Apple's iPad and other emerging tablet devices have been hailed as a potential savior for long-form journalism. It's hard to go a day without reading new research or hearing an industry commenter discuss the iPad's potential to create a lean-back consumption experience more akin to reading literary magazines than online news. Is there real potential for long-form, magazine-style content to thrive in the digital environment?
Why the iPad could revive long-form journalism
statistics for the iPad look promising for long-form content. Nielsen research found that iPad owners spend three times as much per session as they do on the iPhone. Long-form, high engagement content fits the medium better than smartphone style “snacking” on content, said David Gill, director of mobile media and advertising at The Nielsen Company, during a webinar
presenting the results.
Another survey about iPad news consumption
, by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, found that more than six out of 10 polled iPad owners spend more than an hour a day on their iPad. Both the Reynolds research and research from the Associate Press/NPR aslo found iPad owners access the device most frequently while at home ― suggesting they use it more for a lean-back experience rather than quick, on-the-go entertainment.
The research proves we shouldn't write the obituary for long-form journalism just yet, said Colleen Newvine, market research director at The Associated Press, when presenting the survey results at a recent conference. She said more than half of respondents to the AP survey prefer longer text-based stories on the iPad. Reading news was also the most popular iPad activity (the AP survey was conducted via a news app, so the people were already self-identified as news users).
Other publishers are also bullish about long-form journalism's future on the tablet. In September, Albert Read, general manager at Condé Nast, said the iPad's arrival "marks a significant shift" for the publishing industry. "We have arrived at a point where magazine publishers have before them what they have long dreamt of — an opportunity to transfer the magazine qualities of deep immersion, high resolution images, long form journalism and storytelling to a digital format," Read told The Guardian
TIME Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs recently told Katie Couric
that the iPad is better suited for magazine storytelling than the Web. “When there's a story that you're interested in, [a device that allows you] to go as deep into it as you want, to read as much about it as you want, or to move on to the next story, I think that's going to be great for us."
Transforming long-form journalism
While the stats suggest narrative journalism could thrive on tablets, the experience itself will be transformed on these devices. Publishers are already learning that shoveling magazine replicas onto the tablet won't cut it: The Audit
Bureau of Circulations recently reported that digital magazine sales
have dropped since the iPad's launch earlier this year.
The fall-off could have something to do with the pricing model (no subscriptions yet), so we shouldn't make hasty judgments. (Mashable
writes more about why iPad magazine sales aren't as bad as they seem.) Yet in some cases magazine publishers clearly are missing the point about developing in a native way for the medium.
The emerging crop of made-for-mobile publishers
such as Nomad Editions believe they have an advantage over traditional publishers by starting with a clean slate. Roger Black
, the designer behind Nomad Editions, said designing without a legacy print publication has allowed Nomad to take a fresh approach and create a true venue for digital storytelling. “We're now beginning to make websites that are about reading,” he said.
Flipboard is a “social magazine,” combining the new social delivery of new into the throwback package of a print magazine. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue is outspoken about how his product can help bring back long-form journalism that was “contaminated" by the Web. He told the Los Angeles Times
What the tablet does, for the first time, is let us hit the reset button on the presentation of content to readers.
So now you're getting these newspaper- and magazine-reading apps that do a much better job of showing the content on a full screen, and with nicer, larger advertisements.
McCue also noted that taking a magazine replica like Wired and plopping it on the iPad doesn't utilize the social benefits of the Web. The right combination in the tablet is a combination of the best of the print and online worlds, which is what Flipboard is trying to achieve through Flip Pages
, its test templates with publishers.
Long-form journalism does seem to have a chance to make a comeback on the tablet, but it will be in a more interactive format. Many publishers known for long-form content are already experimenting by incorporating video and sharing features. The Vogue iPad app
features behind-the-scene videos and advertisements linking right to the designer's site. Publishers linking with aggregators like Flipboard represents another step further to merge social and magazines. Imagine The New Yorker iPad app
keeping its famous literary feel but adding elements of personalization. We could be on the brink of the next new new journalism