In thinking about content for the iPad (books, magazines, movies, etc.) my instincts and experience tell me that having a unique product in the App Store should drive more sales than an app that aggregates premium content. That's because I believe the value of keyword search is greater than the value of aggregation - it becomes difficult to effectively list all the aggregated content on the app's sales page and harder for consumers to find that content.
Apparently, I was wrong.
Digital magazine provider Zinio just became the number one app in the iPad news category, beating out all other magazine and news titles. (Disclosure: Zinio is a client of mine.)
There are those in the social graph that have been panning individual apps for magazines like GQ, Men's Health, Outside, etc. While they're all great publications, the usefulness of having an icon dedicated to a single publication seems excessive for the privilege of reading an issue.
Furthermore, a magazine title arguably has a limited shelf-life. Sure, there's some evergreen content in just about every publication, but currency is always an important factor in selling magazines. With that in mind, it's tough to justify spending the same amount of money on a single issue of a magazine as it is to spend it on, say, an application that will provide utility for months or even years.
I never doubted the success of Zinio on iPad (I wouldn't have taken them on as a client otherwise). They have the largest selection of digital magazines anywhere and have developed a platform for making magazines more than simply digital replicas of printed magazines, but fully interactive (at the publisher's discretion, of course). So, other than the variety of titles they provide, why have they become so successful after only a week beyond the arrival of the iPad?
Consider this: When is a number not just a number? When it's next to another.
That's to say that relative cost - and relative value - creates confusion in the mind of a consumer. By allowing the shopping process to take place within the Zinio app (and/or on Zinio.com), magazines are now priced alongside other magazines. That comparison is much more relevant than, say, weighing the price of an app against the price of a magazine.
So, does that mean that Zinio will be less successful over time as more individual magazine apps enter the App Store, thereby creating a better environment for relative comparison? Hardly.
In addition to offering a variety of titles, Zinio brings consistency of usability. The expectation that a digital magazine will behave a certain way is important to a consumer. If each time you purchased an ebook - from Amazon, B&N or Apple, for instance - would you expect the experience to be radically different. Of course not.
However, at least at the moment, that appears to be the case with digital magazine apps. As publishers are still only just experimenting with their own applications, they're also experimenting with the user experience, each with their own approach.
In the aggregated media application model that Zinio provides, magazines will have interactivity and rich media, but the user experience will remain consistent with only the occasional experimental feature.
Ultimately, competitors may follow Zinio in their format but that can only be bode well for magazines as a category. After a period of decline in consumption of printed magazines, it means that people will have found them relevant again - only in digital form.