Entelligence: Wired or tired?

Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

In the mid 90s, a friend of mine was involved in a project to recreate magazines like Time on CD-ROM for the multimedia PCs of the era. The results were pretty cool, but the CD-ROM versions of the publications hardly replaced their print counterparts. Content has since moved from optical disk to the web, and now the allure of tablet devices has created a market for specific newspaper and magazine apps -- the number one paid app for iPad is a digital version of Wired, which sold about 1,000 copies an hour the first day it was launched. While it's a much better effort than some of the other efforts, more than anything Wired for iPad shows the weaknesses of media apps and demonstrates how the tablet remains a still-imperfect medium to deliver this type of content.

Wired's efforts, like the CD-ROM efforts of the past, by has some cool features. A video clip of Toy Story 3 graces the cover and there are various interactive features, but more than anything else, it feels like a scanned in copy of the paper mag. Although navigation is better than most iPad magazines, it's still never clear when a screen should be scrolled down or just swiped horizontally.

The real problems are twofold. First, even though the content is digital, the reader loses most of digital content's benefits. I can go to the Wired website, link to articles there on my blog, share them via email or Twitter and use the power of the web to share and opine. The iPad edition offers none of that flexibility -- and it doesn't offer any of the flexibility of paper either. I can annotate my paper version of Wired, clip out articles, or even pass the entire magazine on to you and you can in turn pass it on to others. I can't do any of those things with the iPad edition.

Even worse, the price point is hard to swallow. Charging the full cover price for a digital magazine makes no sense when I can subscribe to the paper edition of Wired for a year at a much lower cost per issue -- especially given that there's no paper, ink, shipping or distribution charges. Given the lack of flexibility, I'd assume there would at least be some incentive to get me to make the digital purchase, and even more so in light of the fact that the bulk of the content is already available online at Wired's website for free. It's ironic that Editor-in-chief Chris Anderson famously wrote a book called "Free" -- the Wired iPad app is the perfect case to try out some of those business models.

Tablet devices and content consumption are two things that should just go naturally hand in hand. The iPad and similar devices offer a unique opportunity for content providers to offer differentiated content and new business models to monetize, but recreating CD-ROM media of the 90s on a tablet does not publishing revolution make. Show me the power of digital content with the flexibility of paper and the web. Give me reasonable costs and a simple subscription model and I'll gladly buy. Right now, this Wired experiment is looking tired -- it's time for someone else to step up to the plate and give it a try.

Michael Gartenberg is a partner at Altimeter Group. His weblog can be found at Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.