Well done, Apple. You’ve finally done it. You’ve got the world bending the knee for a device they’ve never seen, and which you deny exists. Condé Nast has declared that Wired will be Apple tablet-compatible by mid-2010, although they admit that Apple hasn’t actually told them how they might go about doing that. While this isn’t exactly comparable to adjusting office doorway heights in case someone hires a Yeti, the parallels are clear.
Of course, it’s not so strange to want to streamline your product for tablet access. Make sure column flex doesn’t break the layout, don’t put critical links in rollover menus, that sort of thing. But if the Apple tablet is anywhere as interesting as people hope it will be, I doubt you’re going to be reading Wired in a browser anyway. Quixotic would be too kind a term for what they’re doing; not only are they tilting at windmills, but the windmills don’t officially exist.
Maybe that’s too harsh an estimation of Condé Nast’s effort. After all, the tablet may not officially exist, but it doesn’t officially not exist either. And we’re pretty sure it does, so that settles it. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that anything they do now will be relevant to Apple’s new platform. It’s been said that it runs iPhone OS, that’s it’s this big and uses that processor, but as a content provider the only thing you need to know is it’s Apple. That means they’re going to have complete control of it from the bottom up; they hold all the keys and if they’re not letting you in, you may as well wait. A damn-the-torpedoes approach is the wrong one here.
Apple’s not really the only target of this initiative, though. HP has released some tablet specs that Condé Nast is working with, and an Adobe Air-based platform for magazine-type media is in the offing as well. A real magazine-style layout with embedded videos (and ads of course) is the goal, but it’s whispered that the NY Times is working with Apple on just that sort of thing. You better believe they’ve got their own framework set up, with the NYT perhaps advising, and of course Apple will force content creators to fit in that box. It’s a “something stirs in Mordor” situation: whatever you do to prepare can’t possibly be enough (that is, if the tablet lives up to the rumors). All you can do is rely on a plucky hobbit. I don’t know how Frodo is represented in this Apple-Condé thing, though. Note to self: avoid fantasy metaphors.
Here’s another snag in Condé’s plan, not Apple-specific but Apple-applicable:
The company intends to charge readers for each title, and it plans to convince the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the magazine industry’s standards board, that its online sales are equivalent to newsstand sales. That will allow Condé to charge advertisers the same rate as for print ads.
If Condé Nast thinks they will be able to charge $4, or whatever a Wired costs these days, to have a digital copy all wrapped up in Adobe, HP, Amazon, or Apple’s DRM, they’re going to have a disappointing launch. And although I suppose if consumers did manage to stomach paper prices for pixel periodicals, you might be able to convince advertisers to pay similar rates for ads. But the premise is unlikely, so the conclusion is even more so. As I’ve said, advertising is changing, and Condé Nast (along with many others) must adapt or die. Those really are the only two options.
In all likelihood, we will indeed be paying good money for virtual Condé Nast publications in a couple years. After all, if we don’t, the poor fellows will go out of business. But I think prices for subscriptions will likely stabilize far below what we’re paying for 12 glossies. Think 99 cents an issue. Sorry guys, but that’s probably what it’ll take.
But I’m making a big deal out of very little. Condé Nast wants to jump the gun a bit, okay, I admire their moxie. In the end, this rather depends on whether the Apple tablet is a revolutionary device or merely a sexy one. Sexy devices sell because they do what other devices do better; that’s the iPod. Revolutionary devices sell because they do something entirely new; that’s the iPhone. I’ll be happy with either one, personally — as long as it doesn’t use iFrame.