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Condé Nast’s Scott Dadich on reinventing mags for the iPad and why partnering with Apple matters

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.

Apple: “They have the marketplace, they built the store”

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 “Design Fidelity Spectrum” for news apps

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.”

Attacking on multiple fronts

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.

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  • Anonymous

    All I see when reading this is an entire organization screaming “WE WANT IT TO BE THE EIGHTIES GODDAMMIT”.

    Publishers (and Condé Nast especially) have to realize that there’s gonna be a time after the iPad/iOS… Investing all these resources in a single proprietary platform – whichever such platform it may be – seems a little shortsighted.

  • John Mecklin

    Boy, that’s a bunch of specific information. I’m glad he stayed away from the buzzwords and generalities that so often dominate the discussion of digital media.

  • Anonymous

    I joined Rolling Stone Plus to get at their back issues online, but it turned out they were not on the Web, but rather in Microsoft Silverlight, which is a total fail. A digital fart heard round the world. I’m going to get an antique Windows computer to read Rolling Stone? Do you know how much a Windows computer f’ing weighs?

    Then a PAPER MAGAZINE started showing up in my mailbox like it was the 1940′s! With fragrance cards inside that gave me hives. I never get to read them because I never have them with me. Just 2 of them is thicker than my iPad. When I read, I pick up my iPad. I don’t think, “let me go home and dig around for an issue of Rolling Stone.”

    I love the content, but f’ing get a clue, magazine publishers! Paper is OVER.

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  • Geobarth

    So much missing in this article. Surprised that there was no mention of, a similar storefront option created by the major publishers, Conde Nast included. No mention that the Google  tablets are far more friendly to publishers and that Android tablets are just now beginning to chip away at the Apple dominance. Sure, publishers had no choice but to play in the Apple playpen if they want to be first to market with their apps. One year ago the iPad was the only device on the market. Lastly, Apple had staunchly refused to allow all but one-issue subscription transactions until recently. That is an interesting side note as well, not mentioned.

  • Joshua Benton

    You might note that the iPad still accounts for 97 percent of all U.S. tablet traffic.

  • Justin Ellis

    Thanks for commenting. The conversation with Dadich primarily centered around on Apple because that’s where Conde Nast focus is right now, they’re not focusing on Android. And as Josh linked to below, Apple, even with new tabs from Google and RIM, is still the bigger game in town. As for Apple’s subscription policy I mentioned that recent change in the third paragraph.

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  • Dan MacTiernan

    Reinventing mags on tablets – the reemergence of the front cover, the “fidelity spectrum”, and the impact of social context.  Great article from

  • Anonymous

    In time, in a few years, you will see a “rebellion” against Apple and all that it stands for which will affect how paperless media is accessed. It will happen something like this: Steve Jobs is pushing the iCloud with great messianic fervor.  The iCloud is his grand vision for grabbing ALL media and putting it inside this black hole.  Of course, this black hole will allow proprietary access of content, unlike the ones in nature. Content creators, whether print or music or video, will be drawn inexorably into the event horizon of Apple’s next “awesome” thing.  Some content generators will resist the trend just enough to allow working demonstrations of the same kind of media as accessed “open source” on non-Apple pads and devices.

    The great strength of Apple will be its greatest weakness. 

    Apple is keen to put everything it owns or will own and everything that it will RENT back to the copyright owner onto a mass of world-distributed computer farms. This is the iCloud. The iCloud is being sold as one source for all news and infotainment–video (including movies), music, games. The model being marketed is that it “just works” and that any of your Apple devices, pads, phones, televisions, iCloud-connected toilet paper dispensers will do this wonderful thing called “synching”. Since Conde Nast, the New York Times, etc, definitely want to be in your bathroom while you are using your leisure time for some reading, they will follow the paper trail to the iCloud which will be necessary if they are eating the Big Apple.

    But the near future will be just a bit chaotic as the hundreds of thousands of iCloud computers, many hosted overseas, will be attacked by motivated hackers all over the world. Their motivations will be many fold. When the New York Times Apple store delivery is held up by hackers, or arrives in Chinese, or arrives in an obscenely defaced mish mash of rantings, videos, and rantings you will see the excremental offering to the ventilator. All of Apple’s hopes and dreams to dominate media delivery will begin to crash as the iCloud crashes. Apple will have no back up. And the hacking of the iCloud is inevitable.

    What some of you non-techies do not realize is that the iCloud is a horrible nightmare security wise. Get access to just a little and hackers will have access to EVERYTHING. Music, video, newspaper and magazine apps.  Steve Jobs is in over his head this time but it will take a couple of years of intermittent and then increasing hacks and breakdowns to become so apparent.

    All of this hackery can be done to any part of anyone’s cloud. Security measures are always behind hackers. Not only that, but the sad and likely truth is that of all the programmers and technicians employed to host and deliver such cloud content WILL contain some traitors. Day job, Apple iCloud technician, night job, hacker using his own knowledge of access points.

    Pessimistic, yes. But, given the true state of hackerism today it will only be worse tomorrow.

    There will be a mass exodus off of Apple devices because they are inextricably designed to use the Apple iCloud as their mode of connection.
    The one thing a paper magazine or newspaper did not have to worry about was the Cover being defaced or replaced on every single edition. To say nothing of the content of the Editorial page.

    Content even when created with a proprietary app designed for Apple iPad delivery is just WRAPPED in commonly coded protocols. Exactly the same user experience can be created for other devices than Apple’s.

    The ridiculous thing is that a so-called App that delivers Condé Nast publications can be just as easily installed on any other pad product by simply opening a browser and going to a web page link.
    As a newspaper or magazine publisher you should resist climbing on the Apple cart. These people will do whatever benefits them at any given moment once you have locked yourself into a long-term proprietary delivery network. Once they decide to bend or change the terms they will do it with nary a look back.

    This is what tens of thousands of video editors learned on short notice this past month when Apple completely abandoned their professional video editing application without regard for how many important companies used it every hour of the day around the world. What Apple suddenly offered as a “replacement” would not even open the project files of their own professional editing product with the same name.

    The problem is that Steve Jobs thinks that he has become a leader whose visions for how the world will work must be stamped with the Apple label. No individual company, no matter how important they consider themselves to be, looks eye-to-eye with Steve Jobs.

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  • DM Cook

    It’s worth noting that iCloud has nothing to do with storage of magazines, and that the iTunes store has never successfully been hacked. This despite the fact that it has more credit card numbers than ANY DATABASE IN THE WORLD. Making it a prime target… IF one could crack it.

    I appreciate the healthy dose of paranoia, but this has little to nothing to do with the article.

    Additionally, Conde Nast’s iPad apps are atrocious. Sure, they probably can be “recoded for other platforms”— and suck equally on all of them.

    Give “Intelligent Life” magazine a try and see what the future of digital publishing really looks like.