Are periodicals ready to go digital?

There were a couple of interesting stories in the news yesterday about digital periodicals. We've heard all the news about Apple's iPad and book publishers and how their Apple deals are giving them leverage against Amazon and it's $10 e-book pricing. But what about periodicals? Are we going to be ditching print mags and newspapers in favor of electronic versions on our iPads? The bad news comes from the Financial Times (subscription required in some cases; you get one free article per month), which says that publishers have some concerns about Apple's business model. Specifically Apple takes a 30% cut on the price of a publication, and more importantly, it won't share user data with the publishers. Magazine publishers rely on reader data both for advertising sales ("Yes, we can give you the 25-35 year old male demographic.") and for offering deals to readers (for example under the current system a publisher might offer a free digital edition along with a print subscription). Basically if they sell the publication through Apple, publishers won't know who their subscribers are and they're very concerned about losing that direct contact. So periodical publishers don't seem nearly as enthusiastic about the iPad as book publishers are. But of course there's more to the tablet world than the iPad.

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But while the suits hash out the business issues, the geeks keep improving the tech. Wired yesterday posted a story showing off its new "Wired Reader" running on a tablet. I'll embed the video below. You can skip to about the one minute mark if you want to get right to the demo. It's an interesting application and a nice first step towards a real 'digital magazine' that's more than just a bunch of static PDF pages. Wired and Adobe worked together on Wired Reader and it's running on Adobe Air. Lest you think that rules out the iPad:

Although the Wired Reader starts as an AIR app, Adobe has created tools that allow us to easily convert it for major tablet and mobile platforms. In Barcelona this week, Adobe announced that AIR would run on Android, and Adobe has already announced its Packager for iPhone tool that will allow Flash apps (including AIR) to run on Apple mobile platforms.

So it's safe to say that Conde Nast, at least, is ready to publish on the iPad. At the same time, check out the tablet they're demoing Wired Reader on. What is it? Not an iPad. Maybe some kind of Android tablet? Adobe is in Barcelona this week (at MWC) pitching Air as a universal mobile development platform; they announced an Android version of Air 2.0 to be out sometime this year. In an ideal world, our content wouldn't be shackled to our hardware. We need to be able to read any publication on any piece of hardware. Maybe Air can help this come to pass? At the same time, do we want all our eggs in Adobe's basket? And is a publication like this even something people want? Or is surfing a website just as good? Is 'the February issue' concept just an outdated holdover from the days of print? Or do people still enjoy the structure of a first and a last page and the tiny satisfaction of finishing this month's issue and knowing we got all the content out of it that was relevant to us?

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