updated 01:40 pm EDT, Tue May 31, 2011
Rolling Stone head Wenner cautious on iPad
Rolling Stone co-creator Jann Wenner in a discussion late Monday dismissed the idea of tablet magazines in the near term. The Wenner Media founder didn't rule out a digital transition but called the influx of tablet magazines, mostly on the iPad, "sheer insanity" driven by a reflexive action. Companies had to be ready to switch over, but they were confusing a short-term drop with a need to act immediately, he told AdAge.
"Because it coincided with the ad recession, they conflated the two events [the recession and the iPad] until they themselves believed that magazines are dead," Wenner said. "Up until that point they'd been rushing out to sell the iPad, a nonexistent business, and saying we admit it, we're dead. So hopefully that is all turning around. People have dialed back considerably."
He hadn't talked directly to Apple, but he saw the iOS device maker using deals with less influential major publishers and then opting to "use that as a lever" to convince larger or more resistant publishers to come onboard. Conde Nast and Hearst are both major publishers and have already moved several magazines over. Their full strategies weren't revealed because of the secrecy, which indicated they might be "embarassed to disclose" what they agreed to, the executive said.
Wenner was aware of the dangers of resisting a digital shift and said the music industry had "screwed itself" by actively fighting digital and not coming up with its own alternative rather than waiting for Apple to step in. In spite of the similarities, he insisted print was different and wasn't as "easily reducible." Very photo-focused content built for long reading was still likely to survive as print, although it had to represent genuine quality to stand out.
The company is still available on the iPad but only indirectly, through Zinio's magazine aggregator and through the articles that reach the website.
Tablet magazines are still young and have so far sold poorly, though much of the slow adoption rate has been blamed on the earlier subscription-free pricing, which cost $5 per issue. New iPad readers pay $2 per issue or $20 per year and can now get the digital version for free if they subscribe to the print edition. Data for iTunes subscriptions has yet to come out but is expected to be significantly higher, if still far lower than current print levels.