At the recent AAAA Transformer conference in San Francisco, Wired’s Editor In Chief, Chris Anderson explained his publication’s attempt to leverage the iPad and other tablet computing platforms. He told the audience that the iPad presents a new era of publishing and that Apple’s device and competitor versions will sell millions within the first year of release. He explained that the iPad presented an important moment where he can create the “rich, curated, long form, heavy duty, high investment media” for digital media in a way that he hasn’t been able to do before the the web:
Wired had one of the first media websites in ’94 -and we’ve been at it for more than 15 years. We have learned many things – including what the web is good for: Community, rapid generation, laser focused content, user-generated content, interactivity – but we have not yet cracked the puzzle to how to make magazines of the sort we make offline live and thrive on the web.
When we put our content it loses a lot of the coherence, a lot of the majesty of a truly great magazine.
Anderson explained that magazines like Wired are packaged mediums. The editors take an idea and package it with all the tools at their disposal including long form journalism, photography, design and infographics. This means that magazines end up with significant visual impact. It stops the reader at first glance, and rewards the deep dive. On the web, he said, the constraints of the medium mediated by HTML and web browsers means that everything gets fragmented: a 6, 000 word article is published across 16 pages, photography turns into thumbnails and design is “completely lost.” He argues that before the iPad there was no way to replicate Wired’s design on the web:
We’ve gotten very good at doing websites, but not really that good at doing magazines on the web. We’ve been looking for a way to do it better.
The good news is that I believe we’ve found it. Over the last year or so we have started looking at the idea and then the realization of the tablets is opening is a new era.
Anderson also said that there is a business problem with publishing and digital media (not a product one). In the web age where there’s infinite amount of content available and low barriers to entry, he argued that Wired’s magazine content is still is what people want:
We realized within 2009 is that we needed not to reinvent what we do day to day, which is the packaging of ideas with these rich visual elements, long form journalism and all that stuff. But instead rethink business models now that the iPad offers new ways to engage with consumers. Our plans for the iPad takes advantage of digital but builds on our classic strengths of high curation, high touch content.
He went on to talk about how Wired’s production department will only need to produce one magazine rather than the two they currently do. Instead of creating a poor version for the web, their Adobe Air software will be able to produce output for the print magazine and the tablet versions at the same time.
Anderson argued that the tablets will replace the way people use and own technology:
We will look back in 10 years and see this as a significant moment. I think the tablet is going to replace laptops for many people.I think the tablet is going to sell in millions in the first year and tens of millions in the next few years. The reason why I think this is true (and I say this as someone who is an early adopter with drawers full of failed gadgets) is that this one’s different.
I think there are reasons why: It’s thinner than a laptop. It’s lighter than a laptop. It’s got longer battery life than a laptop. But most importantly, this is a personal device. And it’s – in the same way that your phone is something that you bring into your life rather than change your life for it, a tablet is something that you lean back, you cradle.
The engagement is by your fingers. It’s tactile. it’s touch-me, and much like a magazine. There’s no keyboard in-between you and it. You’re all over it. And it’s got the ability to be a rich media experience the same way the iPhone can.
Anderson also predicted that business travelers will stop taking their laptops on trips and just use their phones and tablets. The Wired editor said that there were three data points that suggested that the time might be right for a brand new device category that could be go mainstream:
1. The success of the iPhone as a platform for rich media applications which we used to use laptops for.
2. The success of the Kindle and other e-book readers shows that they are a “better way to get a book.”
3. The rise of the Cloud means that more and more of our lives and our data and our applications live in the server somewhere means that the devices can be less powerful and as a result a lighter longer battery life can be achieved.
Towards the end of the talk, Anderson spoke about the opportunities for advertisers on the iPad, saying that all the tech tools that were available to his editors would be available to the advertisers as well – but somewhere between the lines a listener to his talk could sense that Anderson wasn’t only excited about being free from the constraints of the web, but also that the platforms might offer alternative revenue streams that would give them less dependence on advertising as well.
If you’re interested, here’s a quick audio-extract we recorded on his talk on our iPhone put to the Wired video that’s being distributed.