Netly: The Third Screen

And the horse you rode in on

Posted on: April 30, 2010

Aside from the raising of my three godlike children, I’ve never collaborated on anything that’s made me as proud as the work I’ve done on Time Magazine’s iPad app. So please forgive me when I take umbrage at Jeff Jarvis’s recent remarks, which struck me today like fighting words.

Jarvis, a former Time Inc.-er, can be forgiven for the disgruntled, I-hate-my-ex-wife tone that creeps into his rhetoric, whenever he discusses his former employer. But I don’t forgive him for continuing to kick the fetid corpse of Web 2.0, long after the crowd itself has wandered away. It’s tiresome, dude, and intellectually dishonest given that you’re still stumping for your Google book. You need to get out from behind your CRT a little more and try to connect with the current thinking in new media.

Google is a great business—for Google. We all know that it has made Google an enormous amount of money for itself and its shareholders. And I have no doubt that Google ads and the attendant freeconomy keep bloggers like you in cigs and the occasional bottle of Midnight Train. The notion, however, that ALL media must be free, and linkable, and remixable and open not only doesn’t work for large, news-gathering organizations, it’s turning out that it’s not even what all readers/consumers want. There is no single recipe for success in the media business, professor.

Yes, the Time Magazine app costs $4.99. The rationale: The app offers 100% of the print magazine, plus photo galleries, video and other iPad-only goodies. While the pricing was not my decision, and I opposed it, I was wrong: It turns out to have been a smart move. While I’m not allowed to say how many copies we’ve sold to date, I can tell you it’s sold about 10X what I had predicted to my peers. (Admittedly, I had predicted a small number. Still, I was shocked by how wrong I was.) Advertiser enthusiasm was even more surprising—clearly, they, too, see that the tablet gives them a bigger, richer canvas than the Web. And they need to understand how to use it as much as we do.

This thing is a hit, not only for us, but for every publisher who’s been charging for a decent iPad app.

The fact is, people are willing to pay for content when it’s delivered in the way they want. And when, in a month or so, we’re able to offer subscriptions, I have no doubt that our business will grow and grow and grow as the number of people with iPads and other tablets explodes.

Finally, on the question of how Time’s app is doing versus its peers. (PED’s piece was equally misleading.) Our app was indeed the bestselling and top-grossing magazine app during the week of the iPad’s launch, but we quickly fell off the list in the second week. Why? Because our app was (until today) produced anew weekly. That meant that the counter that measures unit sales reset to zero with the arrival of every new issue. By comparison, monthly mags have only produced one issue, so all four weeks of unit sales are included under one app.

If you took all of our issues and added them together so it would be an apples to apples comparison, I’m sure we’d still be the top selling and top grossing mag app.

Big deal. It’s hardly meaningful at this point.

But directionally, in terms of what readers are telling us and what we’re learning about this new platform, we’re fairly ecstatic. While I was hedging my bets going into this “appgazine” experiment a year ago, I’m not anymore: Tablets will indeed save the day for many publishers as they complete the transition to extremely profitable digital media.

23 Responses to "And the horse you rode in on"

Josh,
I gave my honest editorial opinion about the app at yesterday’s meeting and also here: http://www.buzzmachine.com/2010/04/04/ipad-danger-app-v-web-consumer-v-creator/
You chose to see it as the culmination of a 20-year-old grudge. I’ve moved on (thankfully).
Sorry, but I’m terribly disappointed at the retrograde expression of wishful control and editorial ego I see in the app and I’m disappointed that we didn’t see better out of the talent at Time, especially for the price, which I did pay in the first time but have not since, and not for any technical reasons.
I would urge you to listen to the feedback and see new opportunities in the medium, more than just putting content behind a wall in a controlled environment again without the advantages of the connected net.
jeff

Josh,
It took you mentioning Entertainment Weekly to bring it and its launch to mind … it is that out of mind.
At the launch, I got severe criticism of the design (which should make me a bit more politic even all these years later … and for not being so, I should apologize). But the truth is that our design was shit, or something nearing it. As editor, I had to defend it. But I knew better. And we rushed to redesign in record time: 15 issues. That didn’t solve the business problems the magazine had — mostly the overblown expectations (People Jr!) of executives there and the secret but fervent wish of editors to be in show biz (they actually sat down and calculated grade points for our reviews; that was a straw on this camel’s back).
All that aside, the criticism was right and it was valuable. The magazine had over-futzed; it didn’t think like a reader; it didn’t see and present its value. Allowing that to happen was entirely my responsibility and fault.
This is why I am so fond of beta-think today: getting something out there and listening to what you can learn and always making it better.
So scrape away my impolitic language and my upset over what I see big media doing to itself and listen to what’s behind it still. Why can’t I comment on things on the app and share and make it social? Why isn’t it more tied to the web — with links both in and out? What additional value does it add beyond a magazine? How does it take advantage not only of the control Apple gives but of the new relationship one can have with the people formerly known — but now known again — as an audience? So edit my language and I still wish to see a version 1.1.
Been there, done that.
best
jeff

Jeff–Many of the things that you want, from Search to the ability to share, both by article and via Twitter and FB, are coming. Obviously! But you have to understand that we had 40 days to get something out the door, and there was only so much we could achieve in that time. (Yes, we could have waited, but, like you, I wanted to pull the trigger and get feedback, or “betathink” as you call it.)

As for links to the web, why should we? Time.com has an excellent website. If you want the open, linkable, mashable web experience, use Safari. I’ve read that you returned your iPad already, which is a shame. It’s the best browsing experience I’ve ever had on any device. And time.com has done a wonderful job of optimizing for it so you can read all our stuff and watch all our videos. It’s filled with links!

The iPad app, however, is a different medium, intended to be used by people who don’t want a disruptable, browsing experience, but who instead prefer to immerse themselves in the carefully curated magazine. For readers, that is. Not browsers.

I don’t get why you think that because the web works as one form of media, it ought to replace ALL media.

Do you enjoy books? I sure do. I don’t miss links in them. What about movies? I love ‘em! No links. Magazines are the same kind of experience. It’s a DIFFERENT medium from the Web. Stop trying to graft that model onto us.

Speaking as a consumer who has a print subscription I can tell you that I see equivalent price as a long term dealbreaker. I understand the point of charging what the market will bear but I do have other entertainment options and the magazines that get pricing right will get my long term loyalty.

These are the pricing schemes I would find acceptable and would make re-subscribing a no-brainer.

Individual iPad issues should be at least $.50 less than the print edition. All the arguments can be made about iPad value add but in the end this is a digital item with less physical transportation/production costs.

Physical magazine subscriptions should ideally have a free subscription to the electronic version. You want to move us from physical to electronic and this would provide the bridge.

Electronic subscriptions should be as much or less than physical subscriptions. This is where we want to be, this is where you want us to be. I’m not going to go into the details such as targeted ads, demographic info, reduced infrastructure costs but suffice it to say this is the cost efficient future.

The iPad is the best tool to keep readership high as we migrate to the e-delivery mechanisms but the novelty pricing structures that are currently being used by publishers really piss off consumers. We can fairly easily get it for free but we want to pay for it, we just don’t want to be taken advantage of. As a basically smart guy, I can tell you that the marketing arguments that many publishers are using aren’t very impressive and insult my intelligence.

You raise a fair question, Jotham: Why is the iPad app as expensive as the print magazine when we don’t have to assume the cost of distribution?

There are many answers to that question, starting with advertising. Our philosophy has been to have fewer ads but give the advertiser the ability to be higher impact. By comparison, in a healthy paper magazine, between 35% and 55% of the pages are ads.

Like you, however, I made an erroneous assumption: That the incremental cost of making a digital copy was zero. In fact, it’s not. A typical issue of Time is about 80 megabytes, which costs a lot more to deliver than you’d think. (I’m told, in fact, that it’s weirdly close to how much it costs us to deliver an issue of a magazine.)

OK, so you’re a smart guy. Next you’ll point out that, “yeah, but Time Inc. isn’t paying for distribution! Apple is.” Which is true, at this point, we deliver our app to Apple and it distributes it—in exchange for 30% of the take.

So what if, at some point, magazines want to create their own newsstand, and self-distribute? You’ve probably read about NIM and the magazine consortium that has proposed doing just that. Well, if that’s the route we go, we’ve got higher distro costs, right? Have you ever tried to launch a product and then radically raise the price some months later? That’s a pretty gnarly proposition.

The good news, for you, however, is that as a Time print subscriber, we’ll get you the app on terms that, I suspect, you’ll be happy with.

But again: All these things take time. (No pun intended.)

I enjoy reading. I can’t wait to check out Time and other iPad apps. I’ll pay for it. Seems like the best of both worlds.

Jarvis, you should at least make your old-fashioned blog compatible with mobile devices. All those google ads and WWGD ads are atrocious.

“As for links to the web, why should we?”

These closed apps have become cul-de-sacs: enjoy the feeling of exclusivity, but recognize that in the long run you’re just killing traffic. At least in the ‘burbs that’s what the folks are looking for.

Hi Josh
You are so rigth and Jarvis is so wrong. Jarvis has managed over the years to tell the media industry ‘everything should be free’, open, to be shared etc. I love that idea as well, but if consumers want good journalism in the future, we cannot continue down that road and give away everything for free and let Google and others live from our content. Advertising alone cannot support quality journalism. It is our god damn biggest challenge moving on and I do hope you are rigth about the iPad and the future possibilities. I hope other media houses understand to price their content in the future and not follow Jarvis’ advice and keep giving everything away. Even The Guardian should stop listening to him on that matter (I know he is a clever man and does give other good advice ;-). The Guardian has GREAT content and people are willing to pay for it and support quality content (which Guardian also know after having sold loads of iPhone apps).
Cheers and good luck to the quality media industry and original content providers

Jarvis doesn’t give advice so much as make interesting observations and complain a lot. He’s really good at complaining.

Jarvis hates anything that doesn’t fit with his discredited ideology. And, like many tenured professors, he no longer understands the job security anxieties of the average person.

Let them eat data!

Well thought out guys, how many magazines and papers write and re-write the same articles and opinions?
Print is going the way of the dodo and even electronic papers etc will crash n burn unless they sort themselves out, if I have several electronic paper and one is ripping me off I would go with the best, but money would count, we are surrounded and bombarded with news both local and world wide. (we are on overload now).
Cost is an issue and content, but newspapers and magazines are a very competitive industry. I used to buy several technical magazines till you notice, they were all outputting the same info (and in some cases the same copy).
Personally I think that they have never caught up with what we have free and given, news on every channel, Internet with 1000’s of news and facts pages (the apple ipad can go online I take it?) Yup just checked, they have an app for that..

[…] a $US5 per issue cost that mocks the 35 cents that subscribers pay for the paper copy. In his own separate blog post, Time’s Josh Quittner explains: The app offers 100% of the print magazine, plus photo […]

I unfollowed Jarvis long ago. A consumate whiner and crumudgeon What type of real man whines 24/7? When he is not whining he is defending his whining. How does this guy ever get laid without paying for it?

Ok, no more Jarvis bashing please. Will be spiking the rest.

I don’t believe everything should be free by any means, but, as long time TIME subscriber, I think TIME’s iPad pricing is currently outrageous, and it’s sad that subscribers were not thought of from the get go. Does loyalty get one nothing? The single issue per app approach was also ridiculous. Who would want their iPad cluttered up with multiple TIME apps?

It’s also disappointing that the only response I got from an inquiry to TIME was that “print and digital bundles” were in the works. I don’t want a bundle, I want a print replacement at the same cost or even less than the print version.

Why is it that magazines are the only media that thinks its digital products should cost more than the traditional hard copy media versions by default? Movies aren’t. Books aren’t. And Music isn’t.

TIME cannot judge their initial sales as a great success, as they are most likely more novelty purchases than an indication of future sales at that $4.99 price point.

TIME should at least have a 1:1 digital product that duplicates the print content for the same cost. Up-sell the additional content if you want, but don’t make some “deluxe” version the only digital option!

Frankly, I think GQ is the only mag right now that’s got the single issue model right — they don’t yet have subscriptions either, but their per issue pricing is $1.99, which is much more palatable than TIME’s ridiculous $4.99. And the price includes slideshows and video.

Also, GQ has a great design that delivers a 1:1 magazine representation in landscape view and a more iPad friendly mode in portrait view that works really well. I personally like the TIME layout, but HATE the fact that the magazine layout is absolutely gone in the digital version. As long as there is a print version, I think the GQ hybrid model is the best way to go.

Finally, with Time now going to in app purchases, I hope that those of use that purchased one or two single titles can access those inside the new app.

-Michael

One other note…. What is TIME’s plan for archiving and unloading issues off one’s iPad while still being accessible somehow? Will there be a desktop app for TIME that syncs one’s purchased content as a non-iPad backup and desktop reader? The issue of device independence is a huge concern (even if just within the Apple i-devive ecosystem), as are backups and archives.

Overtime, magazine subscriptions are going to each up a lot of one’s iPad space, and there needs to be a cloud-based solution for having them accessible at all times, but not resident on the iPad at all times. Such a solution should be user configurable for which issues are stored where.

I’ve not seen any of these app-based content providers, TIME included, explain how these issues are going to be addressed. Music, Movies, TV shows and it seems iBooks all have the Desktop iTunes safety net for backups and iPad storage control. What about the Magazines? What’s their plan?

Frankly, I wish Apple would provide a “Newsstand” app that corralled all the magazines, whether they are apps or ePubs, and handled backups and syncing in one place. Or all Mags should follow some convention via iTunes.

However it’s done, it needs to be addressed soon, as the gigabytes of space these things will start to eat up will grow exponentially over time.

-Michael

Oops… sorry for all the typos… seems one can’t edit one’s reply’s here once posted, and I was in a hurry. :-)

>>>Why is it that magazines are the only media that thinks its digital products should cost more than the traditional hard copy media versions by default? Movies aren’t. Books aren’t. And Music isn’t.

Because magazines are the only media – of those you mentioned – that in the analog world makes money from advertising. Since online ad revenues are a fraction of what they are offline, they need to find a way to make up the lost revenue. In the past, magazines viewed distribution as a cost in pursuit of their real business – selling an audience to advertisers. Now that the Internet has put that business in jeopardy, they need to find other sources of revenue.

I have no opinion on the Time app. But let’s remember: The most important question isn’t whether WeMedia conference attendees like it – it’s whether consumers do.

Not to bash Jarvis (and JQ, very nice job of moderating; I agree that this isn’t a forum simply to rip on him, though with a post titled “And the horse you rode in on,” you can see why readers might be confused), but this debate is a little silly. Criticizing the iPad app because it doesn’t have the same functionality as the Website is as pointless as criticizing the Website because you can’t wrap fish in it. I agree with Josh that they’re providing totally different experiences to the reader.

My issue is more with the value proposition, and, specifically, what Time magazine is. If you think, as I do, that Time’s value is mainly functional—that is, it produces bits of information of some value to you about the world—than paying $5 to get the same information that you can get for free on Time.com seems dubious. If, however, the value is that it provides an amazing experience—graphics, design, photo, rich, smartly-done stories—than I’m game. After all, I subscribed to McSweeneys for years just because it looked really cool, even though most of the stories, to be honest, kind of sucked.

So far, it seems that Time’s main value proposition isn’t so much that it’s giving you something that’s better than it it is that it’s giving you more–more pictures, video, etc. But more isn’t the same as better, and while I’m not surprised Time did well out of the gate (hell, I bought the GQ iphone ap when it came out, just to see what it was like) the proof will come in the months ahead, when it stops being a novelty item and has to compete on its own merits.

Josh- late to the discussion here. We worked together at ON as I am sure you recall. I enjoyed your article sometime ago on your daughter’s Vogue subscription and print discussion- I work on Vogue nowadays actually. You bring up salient points for sure on the Ipad apps and the free content myth. You want free content I say? Read giveway newspapers or email blast from advertisers. Compelling content usually comes at a price- ask the Economist.
Conde Nast has many Ipad Apps launched and others in the works. They have been well received here too. Exciting times I’d say.

[…] and one of the creative forces behind its iPad app, gave it back to Jarvis in a blog post called “And the horse you rode in […]

[…] and one of the creative forces behind its iPad app, gave it back to Jarvis in a blog post called “And the horse you rode in […]

[…] app is the most sinful piece of shit ever“) for how walled in it was. Quittner responds on The Third Screen: Google is a great business—for Google. We all know that it has made Google an enormous amount of […]

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