Its the experience stupid

Here is an excerpt of a conversation I have had numerous times in my life with people after seeing them reading a printed magazine or newspaper that is readily available online for free:

Me: You know you can get that for free online, right?

Them: Yes.

Me: You know its free right?

Them: Yes.

Me: I don’t understand. Why would you actually pay for [insert periodical name here] when you can get the exact same thing for free, without having to wait for the postal service?

Them: I just prefer the feeling of holding it my hand. Yadda yadda yadda. Whatever.

I used to attribute their response to one of two reasons, either a) they were a luddite or b) they were simply being defensive. It just didn’t make sense to me that anyone would pay for content when they could get it for free just as easily.

The mistake I was making was the same I think newspapers have been making - I was stuck in perceiving that the value of a newspaper or magazine was in its content. And while true to a certain extent, the content is not what people pay for any more — thanks to the Internet which has effectively driven the value of most content to zero. So what are people paying for if they are not paying for content?

The answer to that question has been right in front of me the whole time, if I had been listening:

Them: I just prefer the feeling of holding it my hand.

People pay for a magazine or newspaper because they prefer the experience of holding the paper in their hands over that of reading it online. They pay for all of the abilities that only a physical medium provides: the ability to cut out a recipe from Martha Stewart, the ability open up a newspaper and skim a ton of content effortlessly, the ability to slip it into a bag or carry it with you on the subway without fear of bending, losing or dropping it, and even the ability to display the magazine on your coffee table or save it as a collector’s item.

One of the things we have observed about the way a magazine works is what emerged from some of the research we did that is that they can be completed; that they are very knowable. That one can read through it and finish it and get the sense that they consumed an editorial package without the endless, infinitely expanding RSS feed. (via BERG)

The iPadAnd while the Internet offers a huge array of capabilities that printed media cannot, like the ability to follow links, comment, watch video, direct users intelligently to related content, etc, these experiences and abilities have traditionally only been useful when sitting in front of a keyboard and mouse.

For publishers the light at the end of the tunnel exists in devices that for the first time successfully merge the interactivity of the web with the holdability of a piece of paper. But more importantly these devices present a renewed opportunity for publishers to create products that consumers once again want to pay for. Not because the content is better, but because the experience of consuming the content is more enjoyable on that device.

Case in point, look at the experience being created for Popular Science and Sports Illustrated on the iPad:

Popular Science

Sports Illustrated

What the designers behind these magazines have created are experiences that simply cannot be replicated via a traditional mouse driven browser. Magazines like these require a tangible, touchable, holdable interface, and one capable of blending text and media in a way we as consumers have always dreamed of.

There’s just something about surfing the Web using Safari on the iPad. It feels different, somehow. Apple’s marketing pitch says “it’s like holding the Internet in your hands,” and while that’s a little bit cheesy, it’s not far off. There’s just something different about holding that Web page in your hands, rather than seeing it on a desktop or laptop PC, or on a tiny iPhone screen. Tapping on links doesn’t feel the same as clicking on them with a mouse. It’s a good feeling. (via Joe Clark)

We stand right now at the brink of a major renaissance in magazine and newspaper publishing; one that shifts the focus of publishers away from the sisyphean need to publish as much content as possible in pursuit of a fragile revenue stream tied to page views, and one towards producing a solid, compelling product. A model in which companies are forced to design beyond the homepage, where they “treat the whole newspaper as one piece, as a single composition, like music.” (Jacek Utko via TED/Can Design Save Newspapers)

There is one more problem, beyond the scope of design, that the iPad offers a hope in finally solving; a problem that has plagued the publishing industry since they began putting their content online. In their race to establish their brand online and dominate the market all those years ago, they collectively moved to give away all of their content, thus establishing the near universal precedent and the inevitable expectation of consumers that all content viewable through a web browser should be free. In these formative moments of the Internet, publishers killed any hope of establishing a viable revenue stream based in subscriptions.

The iPad, however, is uniquely poised to solve this problem and usher in this renaissance in design and publishing. Not because it necessarily has a better form factor, superior touch patents, or anything inherent in the technology itself, but because it has something none of its competitors can replicate: a hugely successful marketplace worth billions of dollars. Apple has established an entirely new context for distributing content that is free of the expectation widely held by consumers that has suffucated an industry: that all content must be free.

The publishing industry though must still overcome the hurdle of realizing that in the end, it is not the content people find value in and want to pay for. Consumers want a product that is fun and effortless to use. They want a product to delight in. If they can begin to align their resources around building and designing that kind of product, then once again have all the ingredients for success.

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