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UK Publishers Place Their Faith In The Tablet

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The Dandy, The Mirror, The Times and The FT all hope that tablets can secure their future

Last week, TechWeekEurope was present at The Cartoon Museum in central London as publisher DC Thomson outlined how it planned to make The Dandy an all-digital title that would appeal to children (and some adults) who had been tempted away by the Internet and video games.

The much-loved comic once sold more than two million copies in the 1950s, but that figure had plummeted to around 8,000 in recent years. As part of the transition, the last ever print edition of The Dandy went on sale in the UK on 3 December.

Future issues will be available online and through a tablet and smartphone application and will feature extra video content, games and interactive features. One issue will cost £1.49, with a subscription priced at £29.99 a year, less than the £1.99 single issue price and £85 annual subscription of the print edition.

Ellis Watson, CEO of publisher DC Thomson, was convinced the quality of the new publication would allow it to continue in the digital age and compete against free alternatives. He said it had recruited as many original artists as possible to offer something different and likened it to “getting the band back together.”

Digital publishing challenges

The Dandy is not alone in trying to find a profitable model in the face of competition from the Internet and a slowing advertising market. The last print edition of US weekly Newsweek will go on sale on 31 December, becoming a digital-only publication, after seeing its circulation drop by almost 50 percent between 2007 and 2011.

Many publications have installed paywalls to monetise their content, but the mixed outcomes have encouraged The Mirror to try something different.

Last week, it became the first major national newspaper to make its digital edition available for free on iPad in the UK. Readers will be able to access the weekday editions of the paper through the app, while a seven-day application will be available for global readers, costing less than £5 a month.

“The world of media is changing at an incredible speed and it’s up to newspapers to keep up with that change and deliver news in the format that our readers want it,” said Martin Newman, the editor of the Mirror’s e-edition app. “The world of media is changing at an incredible speed and it’s up to newspapers to keep up with that change and deliver news in the format that our readers want it.”

Hardware bundles

The rise of the tablet has been the cause for some renewed optimism within the industry, which has been battered by competition from free online publications. It is becoming increasingly evident mobile users are willing to pay for content through digital marketplaces so long as it is truly portable and offers something extra over standard browser-based services.

Tablets are also influencing new distribution models, especially the seven-inch form factor, which is encouraging the advent of content and hardware bundles. The Asus-manufactured Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire generate little or no profit with costs recouped through sales of content.

It is a model that two of the British pioneers of the paywall are looking to emulate. The Times erected a paywall back in 2010 and is believed to have nearly 130,000 paying subscribers who read its online, iOS and Android editions. The trade off is that it has lost millions of casual readers in the process.

It recently launched an offer allowing subscribers to purchase a 32GB Google Nexus 7 for £50 if they take out an 18-month subscription costing £17.33 a month or £299 up-front. News International’s Chris Duncan told paidcontent.com that it looked at introducing such a model with the iPad, but the sums just didn’t add up.

Tablet warnings

The Financial Times, which also operates behind a paywall, has gone one better by offering its subscribers in the US a free Nexus 7. However an FT subscription is significantly more expensive and the device in question is only an 8GB model.

Mobile has long been touted as the saviour of the industry, but News Corp’s The Daily should serve as a warning that the tablet may not provide the panacea the market craves. The tablet-only newspaper is set to be closed down on 15 December after failing to tempt enough subscribers. The Daily needed 500,000 subscriptions to break even, but has attracted only a fifth of that number and is currently losing $30 million a year.

Established titles appear to be undeterred though and hope that brand recognition combined with innovative products can help traditional print publications thrive. The Dandy certainly hopes so, or it could go the same way as The Topper, The Beezer and numerous other DC Thomson comics that are sadly no longer with us.

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