With Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, set to debut this week and Richard Branson’s iPad magazine, Project, already on its second edition, SA media houses are revving up to provide their own tablet editions.
The explosion of tablet devices, which started late last year on the back of Apple’s popular iPad, has created a new and richer platform for media companies to extend their print offerings into the electronic realm. Murdoch has called the device a “game changer”.
SA publications are already starting to push out tablet and smartphone apps. Naspers’s Media24 already has applications for smartphones and tablets.
So far, the iPad has proved the most popular target for applications, despite the fact that it only went on sale officially in SA last week.
Since its launch last year, thousands of South Africans have imported the device from markets where it was already on sale.
SA’s newspaper newcomer, The New Age, which published its first print edition in December, came to market with an iPad edition from the start.
The New Age online editor Scott Smith says even though devices like the iPad are not really being used by the paper’s target market, it felt it needed to have a tablet edition to be relevant to a growing market.
“The iPad market in SA is still small but we felt we needed to be there. There has been a fair amount of interest in the service we offer already,” says Smith.
The New Age’s iPad version is still in its infancy, providing the same content that can be found on the website version. “It is feeds-driven, and we don’t have any of the bells and whistles yet,” says Smith.
However, he says there are plans to introduce fully fledged tablet applications that will offer content and interactivity on the iPad and many other devices and operating systems.
As a new newspaper, The New Age still has to work out many kinks before it can start thinking about putting more effort into its tablet applications, says Smith.
The Mail & Guardian has also started developing applications for tablet devices. The company has outsourced the development of its tablet and smartphone applications to SA specialist business Cobi Interactive. Cobi has developed smartphone applications for several high-profile publications, including all of News24’s applications as well as an application for CNN’s African news service.
Alistair Fairweather, digital platforms manager at the Mail & Guardian, says the newspaper’s applications are still in the early development phase. The publication plans to launch its iPad edition soon. It will mimic the content published on the M&G’s website.
However, it eventually wants to develop an application that will bring its multimedia content and feature stories to life.
More than simply bringing content to readers in new formats, tablet devices, smartphones and their associated applications bring new opportunities to publications like the M&G, says Fairweather.
Users that download apps on these devices are more likely to pay for content than those users reading content online on their PCs.
Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple application stores, Google’s Android Market and Blackberry’s App World are all enjoying growth, both in free and paid-for apps.
The M&G has identified another niche where tablet editions could help the company cut costs. “We spend thousands of rand to send papers to international subscribers, who will only receive the paper days later,” he says.
Instead of using “snail mail”, the newspaper intends recommending to international readers that they subscribe to the tablet edition.
BlackBerry is also an important platform for the M&G, especially given that it’s one of the most widely used smartphones in SA.
The newspaper has also decided to build a version for the Kindle, Amazon’s popular e-reader. Development has begun on the Kindle edition. — Candice Jones, TechCentral