Six weeks after the Magical Jesus Tablet, a.k.a. the iPad, was introduced to our lives, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg has rendered judgment: This will not save the magazine industry.
In Mr. Weisberg’s estimation, the first generation of iPad apps introduced by publishing houses lose the wonderfulness of being magazine-y without adding anything techy:
On the big screen, those exorbitantly priced first-gen iPad apps offered by magazines like Vanity Fair ($4.99 a month) and Time ($4.95 a week!) are attempts to revive the anachronism of … turning pages. They’re claustrophobic walled gardens within Apple’s walled garden, lacking the basic functionality we now expect with electronic journalism: the opportunity to comment, the integration of social media, the ability to select text and paste it elsewhere, and finally the most basic function of all: links to other sources.
Nick Denton is not a fan, either! Mr. Weisberg quotes Mr. Denton declaring that the apps bring magazines “a step back to the era of CD-ROMS.”
But fine, those are just problems! More significantly, Mr. Weisberg argues, is that the iPad also doesn’t provide anything useful to magazine publishers, either.
If you want to play in Apple’s playground, it decides what apps it deems acceptable and then takes a 30 percent cut. It collects the data about users and decides what it is willing to share with publishers (so far, none of it). It intends to sell the advertising though a platform called iAd, controlling the standards and taking what sounds to be a 40 percent cut. If Apple succeeds in taking over the relationship with their customers, it will be no less of a disaster for print publishers than it was for the music industry.
This is similar to what we were hearing from magazine executives a week before the iPad was released: We don’t have control of the data, so the iPad is not going to do nearly enough to help us.
But there may still be some hope. Next month, Wired‘s highly (highly) anticipated iPad app will launch. Condé Nast sources tell us that this will be the closest thing to a game-changing app, and other magazines will accordingly follow their cue. But if that turns out to be a bust as well? Well, at least print advertising isn’t going down the drain at the same pace.