Interactivity. Interactivity. Interactivity.
Mequoda’s 2013 Tablet Study has been making the rounds in the industry, especially because it surprised a lot of pundits. Why? First, because we’re the first researchers to ask respondents about access to a tablet, rather than ownership. What with family sharing and all, we found that a whopping 55% of respondents have access to a tablet – not the 20-something number most studies reveal.
Also, industry observers expressed surprise that 26% of the study’s participants prefer digital magazines to print. In fact, 13% of them had downloaded or subscribed to a digital magazine in the past 30 days – 7% had bought a single copy, and 6% had subscribed.
Being Mequoda, we didn’t want to stop with an impersonal study. We got out in the world and found some folks to actually talk to us on camera about what they like or don’t like about digital products, and how they use them. The result is our brand new 2013 Mequoda Tablet Study Video that you can enjoy and share here.
We’ve also put together a short version of just the digital magazine section right here:
Some of the responses:
- “I’m consuming just about every sort of content you can imagine” on an iPad.
- “I love that I can carry around six different magazines in my iPad” (this sentiment expressed while, probably subconsciously, holding the iPad close to her heart)
- “I like digital magazines because I have all my sources in one place. I can get to them. I don’t have a lot of paper hanging around the house.”
- “I don’t subscribe to any magazines, but sometimes I buy single issues.”
Some folks admitted that they prefer paper, but surprisingly, the most digital-loyal respondent of this in-person study was the oldest: 66 years old, retired, and doing extensive research using his iPad. “I would prefer everything digital,” says the respondent.
That’s an interesting observation for those of us who think only the young folks are reading digital magazines.
So what do the digital magazine readers want in their magazines? They want interactivity, including videos, the ability to make photos bigger, and to be able to quickly scroll through text. They like bonus features beyond the print version. They don’t, however, like learning a new, complex interface every time they decide to buy a new magazine.
If you’ll recall, I’ve been hammering away on the different versions of digital magazines, noting that simple replicas without any technological features are, well, OK for now. But the real fun comes when you embrace the technology, especially the ability to reflow a magazine and make it more reader-friendly.
Our in-person respondents agree.
- “I‘d rather it be fully interactive. Otherwise, it becomes just like a magazine. I can become distracted and move away from it.”
- “One of the things that kind of bums me out … I’ll get really excited about a magazine that I see is now available for download, and I’ll go in and I’ll look at it, and it won’t have anything special. It’s just basically a PDF of the magazine. And I just feel like, why bother making the app if you’re not going to take advantage of the fact that you can do all these cool things?”
- “Sometimes I find that someone is trying to take their original magazine content and just shove it online. And that’s not how I consume content.”
There you have it: Users know what the technology can do, and they’re not satisfied with cheap substitutes. While a simple replica gets you in the game, even the oldest tablet users want bells and whistles.
Here are some Best Practices we recommend to meet the needs of users in 2013, many inspired by our survey respondents:
- Reflow your magazine to allow the text to remain readable, and scrollable instead of shrinking it to fit the tablet screen.
- Include video, photo galleries, audio and hyperlinks to make your magazine interactive.
- Help readers find the backstory or context with links to other articles or to the Internet.
- Maximize your resolution and pixel density. Some magazines — even a publisher as well-heeled as TIME — deliver a grainy, pixelated version of magazine pages on newer iPads. This is largely due to designing for a lower-resolution device and then scaling up, or to using web-based images, which are served at dpi too low to look good on even a base model iPad.
- Include a user’s guide if your magazine is more than just a simple replica. One of the most common complaints we’re hearing from users is that every digital magazine is different. As much as they love interactivity, users are accustomed to one predominant way of laying out a print magazine, and they seem to want that familiarity in digital versions, too. Until the industry settles on one design – if it ever does – a user’s guide is essential to avoid consumer annoyance and confusion.
- Make icons and calls to action large and easy to find. Have a pop-up window explain what each one does when the user hovers over it.
- In short: Don’t make readers work at enjoying your content. Consumers expect to enjoy digital content and get more out of it than they do from print.
Mike Haney, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Mag+, advises publishers to determine what level of investment makes sense for them, but notes that designing specifically for a certain device whenever possible will lead to optimal viewing quality.
What do you think are digital magazine Best Practices? Do you have other complaints or praise for them? Should there be a single design standard? Let me hear from you in the comments – it’s the only way we can all move forward in digital publishing as it changes by the minute.
I agree with some of what you say here, Don, but I think there’s still a lot of “shiny new object” syndrome going on — on both sides of the tablet.
Publishers are eager to move content into the new medium without thinking too much about why. What is the benefit to the reader of having the content on a tablet as opposed to other delivery formats?
Add video? Well, sure … where video is appropriate. But don’t add video just for video’s sake.
Many of the early adopters on the magazine side realized they *could* add lots of cool stuff to their magazines — so they did. They went too far in the bells and whistles direction and added lots of “features” that didn’t help the reader. They were just cool. And the publishers wasted a lot of money.
On the other side of the tablet — on the consumer side — there’s still a lot of “I have this new thing, now what can I do with it?” going on.
When you get an iPad you rush off to the app store and start installing junk. The real question is whether you actually use it, and whether it’s better than what you used to do1.
It takes some time for people to realize that while, yes, you can actually do X, Y and Z on your new device, it’s still easier to do it on something else.
Remember when PDAs were the big thing?
It’s going to take some time for all this to shake out and for people to decide what they really like to do on what kind of device.
For example, some people do “email triage” on a smart phone or tablet — mostly deleting stuff, or writing short replies — but when they have to compose something serious they use a laptop or desktop with a real keyboard.
I used to work in a religious bookstore when electronic Bibles first came out. There was all this breathless talk about how it would change everything. Nobody would ever read the Bible the same way again.
“Revolutionary” new devices are rarely as revolutionary as people think they will be. (Segway, anybody?)
Tablets are cool. I like tablets for some things. But when it comes right down to it they’re just small, awkward computers with a bad interface. They’re great for looking up recipes while you’re cooking, or looking up the cast of the show you’re watching on the boob tube, but they’re awful for productivity. And three years from now they’ll be passe.
Publishers need to focus on finding an audience with a discrete need and meeting that need. It’s a mistake to get too caught up in today’s shiny new technology.