The adoption of iPad magazines is following a similar trajectory to that of other major publishing formats going back generations, says a story from the Columbia Journalism Review, cautioning that looking at falling sales figures over a short span doesn't really reflect the longer-term impacts.
iPad magazines are not stumbling for the exact same reasons that the first books, print magazines, or “web logs” were slow out of the gate—each new platform had and has its own cultural, political, and technological challenges. But there are similarities between how those new technologies were received in the public eye and mind then that suggest the iPad magazine, rather than being in dire straits, is simply following a well-trod path.
The bend in that path that we’re still waiting for is the one where cheaper prices, wider availability, and normalization mean the new publishing platform takes off.
The story points to the fact that, while history doesn't necessarily repeat itself, there are interesting analogies. Paper was once extremely expensive and hard to get, which ensured it was an elite product for some time, but that as it became less expensive, its use in disseminating printed material became more widespread. Newspapers proliferated only when availability, affordability and literacy enabled them to.
The story of magazines follows a similar plot. While newspapers focused on the news, magazines were largely considered a frivolity for the leisured middle class. Despite their physical appeal, adoption was limited. What factors changed that? The same factors that helped the printing press and newspaper hit mass market: a cultural shift and increased distribution. People had more leisure time and magazines were able to offer more value—including photographs and illustrations, for example—at a lower cost.
Digital magazines are less a technological revolution than a portable form of something that already exists, says Zachary Sniderman.
The final test for iPad magazines will be whether, like newspapers and magazines and blogs and even Gutenberg’s press, people will become habituated to its new format. The success of the iPad will likely come down to whether we buy its distribution model and accept it into the culture, or decide that iPads, tablets, and their magazines, really are just a gimmick.