iPad publishing: delivering video and selling ads

With a little more than a week to go before the iPad arrives in end-user's hands, there's a lot of discussion about what the device means for the publishing industry. Two stories today illustrate some of the potential issues we'll be seeing in the weeks to come. First is the big question of Flash and video. The iPad won't support Flash. Most of the big TV streaming sites use Flash to deliver their content. Ergo no streaming video on the iPad, right? But HTML5 can replace Flash in that equation and the iPad's browser does support HTML5. The question becomes whether a site thinks there is enough value in offering an HTML5-based version of its video content. According to MacRumors, CBS at least thinks the answer is yes. They've discovered that visiting CBS.com via the iPad SDK Simulator reveals some test content indicating an HTML5 version of the site is coming. (YouTube also has beta HTML5 support, but it doesn't offer much in the way of full-length TV. Still, let's hope they move forward with rolling that out to everyone soon.) This is good news not just for iPad owners, but for all Mac users (since Flash on the Mac can be so CPU hungry) as well as Windows and Linux users who'd rather not bother with Flash plug-ins.

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The second big story today is from the Wall Street Journal, talking about publications and the iPad. Quite a few magazines and newspapers are preparing iPad-specific versions of their books, and the WSJ has uncovered some figures. The Journal itself will charge $17.99/month for a subscription to its iPad edition. Compare this to the "New Subscriber" price of $140/year ($11.67/month) for a Print & Online subscription to the current offerings. On the advertising side, a 4-month ad package costs $400,000 and six advertisers have signed up, including Coke and FedEx. That's cheap compared to print rates. Time Magazine is apparently charging even less: "Time magazine has signed up Unilever, Toyota Motor , Fidelity Investments and at least three others for marketing agreements priced at about $200,000 apiece for a single ad spot in each of the first eight issues of the magazine's iPad edition, according to people familiar with the matter." Other pubs are offering different kinds of deals. If an advertiser buys eight pages in single issue of Wired magazine, they get to "lace video and other extra features through the iPad version." Other examples of 'next gen' advertising include a Ford-based arcade game that's controlled by tilting the iPad. It'll be interesting to see who creates these ads. Will it be the traditional print creators learning interactivity, or will it be the designers doing small-format flash ads for current sites learning to think big? And what will it cost for advertisers to create all this content? For companies like Coke and FedEx, this is a non-issue, but if the iPad does become ubiquitous and smaller publications, those that attract smaller advertisers with smaller budgets, move to the device it could be a factor. You'd be surprised at how often an advertiser needs help creating a basic banner ad once you get away from big media. Also, producing video costs a lot more than producing static content. The nightmare scenario for all parties concerned is that companies will just take TV ads and stick them in the middle of the iPad edition of a magazine. If these ads play automatically it'll be a horror for the person trying to read the magazine. If they require the user to initiate playback, no one will and the advertiser won't get any value for the money it spent. Hopefully advertisers will be smarter than that and they'll create compelling content that adds to, rather than detracts from, the iPad Edition experience. Hey, a person can dream... The arrival of the iPad marks the start of an interesting time for digital publishing. Get the popcorn ready; the show starts next week.

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