Software might be eating the world, but increasingly it’s going to be doing its munching off a shiny plate. Global sales for tablets are going crazy, way ahead of expectations, potentially spelling an end to netbooks. That’s probably good news for content creators and publishers, because it opens up a strong opportunity to explore new business models.
Tablets have already been outselling netbooks in the US and China, but this year the trend will spread to the rest of the world, according to new figures from NPD DisplaySearch. The research firm expects tablet sales to grow by 64 percent in the coming year, driven by devices that are cheaper and smaller than the original 9.7-inch iPad. Sales of 7-inch and 8-inch tablets, such as the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini, will account for 45 percent of tablets sold in 2013, while the larger iPad will hold just 17 percent of the market.
As I’ve argued before, tablets are re-shaping the way we consume digital media, to the extent that content creators and publishers are able to explore new business models, including an increased emphasis on subscriptions. Just as they are already popular for gaming and video-viewing devices, tablets are also proving to be a magnet for readers. Tablet ownership among Americans is growing much faster than e-reader ownership, for example, and research from Pew shows that 64 percent of table owners read news on their devices, and that they’re willing to read longer stories on them. That might help explain why digital publications such as BuzzFeed, Tumblr, and The Verge are investing in longform journalism. So the rise of tablets likely also means the rise of reading, which is welcome news to the struggling media and publishing industries.
Tablets also open up new monetization possibilities for those industries. One benefit is that they enhance the allure of subscriptions. The experience of reading on an iPad is inherently more laidback than on a desktop computer, which makes it harder for people to subvert “leaky paywalls” favored by the likes of the New York Times. Reading on an iPad should be easy, so it could well be the case that people are willing to pay for convenience rather than exert energy trying to avoid paywalls.
Other publishers, such as “shoppable magazine” Monogram, are hoping that the iPad readers will be more inclined to browse magazines with the intent to buy, so they can then be linked directly to products on sale through the publication. Because mobile devices are tied to bank accounts and payments are as easy as the tap of a finger, there is potential gold to be mined there. And still others, such as The Magazine and The Awl’s Weekend Companion, are finding that many readers are willing to pay a small subscription price for iPad-only publications, even in the wake of The Daily’s failure.
Tablets won’t save the day for the media and publishing industries, but they’re friendlier to them than was the first phase of the Web because they behave far more like paper or books than the clunky object that sits on your desk. Publishers can control the experience better in a tablet, and their products can be carried with the reader wherever she may travel. That they are becoming so widespread so quickly can only be welcome news.