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Branson's Pet 'Project' Adds Oomph to iPad Publishing

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 30, 2010 11:59 AM PT

Billionaire businessman Richard Branson's Virgin Digital Publishing company on Tuesday launched "Project," a digital lifestyle magazine, exclusively for distribution on the Apple iPad.

Branson's Pet 'Project' Adds Oomph to iPad Publishing

The magazine, which will reportedly feature multimedia content, will be priced at US$2.99 an issue.

This is the second digital magazine created exclusively for the iPad announced by a major company; the first was "The Daily," from News Corp., which is scheduled to be launched next year.

Will Virgin's endorsement of the iPad as a publishing platform undermine publishers' consortium Next Issue Media, which is trying to squeeze Apple by launching a digital newsstand on the Android platform early next year?

The Project Has Landed

"Project" was created jointly by Virgin Group and UK multimedia publisher Seven Squared. It's a monthly magazine that will change as often as minute-by-minute to give readers up-to-date news.

The publication is based around design, entertainment, technology and entrepreneurs. It will have its own staff, and it will also encourage contributions from the public.

"Project" is edited by Anthony Noguera, formerly editorial director of men's lifestyle magazines at H. Bauer, the largest privately owned publisher in Europe. The publication's art director is Che Storey, formerly of Arena and Men's Health magazines.

The cover story for the first issue focuses on Jeff Bridges. Other subjects include Yamauchi Kazanori, the developer behind the "Gran Turismo" game series.

"Project" claims to have landed top-flight advertisers, including Lexus, American Express, Panasonic, Ford UK and Ford Canada.

Readers Heart Digital

Consumers apparently love their tablets -- an online survey of more than 1,800 consumers conducted by Harrison Group and Zinio in September found that 13 percent of consumers are interested in buying a tablet-based device within the next 12 months.

The survey also found that 55 percent of tablet and e-reader owners who read digital content are consuming more digital content than they expected, and that 33 percent are spending more on buying digital content.

That led the Harrison Group to forecast sales of more than 20 million tablets and e-readers next year.

"This is a continuation of the trend in that you've got a whole host of devices that are receptacles for Internet-based content," Frank Dickson, a vice president of research at In-Stat, told MacNewsWorld. "You're seeing reconfiguring of content, which is already in digital form for another medium, whether it's the iPad, the Nook, the Kindle or the smartphone," he added.

"Before the iPad, publishers tended to think they had to choose whether consumers wanted to read content in print or in digital format," Jeanniey Mullen, a spokesperson for Zinio, told MacNewsWorld. "Now they're finding people may love print, but they want digital access as well so they can take their digital device with them and read on the go."

The Agony and the Ecstasy of the iPad

The iPad has forced the publishing industry to take digital media seriously, Mullen said.

"When the iPad came out in April, it was the first time that the publishing industry began committing design and strategic resources to building up digital readership," Mullen explained.

Strong consumer demand has made the iPad the spearhead of the digital publishing revolution, Mullen stated. However, it won't be the only digital device on the market.

"Zinio has been committed to digital publishing for 10 years, and we see the iPad as one of the very first of an oncoming array of devices of all shapes and sizes with different operating systems to open up content to anybody," Mullen elaborated.

However, the iPad and other digital readers are making things difficult for printers as well as publishers.

For example, Pearson, which publishes education and consumer books as well as newspapers including the Financial Times, is seeking to print short runs of its less-popular titles on inkjet printers because the iPad, the Kindle and other e-readers make it difficult for the publisher to figure out print runs, senior vice president Ed Febinger said at HP's Publishing Innovations earlier this year, according to Printweek.

Digital Newsstands Ahoy!

Apple's strict requirements for digital publications on the iPad have driven five major publishers to consider Android devices as an alternative. The five -- Conde Nast; Hearst; News Corp.; Time, Inc.; and Meredith -- have set up a consortium, Next Issue Media..

The consortium has announced it will open a digital storefront next year on Android tablets. This triggered speculation that they were trying to pressure Apple into offering better terms for digital publications on the iPad.

"Next Issue Media has been around for a year," Mullen said. "They wanted to go down the route that's most widely accepted -- the iPad -- but Apple has very strict limitations around the sharing of data with publishers and that's when they decided to go the route of the Android device."

However, it's not clear whether Virgin's announcement of the "Project" publication on the iPad will force the consortium to change its mind.

Next Issue Media did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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