Tablets Offer Magazines a New Set of Editorial Options

Tablets continue to gain momentum as more consumers and magazine companies have embraced the devices. Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer, described tablets as “a new medium — not print, not Web, and not mobile. It’s a balancing act, where tablet’s goal is to perform like PCs but still fit in your hands.” He spoke at the MPA Digital: Swipe conference on Tuesday in New York.

Verna reported that tablet usage has grown from 4.2 percent of the total population in 2010 to 17.3 percent in 2012. While men represented the majority of users (53 percent) in Q3 2011, the gender gap has since narrowed. Still, he said top magazine publishers think it will take time for reader habits to substantially shift from other media options.

At the event, magazine executives and editors discussed what sets tablets apart.

Tablets enable social networking and personalization. Flipboard, a digital newsstand platform that now has 70 magazine partners, was “created to restore the beauty of print, and it’s like a giant stereo where users can plug in their social networks,” according to its editorial director, Josh Quittner.

As for specific magazines, Christina Albee, Conde Nast’s senior executive director of multimedia, said “we’re rolling out Facebook and Twitter integration to our digital editions within a few months.”

Tablet users tend to be more engaged after working hours.  “Our female tablet users are “becoming more comfortable going to the gym with exercise videos loaded on their tablets,” observed Eric Schwarzkopf, publisher of Fitness. Similarly, Forbesmanaging editor Bruce Upton noted that their readers tend to relax and watch videos on Forbes apps in the evening.

In response to these patterns, Karen Kovacs, People magazine’s publisher, said they plan to have a mobile editor on staff to handle after-hours content.

Tablets offer touch-based 3-D interactive experiences. “Magazines were initially reticent in the digital space, but now have embraced it, with new innovative ways to bring interactivity,” noted Keith Barraclough, CTO/EVP of products at Next Issue Media.

Verna added that “digital replicas of the print edition are a wasted opportunity. Instead it’s better to go forth and experiment.” Highlights of selected magazines’ tablet capabilities confirm the wisdom of that advice.

Backpacker magazine’s “Budget Adventure” issue featured a video of the editor while he was hiking a mountaintop precipice in the Alps. Digital director Anthony Cerretani added that the magazine’s app emphasizes interactive maps and trip planning tools.

Gael Towey, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s editorial director showed their cookie app with high resolution 3-D-like images. The app includes photos of treats such as puff pastry. When users tap on the images, the pastry opens to reveal the center.

National Geographic Society’s director of electronic publishing, Melissa Wiley, said their focus is “taking readers around the world to enhance the story digitally.” In their “Unseen Titanic” tablet issue, the cover page was animated. They also featured 3D models with 360 degree views to recreate what it’s like diving the Titanic shipwreck. Click here for some of those photos.