Conde Nast Taking A Breather On Tablet Editions Of Its Magazines

Despite enormous sales of the iPad and iPad 2, it seems like the digital publishing world isn’t quite ready to support the digital magazine editions coveted by media giants like Conde Nast. This is the company, if you’ll remember, that was busting to get iPad editions ready before the iPad had even been announced.

It seems, though, that these well-laid plans, or at least extravagantly-laid, aren’t quite paying out just yet, according to a report at Ad Age. “They’re not all doing all that well, so why rush to get them all on there?” said an anonymous Conde Nast publisher, who praised the company’s position, saying it made them look smart – ambition but no rush. Seems like a kind interpretation of the fact that the company simply pulled the trigger too early.

Despite there being perhaps 20 million tablets out there right now (all inclusive), it doesn’t appear that people are really eating up the digital edition — Popular Science reported as much of its iPad subscriptions, which at 10,000 aren’t microscopic, but are still dwarfed by paper sales. Conde Nast isn’t reporting any statistics, but it seems safe to assume that they’re seeing similarly disappointing results.

While Conde Nast is definitely in the front line here, I think they neglected to consider some aspects of the new platform. For one thing, tablets are at the moment primarily used for casual gaming, email, and light browsing. It’s just what they’re good for. Not a lot of storage and (on the iPad) sub-HD screens make media consumption secondary, and many other functions it performs are also done by smartphones, making many applications superfluous. Furthermore, people are still naturally attracted to the enormous volume of free content on the web, some of which they’d be paying for unnecessarily by subscribing to this or that (like the recent NY Times paywall).

What will it take to bring digital magazine subscriptions in line with paper? More volume in tablets, for one thing. And a lot of tests looking at how and why people pay for and consume various digital items in a “light computing” environment like the iPad. Despite being over a year old, the tablet market is still very much in flux, and adjustments are being made. Conde Nast is probably doing the right thing by tugging on the reins after being in too great of a rush to begin with. Focusing on creating a razor-sharp product even if it doesn’t sell, and taking the losses necessary, is a step that they can afford to take. But I’m guessing the board saw the numbers and decided to lose a little less.