The many tweets and blogs that mention the problems of publishing and the threats/opportunities of the iPad are mostly missing the point. Publishers, agents, authors and news media commentators are still looking at the message, not the medium.

Condé Nast are, apparently, enthusiastic about the iPad, working on versions of Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, GQ, Glamour, and Wired. These may be successful products online, depending on how you define success.

If Condé Nast and other publishers flip their usual business models and look at their content rather than the wrapper, they might make money. Otherwise they will fail, just like Time-Life, Murdoch and countless others.

iPad New York Times
The New York Times mock-up for the Apple iPad

Traditional publishing:

  • quality content = quality readers/viewers (prepared to pay)
  • quality context = the product/service/relevance suited the purchaser
  • niche + quality = profit
  • ongoing profits = good income for authors/writers/actors

But the big publishing houses – books, newspapers, magazines, tv, movies, games – absorbed small and profitable independents, which soon got lost and overloaded with “big brother” overheads. The past 20 boom-to-bust years have resulted in Google becoming the richest “media” company in the world.

In other words most of the major publishers have taken short-term decisions. Their message became encapsulated in two words – dumb down – go for the quick bucks and not for long term success. Which meant they went for bad business models on the web. They went for lowest common denominator. They misunderstood the web and thought big numbers meant big profits. How wrong they were.

Current online publishing:

  • generic content = anyone may look
  • generic context = Google-led offers/adverts/services/products
  • generic markets = very expensive numbers game – only Google wins
  • income + profits = great for Google, not for many others

Apple Store to the rescueMeanwhile Apple has grabbed somewhere around 75% of digital music sales, leaving Amazon in the dust at number two with less than 10% of the market (despite Amazon being there first and with the perfect opportunity).

More importantly, Apple have created, built and maintained an astonishing publishing platform that serves music, movies, games and books. And they have enabled a huge new medium with podcasts. Just one example will suffice:

The weekly Trance Around The World podcast by Above & Beyond has over 21 million subscribers.

The answer for the future of publishing is right there. Above & Beyond are the authors. You can also call them the creators, the musicians and, with their new vidcasts, the directors.

iPad iBooks bookstoreThey make money because they understand the mediums they work in – music creation, music packaging, concerts, personal appearances, online delivery and, very important, branding.

The mediums that Above & Beyond work in carry the most important message of all – quality.

Profitable online publishing:

  • niche context = high quality and trusted brand
  • niche content = high quality products/services/offers
  • niche markets = good income for the creators

That last bullet point summary suggests creators and, maybe, their agents and publishers can have success in our new, connected world – if they understand the medium is still the message.