Read a good magazine lately? Got an iPad?

Traditional print magazines are finally figuring out how to bring their game face to the digital marketplace.  No surprise: it's the iPad influence.

Traditional print magazines are finally figuring out how to bring their game face to the digital marketplace.  No surprise: it's the iPad influence.

It’s not been an easy transition, certainly.  We’ve grown up with print magazines; we understand them. Their physical makeup gives us room to see full pages of text, pictures and, lest we forget, ads of varying sizes and shapes. They’re a tactile experience: every turn of the page brings some new thought, something to learn, to enjoy. It's comfort food.  We know them.

How can a magazine on a computer possibly compete with that?

And yet, in the Internet era, print magazines have gone away in droves.  Reduced reader interest, other forms of information and entertainment, the economy, plus well over a decade of magazines giving away their content on the internet, have made it almost impossible for most publications to translate their print success into Internet glory.

For many people (me included), reading a magazine on the computer has never been quite satisfactory.  Oh sure, software developers have done cartwheels in trying to emulate the magazine experience.  Pages turn and curl as though the page is being turned by hand.  You can zoom in on pages, or go directly to an article of choice.  But it all has seemed forced if not a bit awkward.

Apple’s introduction of the iPad tablet is, simply, a game-changer.

That large 9.7-inch screen, its overall size and weight, the screen’s brightness — plus the Apple operating system—are deliciously suited to magazines because they showcase full-page articles and ads so well.  Viewing magazines on the tablet lets you cut and paste text and images, keep notes, see audio and video impedded into the publication and still keep the essential publication's flavor. 

The iPad as a gateway to 21st Century magazine consumers is a perception backed by some the nation’s major publishers who have recently introduced full iPad-centric versions of their leading magazines: Vanity Fair, from Conde Nast;  People, from Time Warner; and the latest entry (Oct. 5), Esquire, from Hearst Communications.

And they’re sensational reads.

They're not truly trail blazers. A company called Zinio, for example, has been providing full editions of downloadable magazines for a decade.  Magazines like Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, and ESPN have long been available as individual subscriptions, and are viewable cross-platform via free apps on iPads, iPhones, and all computers. The Zinio library has nearly 3,000 national and international magazines in its portfolio.

But the latest efforts by the magazine publishing world’s big dogs are signaling that the time may be right to get into the game in earnest.  And when the big dogs bark ...

One fact is sure: The public will pay for these publications. No freebies this time.

Hearst’s iPad version of Esquire app is selling for $4.99 — the same price as its street magazine. Vanity Fair is also selling for $4.99. Neither magazine offers a break for its print subscribers.  People, by contrast, is free on the iPad to its print subscribers, at least for now, and is $3.99 for non-subscribers. 

It's also worth knowing that Esquire’s October issue is available through Zinio via subscription — there’s even a two-article sampler from that edition on the Zinio website.  But it's not getting the buzz of the new iPad version.

(Warning: these magazines are hefty, both in download time and sheer storage bulk.  It's wise to delete them when you finish reading them. Some publications offer a library service for those magazines you bought for future downloading.)

As with all Apple apps, these magazines can be downloaded only from the iTunes store.

Here's a deeper look at the iPad versions of these three magazines.

Esquire.  Wow.  It’s always been among the most innovative print magazines, but the October issue, with Spanish superstar Javier Bardem on the cover is simply terrific.

On the iPad, the magazine opens with a full-sized live video of Bardem's face.  It's unnerving, intrusive, it's in your face.  It breaches the proscenium wall.  No passive cover here.

Navigating is a little unpredictable: a swipe of the finger horizontally or vertically seems to pull up a page or article you're not specifically looking for.  Tapping near the bottom of each page brings up the table of contents, consisting of thumbnails with an illustration of each article.  For example, “Esquire’s Car of the Year” shows a photo of an Audi trunk with an Esquire license plate.  Clicking the picture, the article dissolves into a video cljp of the Audi. After the video, the article comes up. An index of all the cars honored by Esquire emerges on the page’s left hand side. The article renders only in profile alignment, not landscape mode.

A men's fashion article called "The One Stop Store" shows a man sitting on a stool wearing a sports jacket.  He can be turned 360 degrees, and as he revolves, his jacket changes; a description and price list accompanies the visuals (two-button Polo tweed jacket: only $1,395!).

The Mashable website has a more extensive video review of the magazine.

Esquire editor David Granger says in a forward to the magazine, “[W]e’ll be reimagining what can be done with iPad Esquire on an issue-by-issue basis. Each time we do this, we’ll understand the medium better and we’ll exploit that understanding.”

Clearly, this is a sketchpad of possibilities, but it does show how designing specifically for this medium, skilfully blending text with multimedia, can create a good read yet not dumb down the publication.

Vanity Fair, on the other hand, is pretty much a straight up-and–down reproduction of its print issue.  But it is Vanity Fair.  The massive content associated with the magazine, including its signature ads, is all there and looks beautiful.  At the top of the page is a button marked “Contents” that gives you the issue on a drop-down menu.  Scrolling from article to article is accomplished with a slider bar at the bottom.  In some concession to the desire for more internet-y pleasures, there are a few app-exclusive photo portfolios including pictures by celebrity photographer Leo Fuchs, and a single 6-minute (dull) video about Sean Lennon and his girlfriend; otherwise it is (Vanity Fair) business as usual.  There are also some interactive links to archived Vanity Fair articles relating to current articles.

The full issue is also available on the iPhone at no additional cost.

People is an iPad-only read, and brings the full text of the print magazine and some video features. Several features have video clips, including a long-ish feature on a polygamous family.  An article on divorcing Christina Auguilera has a photo gallery, allegedly of 301 shots (I got through five before I quit).  A favorite internet-only feature is a 30-year review of People covers in 5-year increments, located at the end of each issue.  Many articles are interactive, with playable music samples, extra photos available by clicking on an on-screen button, and click-through book ordering services.

Some ads in People show where the medium could also go.  Blueprint, a division of Chase, appear initially as a one-page ad, but offers multiple interactive buttons to further explain its services, and a link to signing up for their service: in other words, a full-on Internet blast but quietly included as a single-page magazine ad. It beats pop-up ads and flying banners.

As with all Apple apps, these magazines can only be downloaded from the iTunes store.

Android versions of these three magazines currently are not available.

For Zinio library subscribers, a spokesperson indicated that an Android app is being prepared for the new Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet.  Zinio reader apps soon will be pre-installed on several new Android devices and downloadable from various carrier app stores, although no date was given.

In a recent nationwide study commissioned by Zinio on the impact of tablets on American consumers, 13 percent of all consumers expressed interest in buying a tablet-like device in the next 12 months: in other words, between 13.5 and 15 million tablets. It also showed that tablet owners were hefty readers, spending 75 percent more time reading newspapers than the average 18-64 population, and took that time from watching TV or surfing online.  Nearly two-thidrds of those surveyed (1,816 adults with a less than 2 percent error factor) were comfortable with automatic digital billing for subscriptions--a magic bullet for marketers concerned that people won't pay for their content.

Enough talk. I need to know how Marilyn Monroe "felt about the Kennedys, her lovers and her tortured psyche," according to Vanity Fair's November cover story. Hmmm. I wish there was some choice video illustrating the Monroe piece that I could watch on my iPad.  For $4.99, there's got to be something special.  Ah well.  Hopefully next issue.



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