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iPad: Can it save the magazine industry?

IPad, other tablet computers, and e-readers will create a 'reading revolution.' But publishers' revenues may lag.

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"You're going to start to see magazines leading the march forward," says Jeanniey Mullen, executive vice president and marketing offiicer of Zinio. The San Francisco-based digital newsstand and bookstore works with publishers to create digital editions that readers can buy once and have access to on a variety of e-readers and computers.

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Skipping the print

Some new magazines skip print entirely to engage their readers digitally. In October, digital-only women's magazine VIVmag launched an iPad app from Zinio that uses in-line videos, mix-and-match elements, quizzes, and one-click shopping from moving ads. On Nov. 30, billionaire Richard Branson launched Project magazine, a $2.99 per month iPad-only publication whose first issue showed actor Jeff Bridges walking across his cover story. The editors promise to update copy during the month.

One of the more cutting-edge magazine experiments is Flipboard, an iPad application that gathers content that one's Twitter and Facebook friends like and displays in a magazinelike format. The application has changed the 40-year reading habits of Bob Sacks, president and publisher of "Heard on the Web," which he bills as the world's oldest electronic newsletter. "My morning reading habits have changed," says the magazine veteran. Instead of first turning to The New York Times in the morning, "I go to my Flipboard."

What's not so clear is the revenue outlook for this digital content. Although publishers can shed the cost of printing and mailing paper editions, the enhanced digital editions with video and other features require intensive editorial effort and resources, says Ms. Mullen of Zinio. Furthermore, digital readers have balked at paying the same rate online that they pay for print.

Apps for sale

By selling online versions and apps that allow specific tablets, e-readers, and smart phones to display the content, publishers expect to boost their digital revenues. (The Monitor, which is available in e-reader editions at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, is looking into apps for tablets like the iPad.) Last year, digital content brought in about 10 percent of magazine revenues, according to mediaIDEAS, a global research and advisory firm with offices in New York and London. By 2020, digital content will account for 58 percent.

But the rise in digital revenues won't begin to offset the fall in print sales until 2015, mediaIDEAS forecasts. By 2020, revenues will be rising but still remain below last year's level. "It's still a very early market," says Mullen. "It's going to take a good bit of time, testing, and innovation for publishers."

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