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MPA Conference Shows Tablets Dominating, Publishers Adapting

Social integration said vital to tablet magazine experience
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There’s no doubt about it: tablets are taking over. Eleven percent of the total U.S. population used iPads and various other tablet devices last year. By 2014, that percentage is estimated to rise to 27.7 percent—more than one quarter of the total population, or about 89.5 million people.

Magazine publishers simply have to reach out to this wildly expanding audience, said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna, the keynote speaker at Tuesday's MPA Digital: Swipe Conference. He pointed to statistics that showed that with print failing to bring in new revenue, it's a necessity that brands jump on the digital bandwagon.

Keith Barraclough, chief technology officer and evp of products at Next Issue Media, admitted that while publishers showed “a little reticence about the digital space” at first, many are now putting more energy and dollars into the channel as they realize that digital magazines are more than just a replacement for print.

The conference also addressed the question of bundling media as a way to introduce readers of publications to new brands. “We see a lot of opportunity around bundling unique products,” said Jeanniey Mullen, Internet magazine hub Zinio’s global evp and cmo, who said one innovative example was a shoppable Macy’s catalog bundled within a magazine. Anthony Astarita, svp and gm for digital and new brand development at Rodale, pointed out that there are some limitations to practice, like Mullen’s observation that “once someone gets something for free—especially on Android—they’re never going to want to pay.”

Social media is essential in maintaining a customer base, according to Mullen. Personalization, she said, is becoming more and more important, and magazines like Marie Claire, Seventeen, and National Geographic have already done a great job of integrating social media.

The need for personalization was addressed in another panel at the conference, “How Social Magazines Can Help the Magazine Industry,” featuring Flipboard editorial director Josh Quittner and Forbes Media managing editor Bruce Upbin.

Upbin praised Flipboard for being brand-friendly and said using a service like Flipboard is inevitable for publishers. “Someone’s going to scrape your website anyway—you might as well make it the best experience possible,” he said.

One audience member asked if publishers risk cannibalizing their paid content by putting it on platforms like Flipboard. Upbin replied that Flipboard is “a different animal” from the magazine’s website and that in Forbes' case, only about a third of the online content is tweeted out and thus available via Flipboard. 

The panelists cautioned, however, against serving ads that irritate users. Upbin suggested that advertisers avoid multimedia presentations and timed ads, saying that “waiting for someone to sell you something is the iPad equivalent of a robo-call."