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Tablet editions of magazines bring an extra creative element to the table

Reading magazines on tablets is trendier than ever in 2012, so the launch of the Next Issue digital newsstand in April seemed like a win-win concept for both readers and the companies that formed Next Issue Media: Meredith, Condé Nast, Hearst, Time Inc., and News Corp.

The Next Issue digital newsstand app serves as a digital one-stop shop for some of the most popular magazine titles. Readers can subscribe to as many as they like for only $9.99 per month.

“The Next Issue ‘all you can read’ Unlimited plans make sense from both a consumer and business point of view,” John Kerner, executive director of marketing for Next Issue Media, told inVocus via email. “Everyone in the household can access their favorite titles, while discovering new, interesting and relevant content that they weren’t otherwise aware of. This model has worked well in other markets such as TV and movies. It’s a great value.”

But is it also a winning concept for magazine editors? Editors seem to agree that it has definitely added a new element in the creative arena. “It’s really changed the way we as editors approach content now. It’s no longer just a story that fills pages in a magazine with words and photos. Now you have to re-imagine how a story could be presented in a tablet with moving sound and pictures,” said Betty Wong, editor in chief of Fitness magazine. In fact, a videographer along with a photographer are often on set for the visual content needs of upcoming editions.

Fitness isn’t the only Meredith brand that’s become interactive. Better Homes and Gardens and Parents are also involved in the digital enhancement process as the pros are “laying the groundwork for the future,” Wong said. Magazines like Family Circle and Ladies’ Home Journal are also available on tablet, but only in PDF format for now.

“As we refine the technology and understand the production demands that it takes on an editorial staff, sooner or later we’ll start to roll out more interactive versions for the other brands,” Wong said. The Fitness staff has already experienced production demands, with different print and tablet deadlines, and the need to accommodate different screen sizes for tablets, all in four weeks. “It’s sort of mind-boggling when you think about all the re-design work that needs to be done to correctly scale down the typography, the images and everything to a 10-inch screen. We’re also doing it for a 7-inch screen, because we’re on Android devices, we’re also on the Nook Color, and we’re on the Kindle Fire. We don’t just simply shrink it down and let the consumer just pinch and zoom.  Everything is re-designed for each of those screen sizes. We take a layout that was originated in print, and then re-design it for tablet.”

The workload has increased for Popular Mechanics too, but it should get easier soon, noted deputy editor Jerry Beilinson. Hearst’s app lab is creating one set of layouts that will work on the iPad as well as all other tablet screens. Consumers will see them when they read the June 2012 edition of the magazine; they saw different versions on the iPad and Android devices up until now.

Beilinson said readers can think of Popular Mechanics as one technology, science and do-it-yourself brand or information source, rather than a magazine with some spin-offs. Expanding as a brand has “really opened up more opportunities for new kinds of journalistic story telling. This just gives us a new form for integrating video, or for integrating data visualization techniques, and adding some more content of the kind we always would like to do in print.”

Wong shares his perspective and knows Fitness readers like being able to watch exercise demonstrations on their tablets. She said such advantages have enhanced consumers’ connections to the brand.

As popular as they are, it is unlikely that tablet editions will render print magazines obsolete anytime soon. “The tablet marketplace is still in the very early stages,” Kerner said. “We expect that both print and digital will continue to be important choices for consumers. Digital has the potential to deliver an even more immersive and engaging experience and that’s where Next Issue comes in.”

Print editions of magazines are still very much in demand, Beilinson confirmed. “It’s a physical artifact you hold in your hands. People really like it. Our circulation hasn’t declined at all. Most of the people who come to these new products are not also print readers, or they’re not former print readers.” So the consumer who loves reading a favorite print magazine on the beach or by the pool wouldn’t normally be the same consumer who uses the magazine’s tablet edition to watch a recording of new exercise moves while working out.

“We’re starting to re-define what the reader experience is,” Wong said. “It’s a game we all have to be playing as publishers and editors. The tablet is just another mechanism for delivering our content and retaining that relationship with our reader.”

— Lauren Bigge

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