Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clarifying What We Mean That 2011 is the Year of App-based Subscriptions

We've gotten some interesting and positive responses to our predictions. One theme, however, is about whether app-based subscriptions will work because people are used to accessing news content without having to pay for it.

On that basis, a VC friend of ours specifically questioned whether we were right to call 2011 the year of the app-based magazine subscription.

So let me clarify.

When we say it will be the year of app-based magazine subscriptions, we mean that this year, publishers are going to need to figure out the mechanics of charging for app-based subscriptions. Regardless of whether or not they actually develop an app specifically for the iPad or a competing tablet platform, and whether or not they actually roll out a subscription fee for app-based access, what's clear is that 2011 will a make-or-break year in terms of how publishers and readers approach app-based access to magazines.

There's a cost involved in developing an app that provides a consistent look-and-feel that's similar to the print edition while providing additional value with content that takes advantage of the tablet's multimedia platform. But that all costs money, and somehow publishers have got to have this effort payoff.

That's the real challenge facing publishers as they roll-out and embrace tablet access. They've got to find a way to convince people to pay for app access. They're pretty much doomed if they don't.

As a journalism fan, I think I'm a bit more optimistic that users will be willing to pay for content customized for their tablets -- even as they're used to accessing free content off the web. The key will be how publishers package content on a tablet that's more impressive than what you can get online.

Meanwhile, although we listed a dozen story angles we think the business media will cover, we have missed two topics that unexpectedly are generating a lot of attention:
  1. The medical leave from Apple by Steve Jobs. Since that news hit after our predictions were posted, I think it's okay to let us off the hook on that one. We wish him well, and a quick recovery, but in the meantime, expect that to be a theme, and that reporters, analysts and bloggers alike will question the role of celebrity CEO, the nature of a senior management team, the role of the board, etc., in managing and running companies. Also expect that questions about disclosure and succession planning will be important topics.
  2. Tiger Mother. Amy Chua is a Yale law professor who wrote a book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,”which the New York Times described as "a memoir about strict Chinese parenting (that) reads as criticism of Western practices. Since a Wall St. Journal excerpt from her book was published Jan. 14 (after our list of trends was first posted on Jan. 10), it's been difficult to avoid the controversy about Tiger Mothers, which even reached People Magazine. I'm not sure of Tiger Mothers (a very different species from Mama Grizzlies) will be a hot topic once the initial furor has passed over the next few weeks. However, I do think the role of parents, particularly women, could continue to be a top topic for two reasons that are changing family dynamics: the lingering impact of the jobless recovery, in which women may be working while their husbands may still be unemployed; the new way of working, in which people don't have one full-time job but have a number of part-time jobs, which might make traditional family dinners a thing of the past as parents no longer work nine-to-five jobs.
Let us know if you have other comments to our predictions or to our clarification of our predictions.

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