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Revolution of the iPad-only publication

It’s been more than two years since Apple debuted the iPad amidst trepidation and excitement from the media industry. Would this finally be the death of print? It seemed imminent as this portable tablet, more advanced than what was already on the market, offered convenient reading and a multimedia experience.

Since that time, publishers have taken established brands and created apps for the iPad, as well as iPhones and Android devices. Meanwhile, a few brave souls have launched entire publications customized just for the iPad. But for these early pioneers, the market was still young. iPad-only magazines like RoadTrip, Project Magazine and Sideways, which all debuted in 2010, were initially met with acclaim. Eventually, however, they faded into the background and disappeared altogether.

The iPad-only Pioneers

Sideways originally launched for both the iPad and iPhone in late May 2010, a month after the iPad went on sale. “We had no idea who our audience would be because no one knew at first the number and demographics of iPad buyers,” former Sideways editor in chief Jim Sweeney said in an email interview. It was assumed, he noted, that most of the buyers would be men, reasonably affluent and well-educated, which was the reasoning behind the magazine’s men’s lifestyle, tech and general-interest slant.

Since Sideways was created mainly as a vehicle to advertise a publishing platform the owner of the company was hoping to develop, the actual magazine was never the main focus, noted Sweeney. Initially, the magazine received a number of positive reviews, but it lacked a built-in audience as well as a solid marketing campaign. “I don’t think we ever got more than a few thousand downloads for any issue. I think given some time and more resources it could have improved, but without some marketing muscle behind it, it was never going to catch on. This was also before Apple made it possible to sell magazine subscriptions through the App Store,” he said.

Bonnier’s Roadtrip magazine, which was also short-lived, had a similar problem when it came to audience. “Truth told, the company never really figured out how to sell Roadtrip. It’s hardly alone, really,” said Matthew Phenix, the former editor in chief and mastermind behind Roadtrip. “So many iPad editions are nothing more than digital replica versions of print editions, with carry-over advertising. The problem, really, was how to gain readers with no brand recognition, and how to gain advertisers with no readers. No small feat, truly.”

Audience issues aside, working on a magazine that didn’t have to adhere to a certain page count based on room for advertising was liberating to Phenix, who spent years working in print. “Being free of the boundaries of the printing and binding processes, and factors like the cost of paper and postage, was incredibly exciting,” he said. Unfortunately, much like Sideways faded out of existence so too did Roadtrip when established Bonnier brands were consolidated and the company was reluctant to “develop an unproven commodity.”

Even Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily has recently downsized, laying off nearly a third of its staff. The iPad-only newspaper launched in early 2011. Citing many of the same problems affecting mainstream media, All Things Digital reported The Daily will also no longer create digital pages that work in both horizontal and vertical directions.

Perhaps the launch of The Daily was a bit premature, suggested David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus, noting not everyone wants or needs an iPad. And although the digital newspaper has style, it’s lacking in substance, he added. “It was a ‘nice’ user experience and entertaining, kind of like a New York Post, but I’d rather read the Washington Post or New York Times if I want to get real news,” he said.

The New Guys in Town

It hasn’t been all bad news. Last year Hearst launched Cosmo for Guys. Although it has since ceased publication, it was only meant to be a one-year experiment in the first place. “For us, the tablet market is all about experimentation, which gives us the ability to test new concepts with relatively little investment,” said Nathan Christopher, executive director of public relations for Hearst Magazines. “The CFG app allowed us to explore new ways to create compelling, highly interactive content. Although we discontinued the app as of last month, we’re on to something with CFG (to be announced), and we still produce our just-for-men Cosmo for Guys show on Cosmo’s SiriusXM channel.” And while some of the early iPad-only publications have faded into extinction, publishers seem to have faith in the sustainability of the platform, so much that iPad-only publications seem to be launching more frequently.

The latest is the launch of the tablet-only digital sports magazine, DFW OT Sports, which was launched by McClatchy’s Star-Telegram, reported Talking New Media. In June, Arianna Huffington launched an iPad magazine called Huffington. A little further back, Aol launched Editions, a daily iPad magazine described as a mix between The Daily, which creates original content, and Flipboard, an iPad magazine that customizes news for the reader.

Then there is Funny or Die’s The Occasional, which is published six times a year and launched in March. Its editorial slant is comedy and true to its mission, issue three features comedian Sarah Silverman on the cover. Since the Funny or Die brand is actually a comedy video website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam MacKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, they’re new to the publishing business. For that reason, they have taken a conservative approach to marketing, noted Patrick Starzan, Funny or Die’s vice president of marketing and distribution, in an email interview. “We leveraged our existing fan base both on FunnyOrDie.com and through our social media platforms to drive subscriptions. So far, so good!” he said.

The Old and New Frontier

Even the iPad-only publications that didn’t last left their mark as pioneers in a new frontier. The best part of working at an iPad-only magazine for Sweeney was “being in at the beginning of a technology that would revolutionize publishing, the freedom to start something new, exploring the intersection of content, design and interactivity,” he said. “Though the magazine only lasted five months and the job only one year, I have no regrets.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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