Will Tablet Magazines Survive?

On January 6, magazine editors from across the country met at Columbia University to determine the winners of the 2016 National Magazine Awards and something pretty remarkable happened. They didn’t have to pretend that tablet magazines are worth of celebration.

The American Society of Magazine Editors is the professional organization that administers the National Magazine Awards. You may have heard of them, known as the ASMEs or Ellies. First, they gave National Geographic the Calder elephant in the Tablet Edition category in 2012. The next year, they won the renamed category, Tablet Magazine, as well as the next year and the next, and the next. However, ASME chose to retire the category this year.

download (1)ASME does review and change its award categories regularly, but the end of the tablet category feels much more significant. It is a quiet acknowledgment of the industry’s failure to innovate. While tablets do not sell like smart phones, there are a lot of them out there. Actually, 45 percent of U.S. adults owned a tablet compared to 68 percent who own a smart phone – from a study by the Pew Research Center.

In 2015, ASME’s call for entries said that “tablet magazines need not duplicate the frequency of content of sibling print editions.” In reality, tablet magazines did have to duplicate print editions. This is because the Alliance for Audited Media sets the rules for how magazines report circulation and rate base, the average circulation level that determines ad rates. AAM determined that tablet magazines could be included in the rate base, which means that they are counted for advertising purposes only if they included “all the same editorial content as in the print.”

So basically, magazines could include enhanced content suitable for tablets like videos or interactive elements, but only on top of the magazine’s original editorial, art and ads “presented in a manner consistent with the print issue.” Sadly, innovation is just costly and just bad for business. In order for the user to even access the content, the user had to remember to open the newsstand once a month and download a huge file…who would really bother?

How do you prefer to read magazine articles? Do you click on them from emails in your browser, open apps on your phone or download PDFs on your tablet? I hope that the Alliance for Audited Media reviews their rules to allow for proper innovation in this industry.

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