iPad ADD Is More Acute Than Anticipated

A new study shows readers of iPad magazines find their attention wandering. A lot. And any way you spin it, that’s a tricky finding for both publishers and advertisers.

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A new study shows that readers find their minds wandering when using iPad versions of magazines. Publishers had always figured that the iPad magazine, being an interactive experience, would necessarily be different from the print incarnation, with readers bouncing around a bit. But the reality exceeds even that expectation.

“We thought that of course there’s a lot of activity going on on an iPad, when there’s so many things you can be doing — between email, Netflix, playing games, reading magazines — but they’re actually bouncing around a lot more than we thought,” Megan Miller, of Bonnier, told Ad Age. (Bonnier publishes Popular Science, Parenting, and Ski, among other titles.) The study, conducted jointly between Bonnier and the ad agency CP+B, examined 15 focus groups in three cities.

The Ad Age article and its source present the finding as potentially “a good thing.” The notion is that the iPad magazine becomes a “springboard for exploration,” triggering purchases.

But the hope for many in publishing was that iPad magazines would be so engrossing that they would be “sticky,” holding an audience captive similar to the way paper magazines do. In the ideal, rosiest scenario, from both the editorial and advertising standpoint, iPad magazines would lure readers, keep them there, draw their attention to elegant ads, and occasionally lead to direct purchases as a result of that ad.

But “email, Netflix, playing games”? It’s hard to see how those activities enhance the iPad magazine business model. And even if a reader clicks on an ad on page 11 of the New Yorker, goes and buys perfume, and then gets sucked into other corners of the Internet–what about the remaining hundred-odd pages of journalism and advertising?

“Publishers seemed to have this fantasy that iPad would allow them to call time out on the Internet,” Gene Liebel, a partner at the interactive agency HUGE, tells Fast Company. The idea is that for 10 years, publishing suffered from the Internet and its indignities, but that all of a sudden, thanks to the benevolent Steve Jobs, “now we’re back, now we’re gonna call a time out, start over, sell magazines at full price with immersive ads,” and so on. But the tablet isn’t some new digitally enabled omnibus magazine. “The tablet in the home is really one more Internet device,” says Liebel. “Safari is still by far the biggest app. So the idea that everyone would go home and have 20 paid content apps and that’s their new lifestyle is not even close to true.”


A last intriguing finding of the study was that users of the iPad didn’t see themselves as “reading,” or “surfing,” or “playing,” or any of the verbs we affiliate with different devices or applications–which are answers we expect from people on laptops or e-readers. They simply saw themselves as using an iPad. The question remains: to what extent does “using an iPad” actually overlap with “reading a magazine”?

“That skittish, task-oriented, very distracted, rushed behavior–it doesn’t surprise me at all that that’s happening on iPad,” says Liebel–something for publishers and advertisers to bear in mind when experimenting on this new device.

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[Image: Flickr user borislicina]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal