Memo to Magazines: Your iPad Strategy Can't Work

Last Updated Mar 2, 2010 2:28 PM EST

When it comes to the Apple iPad and other tablet devices, I'm beginning to wonder if magazine executives have forgotten the adage, "You can't have your cake and eat it too."

The latest news story that leaves me scratching my head is one from Ad Age, which reports that Sports Illustrated has introduced anchored newscasts to its website. As the story makes clear, the reason for doing this is simple: consumers and advertisers love online video. But here's where I get off the bus. The story then explains:

There's another element motivating these new video shows: the approach of the iPad and other tablet computers, where video will presumably be a major interest for consumers. Having enough video to offer, whether it's through tablet editions of regular issues or just on websites that tablet owners access through web browsers, may be important for making the most of the new platform. 'It's absolutely necessary to have that option,'" said Mr. [Paul] Fichtenbaum, managing editor at
The lapse in logic here is obvious. How are magazines going to charge people for their iPad offerings, which may include some of the same content, and continue not to charge them for their websites? Especially when both the site and the iPad version are available on the same device? It makes charging for the iPad look arbitrary, which it is.

The tablet demos we've seen -- such as SI's, above -- are cool. But Hulu is cool, too, and yet consumers whine mercilessly if anyone suggests they pay for it.

There are only two ways magazines can play this: either start to charge for the website as well, or keep the best content off, creating such a massive difference in experience that the decision to keep one free and one paid makes sense to consumers. And yet, I haven't seen anything written about how magazines plan to navigate around this obvious pothole on the road to perceived iPad riches.

But no matter -- iPad fever in the print business continues. Yesterday, Conde Nast said it would publish iPad versions of five of its titles: Wired, GQ, Glamour, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. The titles will be sold -- if anyone wants them -- on iTunes.

Previous coverage of the iPad at BNET Media: