Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Are tablets the future or indeed saviour of print magazines ?

I now have an iPad. I don't have an iPhone but I am starting to fall for this this iPad as regards how one can read various publications/media types on it, and it's got me thinking a lot about things. For years now I have freelanced for numerous fishing magazines all around the world, but aside from me actually working for magazines, on a personal level I love reading various magazines. I'm a bloke and I want to know things. Fishing, photography, music, travel, you name it I have either subscribed to a number of them over the years or I have read them someplace.

Of course the internet is a source of free information. Some is excellent and plenty is not worth the pixel space it occupies, but the simple fact is that the traditional world of print magazines is tougher than it was for a whole raft of different reasons, but I don't subscribe to the "magazine is dead" philosophy that you read from time to time - I do though subscribe though to the fact that some things have to change, adapt and keep up or else they die. Now I am only at about day zero of working out what this iPad can and can't do, but already I do know that I have zero interest in playing games on it, downloading apps that tell me where the nearest Starbucks is (come on, I live in south east Cornwall and I like Gold Blend), or using it as an oversized, unwieldy camera.

What I do know though is how this iPad is already changing how I read magazines or indeed newspapers etc., and it's really interesting how different the experience is depending upon which publication you are reading. Yes, I have always loved reading. I devour silly numbers of books on my Kindle, I love the sport and review sections of some newspapers and as I said, I love magazines. Reading has always done it for me from a young age I guess.

Now I accept completely that the world of the print magazine is being turned on its head, and I also know that there are countless millions of people who know far more about all this stuff than me, but since I work as a freelancer perhaps I come at this from a slightly different angle, and it fascinates me how traditional print magazines are working with the tablet format to potentially become a whole lot more relevant, informative and very importantly, more interactive/responsive - my own belief is that in due course the magazines which embrace this tablet format and do it really well will in fact grown their business rather than fade away and die. I personally believe that these tablet things might actually turn out to be the "saviour" of the (print) magazine world as indeed I read about something like Spotify potentially being a "saviour" for the music industry.

I know that both Sea Angler and Total Sea Fishing have iPad versions, but I have seen neither of them so I can't comment on them here. I can though talk about two magazines that I do subscribe to that I think provide some pretty good examples of what I am talking about. I might freelance for Sea Angler magazine, but I subscribe like you might do to see my copy each month and I note that to see the iPad version one would have to pay again - which is just wrong whichever way you look at it. This will change in time I am sure quite simply because I believe it has to.

I can't really be a photographer and not read National Geographic each month, but I have now signed in so that I can now read it the iPad - for no extra cost to my print subscription I might add. An already peerless magazine suddenly becomes a whole lot more awesome on the iPad. More photos, bigger photos, incredibly clear ways of reading the text, maps, different methods of getting facts across, videos that go with some of the features, you name it the iPad version of Nat Geo to me is simply outstanding and it's made an already serious print magazine into an arguably better magazine on the iPad. Yes, of course the print version is still very, very cool, but I cannot help respect how Nat Geo has worked to make the iPad version a different experience (albeit I am sure with serious budgets) - which may of course actually increase their circulation as more people buy tablets and more people decide that this is a great or even better way to read/interact with this particular magazine.

I also subscribe to the US photography magazine Outdoor Photographer. I used to get the print version mailed to me from the US and then I changed over to the online version which is provided via Zinio, and via Zinio and my subscription I can now read Outdoor Photographer on my iPad and already I like the experience a whole lot better than on my PC screen - but it's still nowhere close to the Nat Geo iPad experience.

Can you imagine a similar experience with something like Sea Angler ? It's always niggled me for example that I go and submit a stack of photos for a feature but of course there is not the space to show close to all of them - that of course is just the way it has to be with a print magazine. But I love seeing photos and I would love the readers to be able to see more of mine with my articles for example. It's nothing to do with money because a freelancer like me is being paid a "package" price, i.e. a fee for words plus photos, so if I am submitting them anyway I would love people to be able to enjoy more of them (if indeed they do !!).

So I love the idea of reading a feature on a tablet and being able to view a load more photos across a full screen quite simply because there are less restrictions on space (no more paper required). I see this in the iPad version of The Times newspaper for example, and of course it's there in National Geographic - and let's face it, the photography in Nat Geo is scary good most of the time.

But the big thing to me of course has to be video clips as a part of features. As I said I can't comment on how far the two main sea fishing mags in the UK have taken this concept because I have not seen them on the iPad yet, but let's think for a second about a typical lure fishing feature that I might submit to Sea Angler. Experts know it all anyway so I am going to leave them out of this, but within that feature there may be a number of things I talk about that some readers might either not know what I am on about or perhaps just want to know more.

Let's say I mention the term "walking the dog" with a surface lure in that feature. Note that I am not some kind of surface fishing guru and the experts are always going to be far better than me anyway, but how helpful would it be within that tablet based feature of mine to be able to click on a video icon that say showed a thirty second clip of "how to walk the dog with a surface lure" ? Then you read on and perhaps come to me talking about what I refer to as a "snapback" cast (I can't find a "proper" name for it online so I call it this) - so what on earth is this cast for starters, and as we all know, a short video actually showing what to do is always going to be so much better than trying to describe it via words and photos - however pretty those photos might actually be. Imagine if these video clips over time simply become regular parts of tablet based features as indeed words and photos have always been.............I am sure there are any number of other features that a tablet version of a print magazine can provide (advertising via direct links etc.)

Shooting and editing video takes time and costs money of course, albeit these clips can be done very well these days for far less time and money than it used to take. So who pays for it ? Well I don't know, but I see potential value for both the magazines and the retailers, manufacturers etc. I have little interest in print adverts showing a fishing reel for example and all its technical features, but now put that same reel in a video clip where it's being used to land a few fish and I am most likely all ears now. It doesn't have to be remotely blatant to be a good form of advertising.

I would argue that although short video clips raise production costs, as indeed must the design of a tablet version of the magazine, surely the potential benefits in increased circulations because the tablet version is offering a whole lot more than the print version is a very important consideration, plus of course the ease with which non-UK based people can now subscribe to a magazine that they might find to be relevant for their own fishing but without the postage costs as a part of the subscription. How about fishing tackle companies working with the magazines on video clips because they become such good forms of advertising ? I could go on of course, but I apologise because this post became a lot longer than I meant to be, and yes, my brain is bouncing............

Henry Gilbey9 Comments