As the man tasked with giving new life to magazines on new platforms for Condé Nast, Scott Dadich says there are some things, old-school things, that don’t change whether you’re dealing with print or tablets.
“The cover. As magazine makers, we see the cover as the one and only ad we have for your purchase and your time,” said Dadich, Condé’s vice president of digital magazine development. “It’s an inducement to pick it up and give us your time.”
The magazine cover may be ascendant once again thanks in part to the debut of Apple’s Newsstand for iPad and iPhone. Combined with Apple’s subscription policy, the Newsstand could potentially be the bridge to the wider adoption of magazines on the iPad that publishers have been hoping for.
“To have a dedicated container on a tablet device, the iPad, where covers are the primary means of purchase and browsing is something we’ve been looking for for a long time,” Dadich told me.
But the future still remains imperfect for publishers, some reluctant to give Apple its 30-percent cut, others wanting to get their hands on precious customer data without interference from Apple. Condé Nast is already onboard with Apple, though, with more than 30 apps and almost 10 magazine editions on the iPad and digital subscriptions available for the big titles. Dadich is a true believer in tablets: He lead the team responsible for Wired’s first iPad app. Still, he hedges that idealism with heavy doses of pragmatism. In an interview that covered everything from publishers’ relationship with Apple to developing a new design guide for the tablet, Dadich outlined a future that will find magazines thriving again.
“It’s not that far-fetched to imagine 20 to 25 percent of magazines’ readership existing in a digital platform three to four years from now,” he said.
Partnering with Apple is a necessary element of experimentation right now, Dadich said. Instead of getting hung up on debates over divvying up revenue and ownership of data, companies could be spending that time trying to reinvent themselves. Besides, as Dadich sees it, media companies have always had to make friends in order to deliver their products on time. Apple’s just the next step in that.
“Look, they have the marketplace, they built the store, they have the credit cards and the eyeballs,” Dadich said. “We definitely want to be in front of those folks.”
Apple, he said, offers a new kind of delivery and distribution chain, one that could eventually cost publishers less than the analog model of printing press/delivery truck/mail box/newsstand. And the benefits extend to consumers, he pointed out: With Newsstand, in the same way you can be confident that your copy of GQ will arrive in the mail the second Monday of the month, iPad editions deliver content on time, every time. Instead of having to rush to download the latest New Yorker before a flight, it’ll just be there.
The idea of a world where everyone’s favorite magazines are delivered seamlessly is great, but not a reality yet. Tablet adoption remains far from universal, and converting readers, even the faithful ones, can be a complicated dance. Or, maybe, a game of whack-a-mole. Even with lower pricing on digital editions, a better subscription system in place, and improvements to file size and downloading (Dadich told me Condé’s digital editions now have a progressive download, which allows subscribers to read part of an issue as the rest downloads), there’s still a raft of readers not using the iPad. “One hundred and ninety million people read magazines in this country,” while “there’s 25 to 30 million iPads out there,” Dadich said. The goal is convincing people “that these magazines they love are just as good or better under a piece of glass.”
Which is where the design element comes in. As we already know, taking one form of media (newspapers and magazines) and trying to graft it wholesale onto another (the Internet, mobile devices, tablets) doesn’t generally work. But even within magazines, there’s no one right answer. While Dadich and the team at Wired were lauded for their success with launching Wired’s app, the same principles wouldn’t apply to, let’s say, The New Yorker. Different publications, different design needs.
For a company like Condé Nast, differentiating its titles on tablets is as much about the brand as it is about the reader — which is why Dadich relies on something he calls the “design fidelity spectrum,” a concept that slides from rigid faithfulness to the original product on one end to a completely new and unique look on the other. Most newspaper and magazine websites, and to an extent mobile apps, have little in common with their print counterparts. Conversely, The New Yorker and GQ, even with the addition of audio, video, and animation, still track fairly closely to their origins. Finding the right spot for your title, and determining how it meets up with your readers’ needs, is the big question, Dadich said.
“To say we have the answers would be lying. We don’t,” he said. “Apps like Flipboard and Zite, the feed-based apps, allow users to shape the news and reading they do. But I feel like, and numbers confirm, there is a place for editors still.”
Because media apps now compete not only with each other, but also with aggregation, reading, or social news apps, Dadich said it’s become more important to experiment with the way you package your content. While the iPad offers the opportunity for magazines to recreate an immersive, intimate reading experience, the iPhone can offer a different scale of opportunities, he said. “The completeness of an entire issue isn’t the attraction on the phone, but the service-oriented content is,” he said.
Gourmet Live, the departed magazine reinvented in app form, is one example, placing an emphasis on recipes and curated meal ideas. Dadich said he could easily see similar spinoff apps, things like a branded New Yorker listings app, which would take all the front-of-the-book material on goings-on around town and repackage it. Dadich’s strategy is one that calls for an attack on multiple fronts, a reinvention (and reclamation) of what it means to read a magazine. “Ultimately, a subscription to a magazine is about the relationship you have with it,” Dadich said. “If we can transform that into something that lives with you in your pocket all the time, we’re going to try that.”
Photo by Christine Navin, originally shot for Print magazine. Image by John Federico used under a Creative Commons license.