition with other forms of media. Film makers and music owners will be wary of giving away sizable samples. But book publishers can be very generous in offering chunky samples without undermining the value of ownership.
Books of real quality (and books of marginal, minimal or even questionable quality) will be able to make themselves available as free apps in the Apple system, with generous content chunks being for each book a uniquely attractive invitation to its potential readers. Amazon has already shown with its Kindle, how powerful it can be to promote by digital sampling (hub pages). The interesting thing about the app store is that the publisher, who has to take responsibility for how much to offer by way of a sample, will be in direct control of these decisions and will be seeing the very immediate impact of decisions through the sales reported, day by day. Again the Apple way of doing things is giving publishers/developers more control than they are used to having with Amazon. Publishers will be getting immediate and very measurable feedback from their promotional decisions about sampling. It is also a strong plus that the ‘free samples’ that can be sync-ed with a book/magazine app will be on the consumers iPhone or iPad, even when they have not yet bought. This puts the publishers sample directly in the consumer’s pocket (when did anybody think of downloading a movie trailer to their iPhone?). I suspect publishers will soon learn that it pays to be very generous with samples for publications available through the iPad.