Digital Content Discoverability a Publisher’s Dilemma

How discoverability is putting the brakes on tablet publishing

by Doug Drinkwater August 8 2013, 6:33 pm

The rise of tablet newspapers and magazines continues, but there is still one big obstacle standing in publishers’ way.

The various big publishing houses now embrace the tablet form factor, readers seemingly prefer digital reading and there’s even talk of publishers being able to monetize their tablet editions as soon as next year.

Indeed, both readers and publishers have looked to benefit from the rush to tablets. Most  of the newspaper and magazine iPad apps I’ve seen have been enjoyable to read — offering slick gesture-friendly user interfaces and lots of interactive content — while publishers have seen this as an opportunity to offer bundle packages for readers to get both the print and digital edition.

This approach has even catered to different types of reading. For example, I once had a bundled subscription for British tech magazine T3. I read the app in short bursts, but held onto the print magazine for when I had more time. ABC News, meanwhile, even launched an iPad app which had different editions depending on the time of day.

However, there has been one catch to the rise of the tablet edition and that is discoverability.

Put simply, new readers have been left out of the loop. They’re often drawn to frustrating ‘container’ apps — which act like little more than a digital bookshelf — meaning that their only chance to try out a new or unfamiliar title has been by taking a try with Apple’s Newsstand.

This got me asking a few questions — What were publishers doing to attract new tablet readers? Why weren’t publishers viewing tablet readers as another channel altogether and not just an add-on their print business?

(App discoverability will be one of the key issues discussed at the upcoming Tablet Ecosystem conference coming to New York on November 13).

The challenge of finding new readers

I don’t have an answer for that. But in my bid to discover more, I found out that discoverability isn’t just an issue for readers, but for publishers too.

“A year ago I took part in a debate about magazines on tablets at the London College of Communications,” wrote experienced British editor David Hepworth, in a recent piece for The Guardian.

“All the panelists had enough experience of either translating paper magazines into this new format or trying something wholly new to have no stars in their eyes about how demanding it was in terms of magazine craft and how hard it was to find and win new readers on Apple’s Newsstand, where nobody can hear you scream.”

That last point is intriguing because, clearly, the buying process is so different when consumers browse titles digitally and in “real life” bricks-and-mortar stores.

Users don’t trawl the Newsstand they way they would a bookstore. In fact, I would hazard a guess that digital readers are less inclined to gamble on a surprise choice, however respectable the fee or brand, and are more inclined to simply type for a magazine they know and like.

But if discoverability is an issue, perhaps publishers could do more to help themselves.

For instance, faced with a similar dilemma of discoverability on the App Store, developers often adopt a freemium model (you pay for additional content in-app) or discount or make their apps free for a limited time.

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Filed under Interesting, Magazine, Newspaper, Semantics, Tablet

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